Scrum Master motivates the team, but who motivates Scrum Master?

Very recently while attending, or should I say observing a CST deliver a CSM workshop, I was watching and listening to a video shown by the instructor to the class. It was all about that “Everyone needs a coach”, right from the top to the bottom. All of us have our own weak moments of career where we are confused, feel let down, not sure of which path to adopt and so on… this is precisely the place where a coach can help.

In the same vein, this led me to think, about the Scrum Master, the “Go to person” in Agile-Scrum. Scrum Master should educate, train, coach, mentor the Scrum team, the sponsors, the customers and all the other stakeholders. But then I wonder who educates, coaches and mentors the Scrum Master? Who takes care of their needs in their own low times? How does one motivate the Scrum Master, what are the tricks of the game? Can the same principles apply to the Scrum Master as he/she applies to the Scrum Team?

While writing this blog, I happened to search the web, the search criteria “How to Motivate Scrum Master”, all the responses were on motivation, but whose? It is all about the team. Nothing wrong with this, but we have missed the bus that Scrum Master is also a human. He / she has feelings, they can have a bad day in office. At times, Agile / Scrum falls short on expectations and does not cover all the basic ingredients that are required to execute the a great agile-scrum project (we have too much emphasis on development team, but very little focus on Scrum Master).

All Agile Gurus have maintained the idea, that Scrum Master is not supposed to be involved in the HR related matters of the team. He or She has no control over the team, not sure, if they are allowed to choose their own team. Scrum Master is basically a NON-PLAYING CAPTAIN of the team, who sits outsides, cannot interfere in the estimation or the commitment as made by the team, cannot be a guide on the technical front and so on … but is still accountable for the success of the team, success of the sprint / iteration. No doubt this is not an easy task.

Here, presenting a few ideas and thoughts of what can be done or how it can be done? I have tried and tested these ideas and they worked with a fair degree of success.

Lack of motivation can lead to Scrum Master’s own inefficiencies and low productivity. Scrum Master would also have a reporting line and a line manager.

Managers who motivate people with the usage of incentives, money, promotion have limited amount of success in long run, the short-term results are fantastic. According to Nigel Nicholson, you cannot motivate an Individual. Individual has to self-motivate themselves. The best the management or a manager can do is to create the right environment, tools, process and more importantly VISION for the individual to succeed.

Scrum Masters are not made to order, they are created internally, you do not hire them, you groom them from your own organization. They would be better placed to understand and embed the culture of the company and its value system.

It would be wrong and incorrect to assume that a CSM workshop can produce great Scrum Masters. Most of the candidates in the workshop are looking for a certification, rather than knowledge as this would boost the profile and improve career growth chances, but they fail to understand that well written CV does not provide knowledge and experience, nothing can substitute the experience part of the game, which I find appalling in our industry.

Motivating a Scrum Master is like motivating the CEO of the organization. CEO is at the highest level of the system, decision maker of the game, how does one motivate the CEO? What would make the CEO ineffective or demotivated? The same reasons and rules apply to a Scrum Master.

Everyone knows the value of a good inspiring vision. Great managers motivate the team with the power of vision, the passion of their delivery and compelling logic of their reasoning and people will march off in the right direction. Each manager thinks “If I can only get this person to listen, he’ll see the logic of my position”. This approach of something I can “tell and sell” is based on the profound fallacy many of us buy into: Others also have thought processes that we do. This frequency mismatch of perceptions leads to a common problem with managers attempting to motivate.

Instead of pushing solutions on people with force of your argument, pull solutions out of them. Certainly, not all people are going to feel the same passion for their work that do for their hobbies or other interest, it is a huge mistake to write-off a problematic employee as demotivated. Most of us (employees) have the potential to engage with their work in a way that augments achievement of team goals and organization vision.

A variety of factors and reasons can block the Scrum Master’s natural motivation. For example, an urgent decision is to be taken for which the management approval would be required, the best part the required manager is not available or is out of office or simply not accessible due to busy schedule. This would have an impact on the Scrum teams’ delivery and there by de-motivate the Scrum Master (as the team would feel that SM is not doing the job) or team would doubt the effectiveness of ceremonies like Retrospectives since these will not yield results due to lack to adequate sponsors commitment to improve / providing adequate funds / budgets and the only focus of the product owner is to deliver, without even understanding the challenges and issues of the Development team.

