As I walked into the backlog refinement session for this team that I had been coaching for about a month, I felt a low in energy. Team members were busy doing their own “stuff”. While some were busy texting, others were on their laptops and since a backlog refinement meeting is typically linked to the Product Owner role, she was the one doing all the talking. It reminded me of the economics lecture in college where the professor was the only one talking while the class was busy thinking about the college annual festival.
Humans cannot survive any kind of repetitive event for too long. Scrum ceremonies are no exceptions. Sustaining interest in scrum ceremonies becomes difficult and they say “it is getting boring”. Their minds are always in search for the next exciting thing happening around them and the ceremonies are all about going through the motions without understanding the intent and outcome of the same.
Every scrum ceremony has a desired intent and outcome which is to be built on the core principle if team work driven by communication, conversations and collaboration. However, most Scrum teams lack the kind of chemistry to make these possible.
So what can one do to keep things interesting. Well, here are some pointers:
1. Location – As much as my kids love to eat at home watching their favorite TV show, every once in a while we go out for a meal. Change in surroundings brings in interesting changes in people’s view point like sharing their dishes to get a sense of other’s taste, time for some family conversations and more.
So try to experiment with the locations for your ceremonies and observe the different it makes. An informal retrospective at a local restaurant or over a bowling session goes a long way in bringing in a positive change and creative thinking.
2. Activities and games – Playing games with my kids is the best way to get some leanings across to them which otherwise is a big ask. As kids make their moves, I ask a question to help them select the best option. Other times they correct me if I made a wrong choice.
Leverage games and activities to help create a collaborative environment between team members. tastycupcakes.org, innovationgames.com are some great resources for such creative and fun filled games. In fact there is a whole book written about how to conduct retrospectives. Check it out here.
3. Rotate – As much as I love to get a nicely cooked meal from my wife, I like to try my hands at cooking and trying new recipes from the internet or of my own. While the intent in doing so is to stick to have a plate of food that is healthy and also tastes good, a different approach to cooking can bring in unique flavor and taste.
So when it comes to facilitating a backlog refinement session or a sprint retrospective, allow other members of the team to get into the shoes of the Product Owner or the Scrum Master. Not only will this introduce them to the challenges associated with the role and ceremonies, it will also help to bring in some fresh ideas to the table on running the ceremonies and solving problems.
4. Reward – Rewarding the right behaviors and penalizing the wrong ones is something that everyone can relate to. This something that happens with is right from our childhood to when we grow up as adults. Right or wrong, this has worked in majority cases.
When dealing with mature teams, this might not even apply, however; when starting with new teams and going with the “Shu-ha-ri” approach, following the rules becomes critical. Having followed the rules for a period of time, it becomes second nature. According to a research, for any action to become a habit, it takes an average of 30 days of focused effort. So while you would want to reward right behaviors, penalizing wrong ones will help sustain a balance. So discuss with your team to decide what rewards or penalties will work in your unique environment.
5. Don’t wait – I was never good at maths. I would avoid solving math problems as much as possible till the time my father would catch me just before the exams and make me solve a few. No marks for guessing that I would struggle. This would repeat each year and my father would tell me to share my challenges with him all through the year so he could work with me right then and address my issues.
Solving problems and raising issues as they occur is extremely important. If the team has to wait for the next ceremony to happen before they can bring up a problem, chances are they might forget it or not have a productive conversation given that the issue happened in the past.
Post Script – I wonder why scrum ceremonies would become monotonous and boring when the team has complete control of the “how”. Is it because the ceremonies do not achieve the desired objectives or because the team is still under some kind of control where they cannot exercise their decision making powers? It is quite obvious that these complaints sound exaggerated but these are common too.
So what is your view on this subject? What are some techniques you have tried with your teams? Leave a comment…