Jouw gedachten de baas

People dont’t have ideas, ideas have people. Een bekende quote die zich lastig laat vertalen naar het Nederlands. In de online wereld waarin wij graag snelle hapklare brokken met elkaar delen komt deze wel eens voorbij als een quote van Carl Jung.

Hoewel het concept achter de uitspraak volgens mij wel iets is waar de psychologie van Carl Jung geparafraseerd achter zou staan heeft hij dit letterlijk, zover ik weet althans, nooit gezegd. Wat de oorsprong van de uitspraak ook is, de boodschap erachter raakt mij wel als heel waar. Hoe vaak komt het niet voor dat een idee of gedachten bezit van ons als mens neemt, of in het geval van Corona, het idee van angst en onzekerheid bezit neemt van ons als maatschappij.

Gedachten en ideeën zijn overal en continue en soms lastig om te controleren, sturen of zelfs stoppen. Maar wat nou als de gedachte, of het idee, bezit van je neemt? Dan ga je piekeren. Langdurig en misschien zelfs onbeheersbaar zit je ogenschijnlijk vast in onrustige en zorgelijke gedachten. Vaak vermengt zich onwillekeurig ervaring uit het verleden en zorgen voor de toekomst zich met elkaar. Het gevoel wat over je heen valt is pessimistisch en het voelt alsof je geen controle hebt. Als het doorschiet kan het piekeren je hele leven verlammen, je blijft de negatieve vicieuze cirkel in je hoofd voeden en blijft als het ware stil staan. Hetzelfde gebeurt op dit moment op grotere schaal in de samenleving. Het idee van angst en onzekerheid heeft in zekere zin controle over ons gekregen.

Maar wie is nu de baas van wie? Ben jij de baas van jouw gedachten of zijn jouw gedachten jouw de baas. Wees gerust, zelfs als het even niet zo voelt; jij bent duidelijk de baas. Een paar tips van mij om weer de baas te worden over je eigen hoofd:

  • Ga naar buiten. Ga wandelen. Het liefst minimaal 2 keer per dag. Zuurstof doet zoveel voor het brein.
  • Probeer emotie niet direct te bestrijden met ratio en gun jezelf af en toe ook wat ruimte om lekker even helemaal in je emotie te gaan zitten.
  • Neem afstand van je gedachte of idee door het op te schrijven en er daarna ‘ik heb de gedachten dat..’ ervoor te schrijven en daarna ‘ik merk dat ik de gedachte heb dat..’.
  • Probeer je gedachten en ideeën als het ware te observeren. Waar komen ze eigenlijk vandaan? Heb jij ze uitgenodigd? Zijn ze welkom? Voegt het iets positiefs toe?
  • Daag uiteindelijk je gedachte of idee actief uit. Is het echt waar? Kan ik feitelijk weten dat het waar is?

Een uitspraak die wel direct van Carl Jung komt is; “Ik ben niet wat er met mij gebeurd is, ik ben wat ik kies om te worden.” En wie jij kiest te worden begint misschien wel een positieve gedachte of idee welke jij zelf hebt gekozen. Want jij bent de baas of je brein, of je lijf en over je leven. Ik zal de komende weken en maanden hopen dat wij als maatschappij ervoor kiezen om onzekerheid en angst ons niet te laten dicteren.

Wilsbesluit

 

De meeste van ons hebben wel eens het voornemen gehad om met iets te beginnen of juist te stoppen. Een goed voornemen. Vaak komt zo’n voornemen voort uit de behoefte om (iets) te veranderen. Misschien heb je zelf een grens bereikt, of misschien is uit je omgeving gekomen dat het echt anders moet. De intenties zijn goed. De motivatie is er.

Ik krijg zo vaak de vraag; maar waarom lukt het dan toch niet? Waarom lukt het me niet om het vol te houden? Waarom verval ik in oud gedrag? Voor je gevoel kom je gewoon niet vooruit.