One of the approaches I have seen work in Agile-Scrum teams is by allowing them to follow the approach as they seem fit or desire, but within the boundaries of Agile Manifesto and Principles. I have also at times advocated to change / tweak the process a little bit here and there to uphold the dharma of Agile principles.

It is important for us to understand that there are no defined practices in Agile, It only has Manifesto and principles.

Recipe of any success is TRUST, the most important Scrum value, which is missing in each organization. Should TRUST be existing, all other elements would be secondary and would be automatically be taken care of. Giving the required confidence to the Scrum Master, that he or she enjoys Management TRUST is a very critical element. If we all can practice the concept of “Fail Fast”, this should also apply to the Scrum Master and related functions.

Along with TRUST, provide a liberty to challenge the status quo of the system, allow them question the system, without hurting anybody’s pride or ego (easier said than done)

Managers and Management would do well to understand and appreciate the difference between Micro and Macro type of management. I have attended several leadership workshops where this idea / concept is discussed, but have not seen it in practice yet in the manner as required.

Scrum Master would also need a channel to vent this frustration, validate their thoughts, get a second opinion on their innovative ideas or just talk about their feelings, needs and requirements. This is one place where the management / reporting line managers can play a decent role, by providing them a space, lend an ear to listen to their woes and issues, provide required guidance or exchange a few notes, share their own experience and explore options to resolve an issue.

All said and done, a fundamental rule of management is that you can’t change people’s character; you can’t even control their actions most of the time. Change comes from within or not at all.



Dispersed Team – Boon or a Bane – The How’s of the world?

A team that has members across different locations, time zones, geographies is typically a dispersed team. The members of dispersed team come from different cultures and can bring with them radically different approaches, perspectives and challenges.

Dispersed team brings together of the phenomena of human- technology interactions, team work, communications among people separated by time, culture and distance. Such elements give rise to challenging the current methods of effective team management, product and project management and inter-personal relationships among the team members

Since last decade the concept of dispersed teams have gained a lot of prominence in the IT industry and now-a-days, it a basic norm to have teams spread across locations and time-zones.

Is there an ROI on having a dispersed team? What are the management cost overheads? Is there a cost-benefit analysis performed before the decision of dispersed team creation is taken? Not sure if the current set of management folks in IT industry are taking this into account. The worst case scenario, we find these days, the Agile teams (which were supposed to be in a single location, co-located) are also getting into the dispersed mode, negating all the values and benefits of adopting agile in the system, we have started performing Waterfall approach in the disguise of Agile / Scrum (rather creating a concept of ScrumFall)

The way organizations conduct business is changing, the landscape of doing business is changing, the world is moving away from regional to global elements. Information is the new currency is the current fast paced world that we operate in. The way technology is moving, it is making the leadership take note and move from relocation to dispersed teams

Again accepting the business realities and the way IT industry is currently operating, May I take the liberty to present a few ideas and thoughts on how to create & manage a product / project using a dispersed team.

How Part of the system?

Before launching the dispersed team, it is important for the organization to gauge its own readiness and the team’s readiness to operate in a dispersed mode. Is the organization ready to support it or its merely a current need so we need to do it.

To succeed, a dispersed team needs thorough planning and adequate support in terms of logistics, budgets, infrastructure, facilities, HW and SW. It should have a defined purpose, a vision, clear and measurable goals and objectives. Roles and authority must be defined carefully, too much of centralized decision making would kill the team, where complete de-centralization of authority would create a wrong environment to deal with (future). The team must have right people with the right size.

If we determine that our organization is ready to launch the dispersed team, the next step is to carefully plan its first meeting, a minimum requirement should be face to face interaction and meeting (which a lot of organization feel is a non-value added costly affair, I always recommend the management the evaluate the cost of doing this activity vs. cost of not doing (see the data and impact in the long run), whichever comes to be cheaper, let’s do that approach) giving an opportunity to the team members to meet each other, develop personal rapport and create a shared understanding of elements, this adequately set the stage of better collaboration & coordination finally help build the TRUST factor (which so much missing in the current way of our working).

