Chicken or Egg – Who came first? Who chooses the Scrum Master for a Scrum Team (Define the MVP for the SM)?

For all those who have been to the gymnasium, let me present to you a concept, somewhat similar to catch 22 situations – of who chooses whom? Do you choose the gym and the personal trainer or the gym chooses you and allocates the trainer for you?

Will your gym trainer/coach refuse to train you on Day 1? Does the trainer say that you are not qualified to be his/her student? Or is it the other way around where you go and enroll in the gym and identify a trainer and figure out the way things work? If you are not happy with the coaching or advice you receive at the gym, are you allowed to change the trainer/coach or switch the gym? How does it work? I am sure, the customer always calls the shots. It is the service provider who is at the receiving end of the system and this I believe is the default rule in the game (whether it is right or wrong, it’s a matter of different debate for some other day.)

This leads me to think about the industry practices that have been nurtured over the period of years by pseudo Agilest and the so-called sponsors of the transformation game from traditional project management to Agile way of doing the job. Have we achieved success? Do expending millions of dollars justify? How do organizations measure ROI in their balance sheets? Nobody has a clue; the consulting organizations are making merry and laughing all the way to the bank.

Come to think about it, when I ponder on the reasons of failures. (Oh yes, Agile says “Fail Fast,” but not at the cost of losing millions down the drain.) One of the failure points could be the SCRUM MASTER (read the pun as SM is written in caps). Especially on how we appoint the Scrum Master.

  • How is the scrum master selected?
  • Who selects them?
  • Who should get involved in selecting the Scrum Master?
  • What consideration should be applied when identifying a Scrum Master for the role?
  • What characteristics & traits should one look for when selecting a Scrum Master?

Let’s explore how it is done today in our industry as compared to how should this happen?

Most of the times (9 out of 10), it would be the management who would appoint a person, whom they feel qualified for the job. However, the irony is that the Management would have little or no idea what that role entails. Experience has suggested that we find the job for the person rather than find the right person for the job.

At times, the selection process of appointing the Scrum Master has been dictated by the person who is on the bench and we are trying to find a project to make the person billable or the other approach as seen is to nominate a person close to the management.

In fact, according to Scrum co-founder Dr. Jeff Sutherland, great Scrum Masters can come from virtually any background or discipline (i.e., engineering, design, testing, product management, journalism, academia, social work, etc.), and their role is relatively simple:

  • Remove impediments
  • Guide the team in Scrum practices
  • Protect against outside interference

In a way, a Scrum Master closely resembles a personal gym trainer, where the trainer would not have any direct control over what you eat and how hard you work out. All they can do is inspire you through effective coaching, enablement and guidance, but the implementation of the same is in your hands.

Who should be or become the Scrum Master for your new team? Is it your current project manager, Tech Lead, or the functional manager? I would have to argue against the current industry practices and say, anyone but one of these above-mentioned roles.

During my past few interviews, I have discovered that potential candidates are highlighting achievements; such as managing and controlling more than 2-3 teams at the same time.  This reminds me of something that happened a few months ago, wherein I was asked, how many teams should a Scrum Master handle? For 2 minutes it made me think, of my past experiences as Project leader / manager, where in one was managing (or should I say was accountable) for multiple projects and we did not do justice to the projects (any one of them). My response to the person was very diplomatic. I responded, “A good Scrum Master manages two teams whereas an Excellent Scrum Master manages one team”

Although, understandably, the management usually wants a standard answer for who they should select to be the Scrum Master in this new work approach called “Agile,” it is not a one-size-fits-all answer. And the reason is because it depends on the person, the team and the environment. There are multiple factors that would impact the selection of the person for the role. It cannot be a cookie cutter approach, which is pretty much standardized, even in the same organization across 2 teams, the selections could vary (and they should vary, if the circumstances vary)

I think it’s a good question to ask, “Who decides the Scrum Master?” We often see that it is the management who decides, but they make the decision without knowing what Scrum is and more importantly, how it works. If possible, take this crucial decision to the team to see what they think. There needs some prudence in this, certainly, but we should rather lean toward making this statement of empowerment and trust of the team from the very start of adopting Scrum.

We commonly see Project Managers being given the role of Scrum Master. What makes a great Project Manager may not make a great Scrum Master. Often, the management wants Project Managers who can “get things done.” They drive performance and push the team. They may even micro-manage for results and visibility by tracking every task, status, risk, change and deviation from the plan. Management loves this (or, more truthfully, love the results). On the other hand, I’ve also seen Project Managers who provide management what they want (helping get more productivity and more visibility to progress, issues and options) by serving, empowering and trusting the team. If you are currently a Project Manager, which type are you? Experience over the years have identified that about 50% of project managers are on each side of the coin.

The industry has seen experienced managers taking the Scrum Master role. This, more often than Project Managers, has negative consequences, only the consequences are not so obvious, but these can be corrected more often and more easily than I’ve seen with Project Managers.