Het geheim van het volhouden van een goed voornemen zit voor een groot deel in de definitie van jouw wilsbesluit. Je zet je goede voornemen, wat bijna vrijblijvend klinkt, om in een krachtig wilsbesluit. ‘I can, I must, I will’ (naar het boek) is misschien de meest krachtige motivatie die je jezelf kunt geven.

Bij het definiëren van dat krachtige wilsbesluit wat je voor jezelf maakt beschrijf je niet het oude gedrag maar nieuw gedrag. Je beschrijft niet hetgeen wat je wilt loslaten maar hetgeen waar je naartoe wilt gaan.

Als voorbeeld; stoppen met roken. Wanneer je je voorneemt ‘ik ga stoppen met roken’, dan ben je nog steeds bezig met het roken. Iedere keer wanneer je tegen jezelf zegt ‘ik ben gestopt met roken’, denk je aan roken, je mist het roken en vervolgens wil je roken. Iedereen kent de grap ‘probeer eens niet aan een paarse olifant te denken’.

Maar wat nu als je tegen jezelf zou zeggen ‘ik neem mijzelf, en mijn gezondheid serieus en ik vind het belangrijk om goed voor mezelf te zorgen’. Wanneer dit je mantra wordt (I can, I must, I will) dan ga jij investeren in de gedachten, in het geloof, dat jij goed voor jezelf zorgt door gezond te leven.

Zelfs dan kan het uiteraard voorkomen dat je (tijdelijk) terug valt in oude gewoontes. Zelfs wanneer goed voor jezelf zorgt en gezond leeft en jezelf motiveert kan het toch nog voorkomen dat je op een feestje een sigaret opsteekt. Belangrijk is om dat niet als falen te zien of jezelf als zwak te bestempelen. Maar probeer in plaats daarvan bij jezelf na te gaan wat er feitelijk is gebeurd.

Onderzoek heeft aangetoond dat er 3 zaken zijn die aanleiding zijn voor het uitputten van jouw persoonlijke wilskracht: je moet teveel beslissingen nemen in te korte tijd, je bent betrokken bij teveel onafgemaakte zaken en/of je doet teveel beloftes aan jezelf. Kortweg; je hoofd zit vol, de focus is weg en je vervalt in oude gewoontes.

Dus wil je het echt anders, wil je het dit keer echt volhouden; ken je eigen grenzen en vermijd een vol hoofd! Herken dat na een veeleisende werkdag jouw wilskracht flink is afgezwakt, sluit losse eindjes af en wees vooral realistisch in wat je jezelf allemaal belooft. Beschrijf jouw nieuwe wereld zoals je die voor je ziet en gun jezelf de focus die nodig is om je hieraan te houden; I can, I must, I will.

Lukt het met alle goede bedoelingen en focus van de wereld nog steeds niet? Kijk dan eens eerlijk maar voornamelijk oordeelsvrij naar jezelf en durf in alle vrijheid je eigen gedachten te onderzoeken. Wat houd jou nu nog vast? Een goede, en praktische manier om tot de kern te komen van wat je tegenhoudt is de ‘5 whys’ techniek. Stel je zelf simpelweg 5 keer de vraag waarom: ‘waarom’.

Als voorbeeld: waarom wil ik stoppen met roken, omdat ik gezonder wil leven, waarom wil ik gezonder leven, omdat ik me niet fit voel, waarom voel ik mij niet fit, omdat ik mij schuldig maak aan veel slechte gewoontes, waarom maak ik mij schuldig aan veel slechte gewoontes, omdat ik lui ben, waarom ben ik lui, omdat ik nooit echt moeite ergens voor heb moeten doen. Probeer oordeelsvrij naar de laatste ‘omdat’ te kijken. Is dit echt waar, of is dit een gedachten waar je onnodig waarheid aan hebt toegekend? Wil je dit veranderen, of wil je dit accepteren en op zoek gaan naar hoe je dit op positieve wijze kunt inzetten.

Het is prima om toe te geven dat dit het moment niet is om met iets te stoppen. Het is prima om erachter te komen dat je helemaal niet met iets wilt stoppen. Maar probeer eerlijk te zijn naar jezelf over wat er echt aan de hand is.