When creating / launching a dispersed team, care should be taken to at an individual and team level for how they combine to form a team, see value of certain attributes such as: competence, desire to work in a team, skills sets, working environment and more importantly culture.

I recommend doing a DISC profiling of individual for critical high visibility project, where it can make or break the organization or move the organization in the next sphere of doing business

Once the dispersed team is launched, to make it a success, a few elements would be required to be in place. Three attributed would be required (consider them as pre-requisite): Communication and Information Sharing, decision making and conflict management.

Since good communication is so important to success of the dispersed team, that each team member should understand the capabilities of the various tools and technologies used. Facilitating effective decision making is an equal amount of challenge and leadership should define what decisions can be done and taken at the local level and what would require centralized decision making (Economy of scale is an important consideration in this front). Team must also formalize how decisions would be made, how are we going to internally communicate, how the external world would be engaged, what is method of engagement along with frequency. And finally, since dispersed teams would invariably experience some inter-personal issues and conflict, an agreeable conflict management approach should be adopted (not trying to generalize the idea), the Leader should guide the team in planning a process to manage conflicts as and when they occur and reaching a solution for the same.

Dispersed teams require more direct and careful maintenance than the local teams to reach their full potential. Such teams can be a source of rich innovation than the local teams. A larger and wider perspective helps the team solve the problem much more quickly. Insights from colleagues around the globe bring new dimensions to the work, Members can draw on cultural differences to access and understand different viewpoints and opinions of others.

Project management is also a difficult challenge for leadership of the dispersed team. As the distance grows between the teams it becomes much more difficult to schedule joint meetings and discussions, this element can be mitigated by providing adequate infrastructure and support to the teams.

Take time-zones into account when scheduling a meeting, one location is always going to be at a receiving end of the system, better approach and plan would be to rotate this concept where is the pain of sitting late in offices or coming early is shared across locations, let not one team feel victimized. We need to be honest to ourselves. How many times have our clients sat late in their own offices across the Atlantic or have reached early to have that required meeting or to clarify a few things, from a outsourcing standpoint, the vendor is always the one to take the pain. We have all forgotten a basic principle that projects are successful when customer and the supplier side of the business both collaborate and work towards the achieving the desired vision.

Usage of common tools, having common vocabulary is a minimum requirement, where possible and when possible invest in WebEx / online video meetings (audio based meetings is a thing of past), beware of not investing in the necessary item, could have a larger impact in the system, one should always take decisions in terms of understanding the un-intended consequences (short term) and the intended consequences (long term). Choose simple tools and technology, do remember the purpose of tools and technology is to assist the human’s and not to dominate them. Define a process and the identify a tool, rather than invest in a tool and then because we have purchased it, one would go ahead and define a process to meet the needs of the tool.

Final a few words of wisdom: Dispersed teams would present unique challenges. Organizations need to prepare for and support them properly to realize their full potential.

In the next series of my blogs, would present checklist that can be used as a ready reckoner to launch and support dispersed teams.

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Leadership Learning: Return on Experience

Off late, I am fascinated, with the idea of writing a Job Description for a CEO in an agile organization. What is expected from a CEO of an Agile adopting organization? This led me to think on what can CEO do differently using his / her experience, How can experience be better channelized. Can it help him and the company grow?

A central question that has captured the minds of all researches and educators over the world: What are the processes by which the senior leadership or executives learn, grow and develop themselves of the course of their careers

This blog attempts to provide a guide or some ideas for a framework to understand how Leadership is developed through experience and suggest how leaders can assess and enhance work experience for the future development.

Nothing teaches Leadership like experience, but the benefits of on the job learning are not guaranteed. To maximum the learning and development potential that lies within the work experience, one would need a good plan. One always needs to understand what is one getting out of the experience, what is missing and then how to fill those gaps.

May I introduce a new concept of Return-On-Experience framework. Using the ROE framework, one would actively seek to learn from experience to develop Mastery, Versatility, and Impact. When you apply ROE approach in your work and organization everyday experiences can be transformed into an engine for Leadership development and Organizational impact.

