There thousands of teams out there, that are using Scrum. But I assert that only a small fraction of them is really “living” Scrum and therefore successful. You can spot great Scrum teams based on the following list:
1 – Continuous Learning
A lot of agile teams become lazy over time. Especially, if it seems that everything is running fine. They are laying back and the continuous improvement process gets stuck. They stay in there cosy and warm comfort zone and nobody wants to take the next step. This leads to a decreasing quality of the team’s results and the advantages of an agile process vanishes. If a Sprint Planning looks the same after practicing it for half a year, the teams is NOT agile. In an ideal case, the Scrum process completely changes during the course of a year.
It’s clear, why this it happening: Humans love to stay in their comfort zones. To get them out of their comfort zone you always need some energy and a clear goal in front of their eyes. Charles Duhigg wrote a wonderful book about this topic: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change.
This is where the Scrum Master comes into play. One of his main duties is to remind the team, that there is always space for improvement. At the same time, he has to work together with the Product Owner and the Stakeholders, to ensure that the goals they want to achieve with the product, are transparent and attractive to the team. Unfortunately, a missing product vision and missing goals are quite common (not only in agile teams). But there are great and effective tools out there, that can help with this topic, e.g. Impact Mapping.
2 – Supportive Environment
Another sign of successful Scrum teams is, that they support each other. All too often, each team member is sitting alone in front of their computer working on their tasks. Pair Programming? Far from it! Quite often, team members don’t want to ask for help, instead they try to fight through the problem on their own. Stupidly, this behavior slows down the whole team and in the end to a worse product quality.
Asking for help is no problem at all in a healthy Scrum team, quite the contrary. You can measure the supportive environment in a team, as soon as you enter the team room, by doing a headcount per PC. In highly successful teams there are nearly always two people together in front of one computer. The more, the better.
It’s a task of the Scrum Master to nurture a culture of a supportive environment. This can be done either by explicitly asking if someone needs help during the daily or he creates a Pairing Matrix together with the team.
3 – 50/50 communication
Mobbing and Finger Pointing are the dead of any team. You can easily spot such behavior in the communication pattern of the team. If people talking a lot about other people, it is already a bad sign.
In great teams each team member is as much talking about himself as of other people. Often it is a sign of a decreased dissatisfaction if the focus is mostly on bitching on other people.
If you as a Scrum Master have to cope with such team mates, try to turn his negative comments into something positive, e.g. by asking what he would like to see instead. You can find this (Reframing) and other interesting techniques e.g. in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) or in the Solution Focused Coaching approach.
4 – Energy
Who doesn’t know the Scrum Zombies. Teams that are attending all Scrum meetings apparently completely uninvolved and their motivation seems to be sub-zero. If you attend such Scrum meetings you often get the feeling, that the team is sucking all your energy out of you, instead of injecting it. Typically, this can be observed if a team is in “death march mode”, and no change has happened since month. All the team is doing is executing Sprint after Sprint with no clear goals or a vision. Usually, this is caused in companies were the culture does not fit to the agile approach, and were transparency of visions and goals sounds like a foreign language (if such things exist at all).
In successful teams the complete opposite is the case. Starting with the Daily Scrum in the morning, you can already feel the energy level rising, when the team discusses the goals for the day and people are asking for or offering help. This energy arises, when a team steers in the direction of a clear, attractive and common goal. If they work together, to create an awesome product they believe in.
As already mentioned in the first section: clear goals and a product vision everybody can relate to, are success factors of prosperous Scrum Teams. If you can put a check behind those topics, you are already on the right way. Also energy wise.
5 – Focus on the customer
It doesn’t help anyone, if you were able to deliver your product in time, budget and scope, but entirely lost the focus on your customer. In the end you’ll have a product, nobody wants to use and which you could directly throw into the garbage bin. Unfortunately, there are still many product managers (and Product Owners) out there, who believe they know exactly what the customer needs, without ever talking to a real customer. Or even worse, if they talked to ONE customer and consider they can apply his needs to all other users, too.
Successful (Scrum) teams have a strong focus on their customers. They want to know exactly what the customer needs and check on a regular basis if their hypothesis is still true. A Sprint Review is a great thing, but if you don’t get feedback from the real customer/user, it’s almost worthless. Successful teams are aware of that and take care that this feedback is guiding them through their product development process. The closer the team is to the customer, the better. This is the only way to create great products.
One of the most important responsibilities of a Scrum Master is to take care, that the team gets the feedback they need. He shouldn’t only rely on the Product Owner’s feedback. Especially in web development, that shouldn’t be a big issue. In the book Lean Startup by Eric Ries you can find some hints how to get and use feedback to guide your product development. At the end I highly recommended to have a look at the following video from Nordstrom Innovation labs. It’s a great example on how to tightly integrate customer feedback into the product development process:
What do you think? What are your experiences? What are your success factors? Please leave a comment.