Wil je meer weten over waarom en wanneer jouw wilskracht afneemt jouw redelijkheid en je oordeelsvorming soms ver te zoeken is dan is het boek ‘Wilskracht’ van Roy F. Baumeister en John Tierney een absolute aanrader.

The ultimate prerequisite of great teamwork

Commitment is a term we use often in Agile. But what does it mean really? One of the 4 core values of Agile tells us to respond to change over following a plan. You might wonder than; with all that apparent flexibility what is the significance of commitment?

For me, commitment means being a team. And as that team doing your absolute best with tools like Scrum, dedication, transparency, continuous improvement and so on to deliver value. Commitment in Scrum for me is the ultimate prerequisite of great teamwork.

Taking one for the team

Honestly working together with a group of ‘random’ people on a collective goal brings out the best and the worst in all of us. Remember that first time, probably somewhere back in high school, when you first had to deliver something with a team someone else put together. Immediately you were either an advocate for or against working together with others.

If you were an over achiever I’m sure you were annoyed that you were now judged by the weakest link. And if you were a slacker you must have been happily enjoying the free ride. Either way, a taste for working together in teams was developed promptly. And now here we all are all these years later; still dependent on others to achieve anything of value.

The loner

For those of you who wish to claim themselves a lone ranger; the freelancers, consultants, experts and people in similar roles among us, you are most likely still a part of something greater. Not in the universal sense, let’s not get into a theological discussion, but on a practical level. If that truly isn’t the case I’ll accept that you really despise mankind on a deeper level and you can go grab a coffee and forgo reading any further. For the rest of us; I feel you.

Team failures

Because there are many things that can go (horribly) wrong when you put a group of people together. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been part of a team where there was; poor communication, lack of a goal, micromanaging or nitpicking, disruptive personalities, a lack of initiative, fear of failure, too much employee turnover or individuals who don’t feel included. That must have been why mum used to say ‘play nice when you play together’.

Team giggles

But there is also the flip side, or the upside as you will. Because raise your hand if; you’ve met your best friend or partner at work, your colleagues help you out when need be, you have lunch or drink beers together, you have a group chat where everyone posts funny stuff, you celebrate birthdays and births together and you learn things from each other. Because where else are we interacting with people to such extent, sometimes amazed by whom makes us smile?

Agile teams

Over the years I’ve been a part of many different (Scrum, ScrumBan, DevOps) teams and each and every one has had its challenges and each and every one still holds a warm place in my heart.

The thing I love most about Agile teamwork is that you verbalize your collective commitment every iteration. And really; I don’t necessarily mean commitment to delivering a set scope on a set date but commitment to applying yourself to Sprint goals, or to delivering value, or to practice Scrum, or to helping each other out, and so on.

By committing you share responsibility; every Scrum role had a distinct accountability. And it is this commitment which empowers you to take collaborative actions if the need should arise. Stepping up to the plate when priorities shift, when team members need a hand, when Scrum is not being practiced, when value isn’t delivered, and so on.

So in my view, commitment is the ultimate prerequisite for a team that drives their own improvement and success and are collectively accountable for learnings and failures, the ultimate prerequisite of great teamwork.

Team commitment

Now that we’ve established working in a team can be challenging but definitely a learning experience how do we combine our need for socializing with our personal ambition? That is where the team coach can lend a hand. Oh wait, that’s me. But what can you do?

The most important tip I can give you is to put your ego aside every once in a while. Take the time appreciating others around you. And if you are really feeling frisky try and put yourself in their shoes from time to time. You might end up catching yourself taking one for the team.

Also I would definitely advise you to make the commitment of your team topic of discussion. What values does your team want to uphold? How are you transparent about your teams’ values? And most of all; lead by example and show some commitment!

Happy New Year and Continuous Disruption

Happy 2019! I wish for you a year full of things that never were.
Now quickly to my first blog post of the year about continuous disruption..
Cheers, Sabine

In Scrum, as in life, (or was it the other way around?) we need roadmap to move forward. To determine this roadmap we weigh loaded choices and make heaps of tiny decisions. We also need a routine or framework to help us execute all these decisions. And then on we go.

