The idea of a team has evolved over the last decade. What started off with a group of people working together to achieve a vague goal under the control of a manager/leader, has in some cases matured where teams are gradually getting more engaged and are aware of the business objectives and are being trusted to get to the finish line.
The idea of a scrum team presented a new twist to the definition of a team, obviously with its share of discomforts. The thought of a team without a manager, attributes of self organization and self management and emphasis to build trust sounded great but had many heads shaking.
While some organizations have introduced structural changes to embrace 3 scrum roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Development team), most organizations are trying to fit the new roles in the context of their current organizational structure or are making a effort to somehow align existing roles to the new ones.
The thought that some existing roles may become redundant can be discomforting and lead to resistance. Some common questions/opinions are highlighted:
- What about the “other” roles like business analysts, architects, project managers etc..?
- These people have been with the organization for ever. We can’t let them go.
- Our product owners are customer facing and have other responsibilities. They cannot be available to the team.
- A Scrum Master? Who is going to manage the team?
- Our teams are not mature enough to self organize.
The above questions are clearly indicative of the lack of understanding of the roles and the fact that the organization is focussed on individual roles and not the overarching impact of the roles.
The intent behind the idea of a scrum team was to bring all aspects of product development (business/product, engineering and process) together in order to realize the end goal. While the simplicity of the framework makes it acceptable, the roles continue to operate in isolation and be looked as “speciality driven”. To simplify, Product Managers assume that the responsibility of development team is to implement their ideas only.
As I went around coaching many organizations, I have always made a focussed effort to communicate the attributes of a successful and high performing scrum team, and the attributes that make the idea of a scrum team so powerful. Here are some key attributes that distinguish the great scrum teams from the good ones:
Inclusiveness – Scrum teams works best in a inclusive environment. This means that while every individual might have a set of responsibilities that come with his/her role, what creates a big impact is how these roles come together and contribute to the overall success of the product. The idea that only Product Managers are responsible for product strategy, analysis and business decisions and development team implements the decisions made the manager defeats the purpose of a scrum team. In my experience, teams that have been able to achieve the highest level of productivity and created seriously innovative and disruptive products are the ones where these roles collaborate and engage on a day to day basis.
No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive
For example; the complexity and the time taken to implement a functionality can negate the value of the feature. This information from the development team can impact the priority of the items in the backlog and help the Product Manager make better decisions. So, the idea of a collaborative team that embraces the scrum practices as intended can have a positive impact on the business value produced and accelerate the time take to do so.
For a patient at a hospital going through a surgical procedure involving doctors from a variety of specializations, each doctor constantly provides inputs to others to make sure that every aspect of the patient’s health is known to reduce risks and keep focus on patient’s recovery. Each one is included to achieve the end goal.
Alignment – can go a long way in defining the interest of scrum team members. Often, team members have a very narrow focus on the immediate tasks at hand and lack clarity of the business goals and objectives. Creating alignment is a critical aspect for a scrum team.
Alignment is a practice, not a state.
Alignment is critical both at the business and process level and the scrum framework provides practices to help create the alignment through the empirical process control. The scrum team exists so that product, engineering and process can tweak things to stay on course to achieve desired outcome.
Talking about alignment, US and India launched their respective missions to Mars about a year ago. A very big part of the journey to Mars that lasts about a year to complete is to adjust the trajectory of the space vehicle to aligned with the ultimate goal (red planet). This requires various teams handling a multitude of functions to work in complete collaboration and constantly align the vehicle to ensure that the vehicle does not go off course. Any kind of misalignment can have catastrophic results.
Passion – Alignment creates passion. Once every member of the team is aligned with the end goal of the product with clarity about what defines product success, they contribute in their unique way using their skills to make it big and successful.
Unfortunately, team members work in silos either unaware of the end goal to be achieved or are just not allowed to create impact outside their territory. There is no focused intent to leverage the team’s creativity, skills or knowledge to drive decisions.
A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”
Time and again companies like Amazon and Google have shared instances where teams were able to come up with innovative solutions just by understanding a problem, doing some experimentation and adapting to feedback and these are the people who feel passionate about what they do. The intent of a scrum team is to create this combined passion for what is expected to be achieved.
Delight – The term delight is often associated with customers but it holds equal importance when it comes to the team we work with. The question one may ask “so how do we delight the team?”. As humans we get a sense of delight from small gestures from people around us. These can include writing a note of gratitude for all they do for the team and the project, engaging in activities to familiarize with the ups and downs of their lives or by just acknowledging what they do as a member of the team.
There is no delight in owning anything unshared
Seneca the younger
When a team comes together to achieve a common purpose and hold each other accountable for the collective success, delight happens. Acts of support, trust, belief, respect, openness result in a overall delightful environment and experience.
Click here to read about an experiment conducted by Thalia Wheatley called impact design to evaluate a delightful experience.
Celebrate – A unique attribute of scrum teams is their ability to celebrate success and failure. The cause of a success or failure is never attributed an individual but the whole team.
“Each day offers a reason to celebrate. Find it and experience true bliss.”
Amy Leigh Mercree
The important aspect of celebration in this case is that the celebration should become part of the team culture. Celebrations should happen frequently, for the whole team and in a way such that it leaves a lasting impact of the team members.
Conclusion: As organizations embrace the scrum team idea, the thought process needs to go beyond the need, skills and title of a role. Instead the focus needs to be towards creating an environment where unique skills are coming together to achieve a common goal in a inclusive environment where there is passion, alignment and celebrations and delight is not just for customer but for every member of the team.