CHOW #15- “Tell them to behave” – A scrum master problem

You are a scrum master and you find that your team does not attend the daily stand-up on time and you also find that most of the team members do not update their tasks in the iteration tracker. Burn-down is never up to date. You see this as a culture issue and would like to fix it as soon as possible because the VP of the business unit from the Head Office overseas is visiting your location next week. In the stand-up, you announce the visit to the team and tell them to correct their behavior. You also tell them you have no way of knowing the true status unless they update the tracker.

Will this work? Why or why not? What would you do in such a scenario?

Suggested Solution:

Will this work? Answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It is likely to work in the short-term until the visit of the VP from the Head Office – because in general, people fear senior management – they do not want to be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Alternately, they may respect a senior manager so much that they would be in their best behaviour in front of them. They would love to be in the good books of someone they respect.

After the visit, though, team is likely to go back to its old ways. Team members came late to daily stand-ups and did not update the tasks daily because they did not see value in doing those things. As a scrum master, you need to help them see the value. It cannot be done by telling them what to do and not even by telling them why they should do it. ‘Telling’ is a poor tool for the facilitative role of a scrum master. Alternative ‘telling’ is ‘Asking questions’ – a powerful tool for a Scrum Master.

Moreover, people need to update the tracker not for the Scrum Master to know the true status but for the team to see the status collectively. That raises the question: ‘Why should the team need to know the correct status?’ – because team owns the iteration goals and they have the responsibility to achieve that short-term goal.

Scrum Master is an enabler. He/she can enable change in two ways here:

  1. Ask them questions like ‘How are we doing with respect to the iteration goals?’, ‘How many stories are done by now?’, ‘Which stories do we need to focus on to get them to done state?’, ‘At this rate, would we achieve our iteration goals?’, ‘What is holding us up?’, ‘What are the consequences of not achieving the iteration goals?’ ‘How will this affect the product owner?’, etc. Essentially, help the team to focus on the goals and how they are going to achieve these goals. Here is often the temptation for Scrum Masters: they would ask a question but not stay silent after that. Silence is another powerful tool in a facilitative scrum master’s arsenal.
  2. Wonderful thing about agile is the retrospective sessions. Scrum Master can see if the behavioural issues are brought up in the retrospective. If not, he/she can bring it up but let the team introspect and commit to improvement. Again, retrospective is not a forum for giving lectures (despite all good intentions). If you have the services of an agile coach, you could leverage the coach’s credibility to mentor the team and give them pointers. Even for an external coach, asking questions is the best way – telling them would be the last resort.

Finally, Scrum Master needs to learn to be patient and persist. It does take time to bring in change in people’s behaviour. Moreover, different people may change at different rates – there will be a few who take the lead and Scrum Master can cite and encourage their behaviour. Over a period of time, team will start taking responsibility for the iteration goals. A new culture will emerge as they work towards achieving the goals.

What has been your experience as Scrum Master? Please do share your ideas in this forum.

What do you think?

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