But what happens to the plan when change is inserted? And what happens when our routine gets disrupted? Are we Agile enough to see change and disruption as a positive opportunity for learning and growth?

Following the recipe

Of course we had a plan. For those who still aren’t convinced planning can be achieved by any Agile framework let me assure you; we had a plan. It often baffles me that people still believe the myth that Agile means no planning. We could probably discuss at length the success rate of long term planning in Agile frameworks versus waterfall methodologies but not today.

The point I’m trying to make is that it really felt like we had it all; customer input, company vision, product roadmap, PI Planning, backlog management, sprints and successful releases. On top of that we were set in a good routine and were surrounded by a bunch of nice folks. Happily complaining about the little things while moving along in prosperity. Rainbows and unicorns really.

Then the unexpected happened..

Add 2 teacups of external stressor

Just before the holiday break my teams got some unexpected news; a stressor was introduced. And after the initial expected blowback of an array of emotional responses the dust settled. We know now that this much is true; we have been forcefully broken loose from out steady state. Disruption awoke us from our eat-sleep-repeat routine. And nothing will be quite the same.

Who doesn’t know that feeling of when something happens that you did not plan for to something you did plan for. That sense of lost control. There is pain in disruption.

And it is at that point that we are faced with perhaps the most important decision of all; will we allow the pain of the disruption to lead to ‘death’ or can we learn from the pain introduced and translate that into improvement? In other words; are you going to allow yourself to be honest and learn from the experience or are you going to continue on as you ever did?

Because for those who fear death by change let me assure you; ‘riding it out’ and descending into a circle of complacency is a faith far worse than death kind sir.

Just a dash of water and sunlight

Honestly; if you want to find it there can be growth after bad news, there can be learning after disruption and there can be positive opportunity after change. And there it will reveal why we believe in Agile so much; to continuously learn and improve even sometimes through radical change. Haven’t you yourself learned from whatever hardships you came across in life?

So don’t look for a sad face on your Scrum Master when company priorities shift, when team members get reassigned or when responsibilities alter. A good Scrum Master will help guide the team to learnings that lead to improvements. A great Scrum Master will not only act on external stressors but he or she will also know when to introduce disruption in order for there to be growth.

Break routine this year

Therefor my advice would be that even if your team wasn’t surprised with (bad) news in the days leading up to Christmas and everything is ‘just fine’, you might consider inserting some disruption of your own to the mix. Don’t get stuck trying to hold on to the original plan or loose precious time weighing tough decisions but be bold and aim for ‘awesome’ instead of ‘just fine’.

If, like me, you are working in Scrum there are a bunch of things you could consider. How about introducing a pair-coding day, or changing the length of your Sprint? Did you ever consider letting stakeholder rate your work during Review, or combining Retro’s with competing teams? Find whatever big or small disruption or change could potentially push your team forward!

Create your own recipe

‘A new year brings new opportunity’ they say. ‘The time is now’ they say. So what’s in the cards for 2019? Should I adopt a dog? Get married? Move to a new house? Buy a car? Travel the world? Go for that interesting job? Or have another baby? Whatever happens I’m sure plans will change and unexpected things will happen and I will be a be a better person and have a better life for it.

And my teams? They are already adjusting their plan and moving forward in a new day. And as their Scrum Master I will continue to facilitate these nice folks in our good routine and who knows what learning we will find from this disruption.

Adding some future to the Retrospective; Futurespective techniques

The last quarter of the year is always super hectic. As the amount of daylight time on this part of the hemisphere decreases we tend to feel the pressure of the holiday season fast approaching. On a business level any remaining budgets might need to be spent as soon as possible. On a personal level you might be re-evaluating those New Year’s resolutions from way back when. Time flew by didn’t it? And what did you accomplish this year?

Retrospective versus Futurespective

One of the ceremonies we use in Scrum is the Retrospective. As the term implies the focus is to look back at a recent experience (usually the previous Sprint) with the intent to discover possible improvements for the next experience. It’s basically the ‘check’ part in plan – do – check – act. But there are situations where it is (also) useful to put the focus towards what’s still to come. These exercises are often referred to as the ‘Futurespective’.

