You’ve just been promoted. Or you have just been put in charge of a project team to make a better widget. You are nervous. You are sweating. You don’t know the first thing about widgets. What if they figure out you are a fraud? You might be found out. Like the emperor with no clothes. Embarrassed and Mortified.
Guess what? All you need to do is follow the Agile Manifesto and you too can be a kick butt team coach, otherwise known as a ScrumMaster® (Scrum refers to the rugby maneuver where everyone on the team is focused on getting the ball). I recently was trained by Michael Kelley Harris with a group of very intelligent skilled developers and marketing experts in Palo Alto, California. We spent two days taking a deep dive into Agile. So what is Agile? As seen on Agile in a Nutshell, “Agile is a time boxed, iterative approach to software delivery that builds software incrementally from the start of the project, instead of trying to deliver it all at once near the end.” The advantage is that the product development process is much more reactive, more agile. Scrum is a framework within Agile. The ScrumMaster is the facilitator of the group. The coach. And this is what I’ve learned:
• Don’t be attached to the outcome. The ScrumMaster® is moving the team forward; nudging and clarifying but they are not attached to a particular endpoint. I have been lucky enough to try Scrum out with a Policy Issuance Development team at an insurance company. I have to say I was pretty nervous because I can barely figure out my iPhone and need my kid to fix my browser for me. I have never coded or tested software in my life. But it turns out that ignorance is bliss. I’m not attached to using a particular architecture. I’m not attached to testing a particular customer. All I want is forward motion and the end result is up to the team.
• Expect delays and don’t let it derail the team. At one point in the ScrumMaster class, we all had to guess how long it would take to prepare, eat and clean up after a particular piece of fruit. On our team we would guess how long it would take to eat a banana, handful of grapes, watermelon and an apple. We would all give our estimates and then compromise to say a banana is faster to eat than a watermelon. Then the instructor gave each team either a banana or an apple. We all figured a banana could be eaten in a minute and an apple in about 3 minutes. Wow, were we wrong. All of us have eaten both fruits but let me tell you, an apple took more like 10 minutes to eat. So even though we were all familiar with the fruit and have all eaten them before, the teams that ate the apple took a lot longer. Ten times as long. So you might think that rolling out a new product to three more states might take one day…it could end up being more like a week and a half. Expect delays and don’t let the team get frustrated.
• Finished product rather than massive documentation. Forward motion is more important that detailed documentation. How many times have you been caught up in the details and can’t see through the trees. The scrum team I facilitate finds a lot of “nice to haves” but it’s not critical to shipping the product. Figure out what you “have to have” and move forward on it.
• It’s all about customer collaboration. Shipping a product is all about figuring out what the customer wants. The team has one master and that is the customer (ok, and compliance as well) but the product has to satisfy the end user. It’s an ongoing collaboration. If you aren’t listening to your end user then you will be building a Ferrari instead of a VW bus. It might be more fun to build the Ferrari but who is going to use it?
• Responding to change over following a plan. This is one of the key tenets from the Agile Manifesto. Technology will change. The customer will change. Resources will change. Accept it. Don’t get tied to a deadline and not adapt. Don’t abandon ship either. Swerve, course correct and move on. Keep a positive attitude and keep nudging the team on through adversity and setbacks. Be open to change.
• Don’t let one team member control the team. Frequently the loudest person wins the argument. As the team coach, make sure everyone is heard from. If someone interrupts, make sure the team member who was speaking is still heard from. If someone’s body language is saying they don’t agree with the course we are on, make sure you call it out. “I see you shaking your head Joe. What’s up?” Make sure everyone has a voice.
So there you go. How to be a ScrumMaster® in less than a 1,000 words. The next time you are tapped to lead a team or project you can stand there with confidence. I have to say it’s been really rewarding work. The magic that happens when folks move a project forward is so gratifying. Get out there and kick some butt!