A core principle of Scrum is a team’s ability to self-organize. Per the 2020 Scrum GuideTM, “Scrum Teams are cross-functional, meaning they have all the skills necessary to create value each Sprint” and “are also self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when and how.” Self-organization allows Scrum Teams to improve their problem-solving, increase efficiency and work in a more rewarding and comfortable environment. But how does a team self-organize? Read on for some helpful tips organizations and Scrum Masters can implement to help a Scrum Team self-organize.
Foster Independence – Scrum Teams need to feel empowered to work independently, without constantly checking with leadership or seeking permission to make decisions and changes. Leaders and executives must trust team members to problem-solve on their own, without being told what to do. Scrum Teams want the opportunity to work together and be in charge of how to build something and how to deliver it, but when leadership has created a low-trust environment, Scrum Teams don’t feel authorized to step up. Organizations and Scrum Masters must recognize that Scrum Teams are comprised of people who have relevant experience, advanced degrees and creativity to do the work when given the chance. Promote their independence by creating alignment on the Product Vision and Sprint Goals and provide clear constraints ahead of the work starting so that the team can leverage that information and act independently to complete the work.
Encourage Open and Transparent Communication – Scrum Teams must be permitted to communicate transparently with each other and have the autonomy to speak up and work together when a decision needs to be made. When a team doesn’t have a manager pushing orders, it’s up to the individual members to communicate with one another and work together. As a result, a self-organizing team must embrace a highly collaborative style of working and operate as a true unit. Scrum Masters need to ensure there are plenty of opportunities for clear and open communication. The Scrum Master should encourage the team to define ground rules to make information transparent to everyone, which leads to psychological safety (team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other), social sensitivity (team members feel respected) and equal voices (all team members are engaged).
Reduce Fear of Failure – Almost everyone has heard the endorsed idea that Scrum Teams must “fail fast,” but many organizations don’t embrace mistakes and failure as acceptable outcomes. When a Scrum Team operates from a place of fear, they’re not able to self-manage how they approach problem-solving and therefore how the work gets accomplished. Scrum Teams need to feel free to try new things, even if the price is failure – or to look at it from a different perspective – learning fast. The organization and Scrum Master must provide reassurance that mistakes are OK and are part of a healthy agile process. With sprints between one and four weeks in length, the team can see something isn’t working and decide to try something different, rather than waiting 18 months and then finding you have a major problem. Sprints allow for affordable experimentation. Celebrate when the team learns something that isn’t quite working the way they expected.
Document a Working Agreement – A working agreement is a tool used in Scrum to set up ground rules for working on the Scrum Team. It includes guidelines that all team members have agreed to in order to achieve peaceful collaboration, mutual understanding and productivity. It’s a great way to track decisions of how the team has agreed to work together and, by nature, this document is dynamic and evolves as the team learns to self-manage and work together. The Scrum Master can assist with the creation and maintenance of this document and it should include anything that impacts the team’s successful performance. Some concepts that might be on a working agreement include: working hours, the definition of done, respect, accountability/ownership, absence/PTO, how to address conflict, what to do if the backlog needs to change mid-sprint, how success is measured and how the team will celebrate accomplishments.
The ability to self-organize is a key indicator of a successful Scrum Team because they’re able to focus their time on delivering a quality product that meets the customer’s needs as quickly as possible. Organizations and Scrum Masters must support Scrum Teams by empowering them to self-organize, creating an environment where they can learn to self-manage and make steady small improvements over time – a core tenet of what it means to be agile.
About the Author
Heidi Jackson is a Principal Project Manager with nearly 20 years of IT project management and business analysis experience. Her passion is working with agile teams, bolstering their communication and collaboration to bring about digital transformations, architecture re-platforming, software development, hardware implementations and everything in between. Heidi loves the outdoors and goes camping at every opportunity she can get.
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