When to use a Futurespective

All the exercises/ techniques that I share here can be used to spark up discussion with a team or an individual. Heck these exercises aren’t even restricted to anything Scrum or Agile. You might use these at the start of a project, to prepare for an assignment, when forming a new team, or just when you feel stuck in life. Let me know how you use the Futurespective.

Circle of influence and circle of concern

One more thing before I dive into it. Before starting out any Futurespective or Retrospective exercise I like to take the time to remind the people I coach, be it teams or individuals, the theory behind the circle of influence and the circle of concern. If you have no idea what I’m talking about you should pick up ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey in the bookstore. No time for that now of course so you can just browse through the theory here.

Basically Stephens’ theory helps us to direct positive energy. Make sure that the things you aim for are mostly within your circle of influence. So that you can actually make that change. In your circle of concern you make yourself dependent of other people or outside circumstances. Try and put focus on the elements within your grasp, the things you can control. Move away from “I can’t because he or she ..” or “I can’t because I’m waiting for ..”. What CAN you do?

Ok, so let’s dive into it now.

It ain’t over until the fat lady sings

This exercise I use to help a Development Team kick into maximum gear for that last stretch of highway. You can use it either for teams to brainstorm on as a group or it can be used for individual coaching. It’s meant to help create clear focus and dedication in the final stages of a process. There are 4 steps, discuss one by one, top to bottom and write down any outcomes. Make sure you keep the list of improvements compact. Better to focus on one goal than on ten.

Futurespective ‘Goals to reach’

Start by asking the question: what ideas, intentions do you have for the last bit of this year (/assignment/project/PI/..) to give yourself the ultimate feeling of success at the end?

  1. Intention. What ideas or intention do you intend to carry out? So what is it that you can do at this point to be even more awesome, and to create results above expectation?
  2. Target. What is the key outcome your idea will influence or create? This thing that you intend to do in this last stretch, what main goal should this influence?
  3. Successful if. What are the indicators that prove the key outcome is being reached? When you look back, when can you say you’ve carried out your intent successfully?
  4. Failure if. What are the indicators that prove the key outcome is NOT being reached? When you look back, when can you say you’ve carried out your intent unsuccessfully?

Make sure participants walk away from this exercise having a clear idea of what they can (and hopefully will) do differently today to ensure overall success.

Being stuck never got anyone anywhere

This exercise I use to coach teams or individuals who are stuck. Something might be holding you back to reach your goals. Sometimes it’s you holding back yourself because you are afraid of real change. This exercise forces participants to define whatever worries they have and realistically check if this should actually be a worry. There are 5 steps, discuss one by one, top to bottom and write down any outcomes.

Futurespective ‘Fear exercise’

Start by asking the question: if look forward on what’s to come, what do you see coming, and how is this holding you back in the present?

  1. What are the problems/ challenges you see coming in the near future?
  2. What could go horrible wrong if that happens?
  3. What can you do to prevent that from happening?
  4. And if it does happen are there things you can do or people you can ask for help to fix it or minimize damage?
  5. To what end: what will come after we solve them.

Focus should be on the final step. Make sure the participants walk away with a clear understanding that the loss of something not tried, a leap not taken, might be greater than the loss of a false sense of safety, the loss of the changes missed remaining in your comfort zone.

Grant yourself your wishes

‘Move forward in life always and embrace change’ they say. ‘Change is life’ they say. But how do you determine your direction in life? Take charge and grant yourself wishes to make sure life isn’t something that happened to you while you were still overthinking your options. This exercise is like your New Year’s resolutions. Only you can do it as often as you want. And you can make it about gym membership or about moving server capacity to the cloud. Whatever is on your wish list.

