On April 13-14, 2011 I taught a private Certified ScrumMaster course in Shanghai, China. As part of my course I asked the students to write down the most important questions that they had about Scrum. Some of these questions were answered in the Scrum Café (a topic for a future post) and several more in the Q&A segments. In order to give you a feel for what’s on the mind of the Chinese; here is a rehash of the most popular questions that came up and my answers to them.
Question: How does the development team become cross-functional? Our personal identities are tied to our roles and we don’t want to give that up (e.g. being a senior developer caries high prestige, being seen as a “jack of all trades and master of none” is not appealing)
Answer: On a Scrum development team everyone works together to accomplish the Sprint goal; that means that we need to be willing to do work that “isn’t in our job description” from time-to-time. We still need specialists who can solve the complicated technical problems, but lending a hand in other areas is essential. During one of my Scrum implementations many people were complaining at first, they felt that they were losing touch with their functional roles. They were afraid of losing their identities and skills as a business analyst, as a developer, or as a tester. Within a few months these same people were singing the praises of Scrum, so much happier due to the increased transparency and high-bandwidth communication. In addition we established “centers of excellence” so that development team members could continue to learn more about their specialties on a regular basis.
Question: Most of the time our ScrumMasters are team leaders or program managers, they typically don’t protect the team. How can we improve this situation?
Answer: For Scrum to work properly it’s important for the ScrumMaster not to command-and-control the development team. Many managers are so used to handing out orders that they don’t even recognize that they are doing it. Sometimes simply pointing out the behavior is enough to subvert it; a great time to broach the subject would be during a Sprint Retrospective. If that doesn’t work then ask the current ScrumMaster if they are willing to resign and let one of the development team members play the role, encouraging the old ScrumMaster to serve in an Agile Manager capacity for the team.
Question: All our companies seem to care about is delivery and efficiency. They want us to constantly produce more and more, how do we get them to back off this pressure to constantly produce, especially while we are trying to learn Scrum?
Answer: It’s not uncommon for management to put pressure on the development to write more code. However, from time-to-time they cross a line and it becomes un-healthy for the team. Scrum is all about sustainable pace, delivering at a level that can be maintained over the long-run. One of the best ways to make a case for management is with hard facts. When you notice the ill-effects of their pressure, document the facts of the situation and the outcomes. Have the ScrumMaster take these facts to management and make a case for the team. Also, you can have the Product Owner and the ScrumMaster work hand-in-hand to shield the development team from management.
As you can see the Chinese are very curious about Scrum and they have some challenges to overcome, as we all do. Do you have a question about Scrum? I encourage you to write your question below in the comments and I promise to get back to you with an answer.
By: Brian M. Rabon, an ASPE-SDLC instructor who is a CST and a PMP. Brian is also the president of The Braintrust Consulting Group. You can read his blog, find him on Facebook, and connect with him on Linkedin or Twitter. Brian is a regular contributor to the ASPE-SDLC Blog and a thought leader in the fields of Agile and Traditional Project Management as it applies to Software Development.