Some managers, due to their company’s culture and expectations, carry the responsibility of getting results from their people (for the projects their people are on). For these managers, even if they wanted to embrace the trans-formative qualities of the Scrum Master, the company culture will push back, and most often win. For managers in these tough positions, one would rather see them find someone else to be the Scrum Master, and then the manager can focus more time and energy towards the bigger need of being a heat shield, organizational impediment remover and management mindset and organizational cultural change agent.

The problem is much larger than we imagine or can think of; many questions are unanswered and the answer that are correct or atleast deemed right, the industry does not want to embrace them:

  • So what traits do we expect a Scrum Master to have?
  • How do we select a Scrum Master?
  • What skills do we want a Scrum Master to have?

Look for these ideas and thoughts @ selection of Scrum Master:

  • A person who understands and can practice servant leadership and facilitation
  • Always in pursuit of continuous improvement
  • A relationship person and can create a certain degree of influence with team members and other stakeholders
  • You need a person who is Humble, Ego-less, Collaborative in nature, Knowledgeable on Scrum (should kind of Google of Scrum / Agile Practices)

Getting all of the traits in a single person could be a near to impossible task, in case we do see that happening, find from above items, which are your critical success factors and what are things that are type of MVP (Minimum Viable Personality) for the Scrum Master role in your organization.


Reverse Mentoring … Time for the Old Dog to learn some new tricks of the game

I own a new Samsung Galaxy S8+ phone which was recently purchased. It is a struggle to understand and get used to the  new settings and features. Where do I go to solve my issue, where can I seek the answers to my questions? I had no clue until my daughter came to my rescue to solve the current issues on hand and explained me how to use the gadget. This led me to thinking that over the years I have been coaching / teaching / explaining her different things and now she is becoming my coach / mentor / problem resolution person. She is my go-to person for the phone at-least.

Do we all face or have similar kinds of situations / problem at our own work place / organization? To larger degree Yes, but we all fail to recognize the issue and its relevant impact. We do not want to acknowledge our own short comings as they would show us in bad light and put our own experience to shame.

What are the current market demands? What is the organizations expectation from myself … well we all need to understand ……

  • Larger and more global organizations function
  • Impact of changing global economy is relevant to our work
  • Leaner organizational structures, less is more
  • More dynamic labor markets
  • Increased importance of human capital (well that is the only raw material one needs in the system)
  • Enhanced leader pipeline to offset demographic trends
  • Growing leadership capacity
  • Developing strong leaders

Organization have a decent budget for their L&D department, who are in turn tasked to upgrade skills of their current employees or make them more deploy-able. Many companies try to increase diversity with earnest training sessions. Has this ever-going experiment yielded results? What is the ROI that the L&D team can show? Is the budget really justified? No, I am not against the training’s / workshops conducted (well that’s my own bread & butter), but I am questioning the method and the way the money has been spent.

If one see’s the trends and graphs of the L&D, there is hardly any sessions / workshops planned for the Leadership team. At times, the argument is that LT does not have time available to attend these sessions, if they do not have time for improving their own productivity, which in turn impacts the whole organization, I always wonder, how could they improve their own business unit or the organization and take it to the next level.

How do we overcome this issue?

Well the solution is “Reverse Mentoring”.

Reverse Mentoring is a novel concept that is gaining popularity in today’s fast-paced, tech-savvy world. Have you ever wondered what reverse mentoring is all about? Here are some answers to a few frequently asked questions on reverse mentoring.

Reverse mentoring is an approach that acknowledges everyone in the organization brings something to the table. Reverse mentoring partnerships generally include an older, more experienced executive with a younger, less-experienced newcomer. As the name suggests, the younger employee serves as the mentor. Yet, reverse mentoring is indeed a two-way street (at times this can be hard to digest for the senior folks in the organization, how can a junior coach me … well this is the mindset that needs to change)

On one hand, reverse mentoring gives Senior folks an opportunity to stay up-to-date with the latest business technologies and workplace trends. On the other, it helps junior employees see the larger picture and gives them a glimpse of macro-level management issues. Reverse mentoring also increases retention of millennial employees and gives senior executives the satisfaction of sharing their knowledge with the next generation. It increases multi-generational engagement and reduces conflicts between generations in the work place. More importantly, it is not a one-way traffic.

At one of my own customer, they started a reverse mentoring program, the aim was to train CXO in the tools and culture of social media. With entry-level employees in their twenties as mentors, the business leaders soon began to appreciate the power of “searching” for answers on the spot, and they wanted others in the company to benefit from the same flexibility. As a result, social networks that were previously off-limits to company employees were now unlocked. It also helped boost morale and retention of younger employees at the firm

How do we implement Reverse Mentoring @ our work Place?

Well here some ideas and thoughts to start with …

Identify / Find a perfect match

Reverse mentoring involves two people with extremely different experiences, backgrounds and cultures; therefore, creating the ideal mentoring partnership is vital. Choose mentors who possess good social skills and have the confidence to interact with and teach senior management.