Futurespective ‘Letters to yourself’

Start by asking Team members or whomever you are coaching to write their future selves a letter in which they grant themselves one wish. There are no right or wrongs on form, it can be an epistle, clear directive or a limerick. But whatever you do, grant yourself at least one clear wish within your circle of influence that is reachable within near future. It might be something you have been putting off, something you’ve told yourself there simply isn’t the time or the priority for, but something you have been carrying about for a while. The time is now. Write is down and as Picard said “Make it so”.

There’s no need to share what you wrote down but agree with other participants on a time (for example next quarter, or in 6 months’ time) when you will open your letter and share if you’ve accomplished the goal you set out for yourself. This allows you to retrospectively look back at yourself and your life at that point to see what you Liked, Learned, Lacked or will Start, Stop, Continue or find Plus, Minus, Interesting etc.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand. — Norm Kerth

The Annual Christmas Party

There have been a lot of questions but we only just received official word that construction at the faculty won’ be finished in time. So yes, you’ve all guessed it; we’re moving our drinks to the Waag in the center of Delft again. That also goes for the annual Chistmas Party. Peter will be there to welcome you as always and I’ve heard there are some exciting announcements to be expected so get your party hats on!

Discovering core qualities and developing soft skills

As a Scrum Master I of course facilitate the Team first, and I also have certain responsibilities towards the PO and stakeholders. But another important role for me is to coach the Team. Coaching can take many different forms. I can focus on the group process, which is important when starting up a Team or when Team members are being shuffled for example. I can also focus on coaching Scrum values, leading by example on how to increase Agility at work. This week I found myself coaching the individual soft skills of a group of senior IT developers.

Soft skills in IT Scrum teams

Most IT developers I’ve worked with love what they do and are eager to improve their technical skills. In IT it’s all about having the right and/or latest certifications so training is part of the job. I also know a lot of guys (and girls of course!) that love what they do so much that they tinkle around with programming even in their spare time or, for example, attend meet-ups after work to expand their knowledge. I have a great love for IT folk. It’s a proud bunch. They love solving a puzzle and can enjoy picking in details, feeling a strong sense of accomplishment when knowledge and skill is put to good use.

It’s not me, it’s you

All that focus on result can sometimes forsake the process. And, if IT folk lack anything, in my experience, it might be that they have 0 natural inclination of improve their soft skills. I am who I am; stubborn, bossy, impatient, critical, unorganized, passive, blunt and everyone around me will just have to deal. As a Scrum Master of an IT Team you therefor might see certain patterns in the group dynamics or work relationships repeating themselves.

For example, I once had this developer in one of my Teams that kept bringing up issues about a colleague from another Team which often had to deliver something he was dependent on. At first he just brought up the inefficient way of working of said colleague. Then it even got a little personal when there were complaints about specific behavior. The discussion was mostly about process and end result and they always parted ways with; let’s agree to disagree.

The Feedback Game

When we moved the discussion to the questions; what makes you so allergic to this colleague that we created insights that really helped out the relationship. In honor of that step forward I dedicated a Retrospective to ‘The Feedback Game’. In Dutch we know this as Kwaliteitenspel of Kernkwadrantspel. You can play this game with any group in different ways. It’s a set of cards with personal qualities on them which you can use to give feedback to a colleague or help yourself discover what your qualities are, how others might see you or which qualities you want develop. Also, with those qualities you can create a quadrant to determine what your challenges are, or why you are allergic to some people. It’s great fun to do and I guarantee an ‘aha’moment.

Discovering your core qualities

The theory behind it is that everyone has certain qualities, if we take that into extreme (do or show to much of that good quality) it can become a weakness. Your challenge is what will overcome that weakness and the person, or quality, you are allergic to is often the opposite of the quality you started out with. For example if my quality is that I have high standards my weakness could be that I am too critical. My challenge could therefore be to be more open minded and my allergy might be people without an opinion. If my quality really dedicated my weakness could be that I can become stubborn. My challenge then could be that I have to listen more and my allergy are those who do not throw themselves to a task. And so on.