Part of the ROE is a concept of “BUILD, BROADEN, BENEFIT”.

One can create a new learning habit that uses experience to build, broaden and benefit.

Build an Experience based learning can enhance mastery. The development goals to increase your capability by sharpening your existing skills and ability to lead.

Broaden an Experience based learning can enhance versatility. The development goals to increase your repertoire of skills and abilities.

Benefit an Experience based learning can enhance impact. The true measure of learning is your ability to apply it. To have value, learning must be transferable to different situation and to other people.

The build-broaden-benefit concept would allow to view the work through new lens. Often career and development strategies focus on either a higher level of experience or cross-functional learning. ROE concepts connect the two of them. Mastery prepares the leadership for existing and identified challenges. Versatility helps the leadership develop for new and potential unknown challenges – Situation which may be different from ones they have already experienced.

The combination of Mastery and Versatility produces “T-shaped Leader” – someone who possesses high capabilities in a core function /area with board capacities in diverse areas.

When going through an experience, one should always ask these questions:

  • What skills am I building?
  • How can I broaden my perspective or extend by capability?
  • How can my experience and my increased Mastery and Versatility benefit my organization or the project?

If your experiences fall short on developing Mastery, Versatility or impact, the message is clear: It is time to change.

Needs of the Organization

Align your learning experiences with the needs of the organization. What are the strategic challenges and priorities the organization faces? What Leadership skills does it need to meet those challenges?

When your development experiences are aligned to the priorities of the organization, the skills that you develop from the experience go towards building leadership mastery in the ways that have direct relevance to your career and benefits to the organization in the long term.

Your Own Needs

Match development experiences to your needs. Customize your learning agenda based on your own strengths and development needs. An experience that may be developmental for you may not be useful or have the same effect on others. The process of developing Mastery differs by individuals and the context of their work.

Strategies for Building Mastery

  • Strategic assignments
  • Job rotations
  • Action learning projects

Strategies for Building Versatility

  • Go vertical
  • Reach across
  • Engage with outsiders
  • Cross geographic boundaries
  • Discover new demographics
  • Seek cross-cultural experiences
  • Cultivate diverse relationships

Benefit: Enhance your Impact

The true measure of learning is your ability to apply it. To value, learning must be transferable to different situations and to other people. Experience based learning can enhance impact. The transfer of learning from experience involves a manager’s application of the lessons learned and transmission of new knowledge to other people in the organization.

At individual level, the lessons learnt are transferred to the context of other work required of the manager. This happens when the leader can apply the lessons learned from an experience to a variety of contexts from one role to another, or to other project, or to new department / function. Impact is enhanced when learner abstracts the leadership principle underlying the knowledge being learned

At the group level, the lessons learnt from experience can be transferred to others through conversations in which a group reflects collectively on an experience or when individual shares the lessons learned from experience with group members. By sharing and practicing new behaviors and skills, managers can transfer the learning they have acquired from experience to other members of the group

At organizational level, the transfer of learnings from experience occurs when learning is codified and used to transform general practice. While difficult to achieve, this is the most powerful benefit of experiential learnings. As leaders transfer their learnings across the organization, they create shortcuts for other leaders to learn the same skills

Create your ROE

  • How do you make your learnings visible?
  • How do you recognize it for yourself?
  • How do you evaluate learning to a relevant discussion with others?
  • How do you use lessons learned from experience as a point of differentiation between yourself and others

Common mistakes that Scrum Masters make when giving feedback to Scrum Team Members

How many of us give good and consistent feedback to the people / teams that we work with? There would a handful a people who put their hands up for the question above. Why so few? The reasons are varied: It is hard to do; I am afraid I will say something I will regret; People get emotional when they hear things they do not like; It will mess up with my relationships. All of these concerns are valid; but the all stem from the common mistakes that people make when giving feedback:

The feedback judge’s individuals, not actions.

