Scrum teams are defined as meeting certain criteria. First, they have to have the skills on the team to get the job done that they are going to be asked to do. Second, the team should be between 3 and 9 people (prior to 2007, Scrum suggested that the team be between 5 and 9; more recently, it seems that size was changed to 3-9). Third, the team should be self-organizing. It's the last part I'd like to talk about in this blog post.

When I teach or coach people about Scrum, we talk about self-organization -- but do we every REALLY give it enough time? Sometimes I wonder...

Case in point: a very common dysfunction during the transitioning of an organization from whatever they happen to be doing to Scrum are teams that don't really seem to know what to do next. Behaviors we tend to see from these teams include (but are DEFINITELY not limited to):

  1. waiting to be assigned to a task on the Sprint Backlog,
  2. assigning themselves to a task on the Sprint Backlog and then going off to work on it by themselves,
  3. delegating planning and estimation tasks to the "senior" people on the team,
  4. expecting a "lead" on the team to determine a design (solution),
    let someone else determine how much work they can do in a Sprint,
  5. doing a poor retrospective (or none at all),
    showing no concern for how to avoid problems that occurred in a Sprint,
  6. showing no concern for how to improve the teams performance,
  7. expecting management to tell the team how to improve.

There's probably several more common items that could be added to the list (and I'll do that as I think of them). They all boil down to a lack of self-organization. Let's take a quick look at both of these attributes.

  • Self-Organizing Teams 
    • decide how they are going to get work done during a Sprint. This is not just about how the team decides to solve a particular Product Backlog Item (PBI), but also how they are going to leverage their skills to get the job done. Who's going to work with whom? Who's is going to work on which tasks? Self-organizing teams adapt as they go through the Sprint, moving the right people to the right task on a daily basis. As situations change, the team adapts. Team members self-select for tasks (no one decides for them which task to work on) and work together as miniature "tiger teams" to attack and complete a PBI as fast as they reasonably can. Self-Organizing teams OWN their Sprint Backlogs and work together to build the right product right.
    • Look at how they are working and are constantly finding better ways to get things done. They keep their meetings short by keeping each other focused on the task at hand. They OWN responsibility for trying as best they can to get done what was forecasted for the Sprint (yes, I know, it's a forecast...but unless the situation is outside their control, teams should still hold themselves accountable for doing what they said they could do). Whether they get their entire forecasted content DONE by the end of the Sprint, a self-managing team then takes a critical look at their productivity and their performance and tries to find ways to improve. Self-managing teams OWN their performance and productivity and take their accountability seriously.

If you are on a Scrum team, ask yourself, "do we OWN our Sprint Backlogs and make things happen?" If not, what's happening instead and how could you get your team and management on board to help fix it. Ask yourself, "do we OWN our productivity and performance and seek ways to improve every Sprint?" Again, if not, what's happening instead? How could you get your team and your management onboard to help fix the situation.

Scrum is not just about backlogs and prioritization. Self-managing work teams have always proven that they can achieve higher levels of performance (working smarter, not harder) -- that's if you're lucky enough to be on a truly self-managing work team. Scrum DOES give us a way to make it happen, but its the Scrum Team member that bears responsibility for making a difference -- not management.

Get your team to take accountability for themselves. We're all adults here. And if you fear that your organization's management won't let your team self-organize or self-manage, keep in mind that someone has to organize and manage. If it's not the team, management WILL do it. But I've worked with a lot of managers in my day (and been one myself for almost 20 years). There's a lot of managers out there that, if they saw the teams taking ownership, those same managers would step back and say, "Go for it!"

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