It’s important to understand that there are no set quadrants, nor are there right and wrong qualities. It’s about what rings as true to you. If you are having a hard time getting started I advice to start by doing The Feedback Game within your Team first. It will give you time to think about what qualities you see for yourself, what others see in you and what you feel are important qualities. Again, there are no absolute truths but if you are open to it, it is great fun and ensured revelations to talk with colleagues about each other’s soft skills. If this is a bridge too far try asking a close friend or your spouse for qualities that they feel best describe you and start from there.

Try before your die

So always I’m here to help, coach or train at your request. If you’d like to get started yourself today I recommend the following:

  • Google personal traits/ qualities. Just browse through words until you come across one that speaks to you. Or, if you are brave enough, ask someone really close to you what they see as your qualities.
  • If you have your ‘good’ qualities try thinking about what happens, or what behavior you display when you do too much of that. What happens if you are too caring, or honest, optimistic, or flexible? Write whatever word rings true to you down as your weakness or pitfall next to that ‘good quality’.
  • Next, think about what quality should come forward to overcome your pitfall. Often this is again a ‘good’ quality. This is an important step because here you are naming those qualities you could work on developing to improve yourself or relationships in your life. Your challenge is often the direct opposite of your weakness.
  • Lastly try and think of the opposite quality of the good quality you started out with, this is often a quality that annoys you. Listing those will help create insight on why some people are more difficult to deal with for you than others.

Good luck and let me know how what your ‘aha’ moment was!

To Scrum Master or not to Scrum Master

Let’s be honest. You’re not really convinced about the added value of a dedicated Scrum Master. I mean you’ve read the literature, passed the training, but the role of Scrum Master frankly sounds like something that can be done on the side by one of the team members.

Well I’m not here to convince you of the opposite by listing all the aspects and responsibilities that come with the role of Scrum Master.

I would like to tell you a little about what you might be missing out of. What the advantage is of having a dedicated Scrum Master VS a having a team member act as Scrum Master.

What you are actually missing out on

So we’ve established fact that the Scrum Master manages the process and the team members. He or she is a skilled coach and facilitator that will help the team apply Scrum.

Let’s talk Scrum events or ceremonies or meetings, whatever you would like to call them. You have your Daily, Refinement, Retrospective, Planning and Review. If you have a team member acting as a Scrum Master he or she will plan and facilitate most Scrum events. But, he or she is often in a time squeeze because of ‘actual’ work and this is what you are missing out on.

A dedicated Scrum Master will not only plan and facilitate all Scrum Events but also strive to continuously improve the events. Just a little bit of creative juices. No zombie Scrum. A great Scrum Master will not only go through the motions but also be critical about added value of this facilitation and be in favor of disruption from time to time to shake things up.

Practically: by continuously improving events like the Daily Scrum, teams will learn to work more efficiently and deliver sooner. By continuously improving events like Refinement, teams will better understand and estimate the work which will lead to team becoming more predictable about what they will deliver when. And so on. Performance on any metric will improve by keeping up with the framework.

So there you have it. By having a dedicated Scrum Master I promise, nay guarantee, you that Teams will work more efficiently and will become more predictable. The effect is quantifiable and measurable and after 3 months you will see a rise in these KPI’s.

Scrum Master; above and beyond

But there is more. A Scrum Master is not only a skilled facilitator but also an excellent coach. And if you have a team member acting as Scrum Master he or she will collect impediments and disruptions addressed by the Team during the Sprint but this is what you are missing out of.

A skilled Scrum Master will coach the Team about the difference between the circle of concern and influence, he or she will coach the Team on commitment, be the voice for change and help the organizations achieve that change to solve impediments and disruptions on the right level. We will act as a mentor and trainer on the Agile way of working to all team members and stakeholder.

Practically; supported teams feel in control of their destiny, you will get more initiative on improvements like code refactoring and product vision. You will have more happy, well-rounded people in your teams that take care of your products.

This one brings effects on a slightly more long run. This is all about the happiness of invested workers. It’s hard to get good people these days and once you have them you want to keep them happy and invested by offering a challenging but safe workplace and a change for people to grow. That is what having a dedicated Scrum Master will do for you.

Proven success

So long story short. By not having a dedicated and awesome Scrum Master for your Teams you are missing out on harvesting most positive effects of Scrum.

