CHOW # 188 – Addressing skill and knowledge gaps in Scrum teams

Deepa is a scrum master of a newly formed Scrum team consisting of 6 member development team supported by a full-time product owner, and a scrum master. The development team consists of a tech lead, three developers, one tester, and one DevOps skilled person. The team is co-located. The team is working on developing highly complex features in the internet security domain. The tech lead and a developer have extensive domain experience, but other members are new to this domain.

The team is working hard, but they have not been able to meet their sprint commitments in the last three sprints, and velocity is also showing a downtrend. It is already mid-way in the quarter, and it is evident that the team will not be able to meet the goals for the quarter.  Deepa assesses that the team does not have the required domain knowledge, and that is impeding them in meeting their commitment. Deepa has also noticed that the team members are not taking the initiative to leverage the expertise available within the team. Deepa has brought up this issue with the team during the scrum events, but there is little change on the ground. The team has three more sprints to step up and deliver. Deepa is planning immediate interventions for the course correction and looking for ideas. Can you help Deepa with ideas?


For solving any problem, it is important to understand the problem and the root causes. I would start by asking a few questions. Does the team have a common understanding of the goals and objectives? Does the team follow a working agreement? Do they have adequate skills and knowledge to work on the story?  And most importantly, is the team aware of the issues, and do they care to fix them?

The success of any improvement initiative is much higher if the team could relate to the problem and own the actions to solve it. I would suggest that Deepa facilitate a problem-solving workshop consisting of a short retro to agree on the problem, the RCA, and a solutioning exercise.

More often than not, the domain knowledge or skill related gaps don’t get bridged because the team does not work as a team. The retro should highlight any mindset related issues causing this. If not, then Deepa should bring it up during the solutioning exercise. Either way, a discussion around one team-one goal, collaboration, trust, and ownership would certainly help. The outcome of the discussion could be a new working agreement for the team.

I would suggest that the team experiment with swarming and fractal. The team may consider forming two fractals from the 6-member development team. Each fractal may then set up the daily cadence for swarming on the ‘How’ part of the respective stories that they would be working on. The fractals can also set up a cadence for common swarming sessions to discuss design and testing strategies and any other technical issue blocking the team.

What do you think?

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