CHOW #156 – Coaching to overcome impediments

A development team (DT) of five people is developing a new software product for remote monitoring of diesel engines to enable improved preventive maintenance and lower servicing costs. A significant part of the product is to process large amounts of data coming from remote sensors located in the engines and turn it into diagnostics and forecasts. A couple of part-time specialists have been roped in into the team for guiding the team to develop this functionality. Mrinal Arora is the manager to whom the DT reports.

After a couple of sprints, the team members (DT) feel that they are not getting enough support from the specialists and have raised it with the Scrum Master (SM).  The SM took this up with the two specialists and their response was that the team was not technically capable and kept interrupting them with all kinds of silly questions. They felt that their task was not to hand-hold the team so much – the demand on their time was more than the agreed 50%. The functional manager of the two specialists also confirmed to the SM that what was expected of the specialists was not within scope. And they had other work commitments to fulfill.

At a loss, the SM has approached you (the coach) to help resolve the situation. What would you do?

Suggested Solution

The Scrum Master (SM) is perhaps approaching you (the coach) as she may be thinking that since the situation involves role definitions of specialists, it may be an “organizational issue” meriting escalation. If this is indeed the case, the coach needs to have her re-think that and take the situation back to the team. The team and the SM need to consider questions such as:

  • How long is it since the issue has come up? What has been the impact so far?
  • Has the issue been identified as an impediment in sprints and attempts made to address? With what results?
  • Were the team’s working agreements / norms re-visited when the part-timers came on board? Was there an agreement specifically with respect to what the part-timers would need to do for the team to succeed?
  • Are there regular sync-up’s in every sprint between the Development Team (DT) and the part-timers for a better understanding of goals, progress and upcoming work?
  • Are acceptance criteria clear enough for the stories that involve part-timer’s work?
  • Is there a role for the manager of the part-timers as a reviewer and enabler for the part-timers and for the overall project? What is his suggestion to resolve the current issue?

As a matter of fact, an “embedded” team coach ought to have himself observed/sensed what was happening with the part-timers and proactively raised it with the team on what has been done so far and what can be tried going forward.

So, the idea is for the coach to first to try and raise the level of the team’s self-organization and the ability of the SM to deal with such situations before going into “escalation mode”.

No doubt, if the team has attempted earlier and not succeeded, the coach can leverage his better “reach” in the organization; bring it up with Mrinal Arora, the team’s manager and other stakeholders as needed.

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