CHOW #210 – Culture Shock!

Mike Wallace is a recently-promoted Scrum Master for a project team. He has taken over when the team had been struggling with low Say/Do ratio and highly-fluctuating velocity. Mike and his team had gone into the causes for this situation in the past and incorporated various measures within the development team, with the PO in the UK and with key business leaders. Specific areas were addressed regarding the availability of PO, fluctuating priorities mid-sprint and so on. As a result, velocity stabilized around 20-25 story points across sprints.

Mike shared what he and the team had done with his manager, Ted Koppel. Ted was very impressed and, in turn, shared it with his peer manager, Barbara Walters. Barbara promptly called for a meeting of her SMs and asked how they can replicate the success and the velocity achieved by Mike’s team. Some of Mike’s friends were in Barbara’s team and they complained to Mike about what he had let loose! Mike said he was just practicing “transparency” as an essential aspect of Agile culture. So, what was his mistake, Mike asked them.

Do you think Mike did something wrong? What is your advice to Mike and his manager Ted?

Suggested solution:

It is true that Transparency, Inspect and Adapt are the three pillars of Scrum to be valued as essentials of team culture. However, the team needs to exercise care in the “Transparency” aspect especially when sharing information outside the team. Even while sharing with the team’s manager, some caveats would be in order especially on further sharing by the manager.

There are two kinds of information within the team – quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative information could be Say/Do ratio, velocity, hours worked etc. Quantitative information can be usually shared in a transparent manner within the team but caution is needed when sharing outside the team. The team needs to consider how such information may be viewed / interpreted by outside recipients.

And then there is qualitative information which is even more prone to subjectivity & interpretation – such as what kind of one-on-one counselling helped address individual under-performance. Even within the team private conversations should be treated as exactly that – private!

The advice to Mike and his manager Ted is to set up some kind of a norm for team-manager interaction and information sharing. Even a session with Barbara would help – that taking the experience of one team and trying to apply in another team without context would not be the done thing. Each team should Inspect and Adapt on their own while not being unreceptive to learning from other teams!

There is an excellent blog related to this CHOW by Mike Cohn. Do take a look.

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