You might find yourself stuck in management meetings discussing on why Scrum is not working, why the change is unsuccessful or why people are unhappy. If so, try having a dedicated Scrum Master for your teams for 6 months. Tell me which KPI’s you want to improve and I’ll tell you how a dedicated Scrum Master can achieve this for you. Depending on the level of maturity of your Team and the experience of a Scrum Master you can have several Teams with one Scrum Master, or alternatively have part time Scrum Masters for your teams. It’s a tailor fit deal for your situation so reach out if you want to know more.

Overthinking

If you are working in Scrum you know that having a Definition of Ready helps determine when a piece of work is ‘actionable’. Namely, the Team understands what needs to be done to deliver an increment. But what if, even when you reach that point of understanding the work, there is still a certain amount of uncertainty or risk that makes at least someone in the Team a bit nervous?

Aliens landing – it could happen!

As a Scrum Master, I can find myself observing what I call ‘aliens landing’ discussions from time to time. Teams fiercely discussing how to handle each possible, and even the very worst of outcomes. Sometimes these discussions might get a little silly because me simply asking ‘how realistic is it REALLY that that will happen?’ will put an end to the discussion. But there also might be merit to having a good talk about the risks involved. Better to go in with both eyes open right. But how do you decide what level of uncertainty is acceptable for ‘actionable’ work?

“Every user story has uncertainty and risk; that is the nature of Agile development. The team discovers the right solution through discussion, collaboration, experimentation, and negotiation.”

I love how everything in Agile is a metaphor for life itself. There are some steps in life that when they present themselves to you seem filled with uncertainty and risks. The crossroads in your life. How to figure out the right path? You call your mom/ wife/ best friend for discussion, collaboration, experimentation, and negotiation and then you decide how or when to move forward. (Just kidding on the ‘mom’ part, of course you always call your wife first.) Life is Agile development people!

Anyway back to Agile software development.

What to do when there are uncertainties

So when a business problem is being presented and you do not have sufficient certainty about the right solution there are a few things you can do:

  • Create a Spike, this enables the Team to take some time to investigate and explore the problem without directly committing to delivering a solution with said risk. But be critical; a Spike should also have a clearly defined outcome. What should the result of your exploration be?
  • You could spend (more) time in Refinement discussing the problem. Perhaps there is knowledge or new insight within the group that can be shared to reduce uncertainty. Let’s at least agree that we only work on work that the Team agrees is ‘Ready’.
  • Or you could (further) slice and dice the user story. Try and make the issue presented as small as possible and pick it up in steps. See what steps have the least risk and just start working on those. You will learn while working on the problem and each iteration will give you opportunity to improve and reduce uncertainty.

Overthinking is not a productive quality

[To think too much about (something) : to put too much time into thinking about or analyzing (something) in a way that is more harmful than helpful.]

There is no absolute right way to go when uncertainty is involved. How much is too much uncertainty? That depends on personality, team dynamics, knowledge, attitude and so on. But what’s always true for everyone is that standing still never got you closer anywhere.

I work in IT so without insulting anyone I can say that most people in the Teams I’ve worked with were inclined to avoid risk at sometimes considerable cost. So easily there would be discussion, collaboration, experimentation, and negotiation in excess. Aliens are not landing guys, please stop overthinking!

Yes tech people tend to overthink. A lot. Although some managers in my experience are also quite good at seeing risk everywhere.

How the Scrum Master can help

As Scrum Master, or Agile Coach, it’s my job to slowly help Team members out of their comfort zone just a little. To help them accept that a certain amount of uncertainty and risk is a part of life, and to help them discover what amount of uncertainty and/or risk is acceptable to them and productive for actually delivering work of course.

  • I’ll monitor if Spikes are the exception, and not the rule. Sometimes there is just need for some action. Plan-DO-check-act right.
  • I’ll provide honest feedback on overthinking and when the discussion has come to a deadlock to help you move forward.
  • And lastly during Sprint, when executing work I’ll help you take action or clear impediments when risks turn out to be fact.

Seriously, where would you be without me? 😉