This is the number one mistake people make in giving feedback is putting it in judgmental terms. If the Scrum Master says to someone “You were to abrasive” or “You need to a better tea, player”. This is judgmental feedback, by the time these words are received by the feedback recipient, He is already thinking “Who do you think you are calling me abrasive”. The energy spent in defending themselves from your attach defeats any chance of having a meaningful conversation

The Feedback is exaggerated with generalities

Another key mistake is using language like “always” or “never”. Hearing these words people naturally get defensive as they can remember plenty of times when they did not do what you claim they did.

The Feedback contains implied threat

Telling someone her job is in jeopardy (“Do you want to be successful in the organization or the team?”) does not reinforce good behavior or illustrate bad behavior. It only creates animosity

The Feedback uses inappropriate humor

If giving feedback is uncomfortable to you, or if you sometimes speak before thinking, you might use sarcasm as a substitute for feedback, But saying “Good Afternoon” to a colleague who is ten minutes late for a morning meeting doesn’t tell that person how that behavior affected you or provide reasons to change that behavior

The Feedback is question, not a statement

Phrasing feedback as a question (“Do you think you can pay closer attention during our next meeting?”) is too indirect to be effective. It may be also be a interpreted as sarcastic, or rhetorical, to which the recipient may respond with indifference

One can avoid common feedback mistakes by learning how to communicate important information about the performance to colleagues, peers or superiors in a way what you are saying and helps them identify ways in which they can improve. During the course, of giving feedback to various people and system, have developed a new technique called as “SBI – Situation Behavior Impact”.

Using this concept of giving the feedback, the recipient can more easily see that action he or she can take to continue and improve performance or to change behavior that is ineffective or even an obstacle to performance.

SBI technique is effective because it is simple and one while giving feedback, they describe the behavior you observed and explain the impact that the behavior had on the system or the team or the project.

Be Simple, Direct and Effective – Learn these 3 step and practice them regularly.

Remember capturing the situation is only the start of the feedback session. Here are some examples to start with:

  • “Yesterday during the Daily Scrum, while the team was discussing the status of XYZ user story ….”
  • During the Retrospective, while the team was speaking on a ABC issue ….”
  • This past Friday during the Release celebration cocktail party ….”

Specificity is important when recalling the situation. The more specifics and details you can use in bringing the situation to mind, the clearer you message would be.

Describing the behavior is next step to providing effective feedback. It’s also the most critical step and is often omitted, It is also the most difficult one to describe. The most common mistake is giving the feedback happens when judgments are communicated using adjectives that describe a person and the person’s action.

Consider the phrases below:

  • You were rude during the meeting
  • She seemed to be bored at the sprint review
  • He seemed pleased with the report as presented to management

These phrases describe an observer’s impression or interpretation of a behavior. Now let’s have a look at some other list of actions as observer might witness that would lead to those impressions and interpretations:

  • He spoke at the same time another person was speaking (Rude)
  • She yawned, rolled her eyes and looked out the window (Bored)
  • He smiled and nodded his head (Pleased)

The list of phrases as given above actual describe a person’s action. The focus is on the actual behavior not on a judgement as to what the behavior might mean. By focusing on the action, not the impression, Scrum Master can communicate clear facts that person can understand and act upon.

So when giving feedback using SBI, it is not only important to capture what is said or done but how it is said and done. You can capture the how by paying attention to three things: Body Language, tone of voice and speaking manner and word choice.

Body language is non-verbal communication can include facial expression, eye movement, body posture and hand gestures.

The final step in giving feedback is to relay the impact that the other person’s behavior had on the team, project or anything else.

By communicating the impact a behavior has had on the you (personally) or on the team or the project, you are sharing a point of view from your perspective. This would help build trust, which in turn can lead to even more effective communication.

To develop your effectiveness in carrying out the impact stage of giving feedback, practice putting your feedback in form of “When you did (behavior), I felt (Impact)” or “When you said (behavior), I was (impacted)”.

Putting it all together

Review the situation, behavior and impact steps that build effective feedback and practice those steps at every opportunity. Take time to reflect on your feedback efforts. Ask yourself “Why did I pay attention to this particular behavior?”, What does this say about me?

Reflection also gives you time to understand the true impact the behavior had on you.

You will in turn will benefit from developing a useful skill that not only helps to raise productivity of all people around you, but also bolsters your personal Leadership skills.