Set a level playing field

Start the reverse mentoring program with a fun and informal orientation. The orientation should give the mentors and mentees an opportunity to interact with each other as individuals – not as the boss or as the newbie who is fresh out of grad school. This will set the stage for the entire program and in time help erase traditional hierarchies.

Set specific formal goals but allow space for individual innovation

It is important to list out what the reverse mentoring program aims to achieve in general, for all participants. However, each mentoring partnership is unique. Mentors and mentees may also enjoy and benefit from helping each other in ways not defined by the program. A young mentor might help a C-suite Exec on how to use the gadget or a CEO might share tips on how a new entrant can advance his / her career. So, factor in the need for informal goals to be met as well.

Consider program automation

If your program has many participants, consider using software to help run your program. It can help you make mentor matches, track progress, and report on results to help you measure program ROI.

Track and Measure Mentoring Outcomes

We always say, measure, measure, measure! It’s the only way to determine what your results might be and prove to senior folks that the program is working. The key to this is determining what you’ll be measuring. Something like employee satisfaction, while nice to have, probably won’t be enough to prove the importance of your program. I suggest focusing on tracking metrics like retention of employees who participated in the program as compared with those who didn’t. Of course, it’s also important to track other information too, such as changes that are happening because of the program and positive feedback, especially from the higher-ups who may be getting mentored for the first time in years.

Reverse Mentoring – A Key Component of Cultivating a Talent Strategy

Remember, reverse mentoring is just one aspect of a comprehensive talent strategy and it’s important to build that out. Comprehensive talent strategies are imperative for refining and retaining employees. They are beneficial in providing both a clear path to success for employees, as well as cultivating successful long-term employees. Research finds that organizations that perform well on business outcomes have a talent strategy and we do hope that you’ll implement reverse mentoring as part of that.

Concluding thoughts …

Reverse mentoring is an innovative use of mentoring. It emphasizes the idea that learning never stops while supporting the idea that the young have something to teach, which is why we see so much interest around it. Consider implementing at your organization to support your talent development goals.

Reverse mentoring puts a face to a concept—it’s easier to ignore a slide show than the compelling young person in front of you.

Now come to think of it, can this be applied in Scrum Teams? Why not, can the Scrum Master learn innovative ideas, thoughts and concepts from a fresher in the team?

Will the Old Dog (Scrum Master) be ready to take a leap of faith and trust the team members to move its own career ahead?

Should I remind that it is needless to, that we need to inspect and adapt (Agile should be a part of our DNA by now).

Reducing Cultural Debt – An Element that Management & Scrum Master needs to understand

What is that we are discussing?

Some of the problems that multi-cultural virtual teams or even co-located teams experience include: time delays in replies, lack of synergy among cross-cultural team members, communications breakdowns, unresolved conflicts among members, limited hours allowed to be worked and different holidays (happens with virtual teams).  All of the above lead to bad productivity and finally a loss to the organization and the customer (eventually to the society at large).

What is a cultural debt?

Cross-cultural teams can have their fair share of problems once the novelty of interacting with new people fades. From simple issues like understanding language idioms to more complex work culture issues, there is scope of a varied set of unique problems. Global organizations are transferring people increasingly to other countries which creates cultural diversity within work teams. Though teams are now an accepted form of planning, strategizing and operation, team based management techniques are still evolving world over and when you introduce the additional element of cultural diversity, it throws a whole new spanner in the works!

Problems are further complicated by the Management

A major problem is the way the scrum team is structured and organized. We have seen in recent past that team members are spread across geographical location across the country / globe. Distributed teams have different needs and requirements, but somehow, all of us believe, think and apply the same approaches as we would do it with the local teams (can we agree that even local teams are badly managed)

Managing the virtual team is a task in itself. Scrum Masters must be aware of particular issues in order to avoid any potential problems / conflicts. In building the virtual teams, Scrum Master must be able to understand the diversity in international cultures so that understanding the trait is a success. If there is trust within a team, communication becomes simpler. Scrum Masters must ensure that all parties in the virtual team can participate and benefit from the interaction. Some individuals need guidance and direction while others are more independent. E.g. part of the development is from Japan (a country who believes in working in teams and don’t seem to mind being directed and pushed). And if the other part of the team is in US , then it will be common to go an extra mile alone and without seeking support from team. This is important to remember when managing virtual teams

Potential Problems Areas in Cross Cultural Teams:

Communication, Language and Expression

The quality of communication is a key concern in cross cultural teams. Everybody could be speaking English, but certain forms of slang or colloquialisms may not be clearly understood leading to misinterpretations. Teamwork is a collective effort and all the players must fully understand the direction that the discussion is taking. Misinterpretations can be kept to a minimum if everybody aims for clarity, otherwise team effectiveness is bound to suffer. To prevent problems associated with miscommunication, team members must be encouraged to check with each other for clarity either through paraphrasing or by asking questions. Paraphrasing basically involves restating a point and then asking – “Is that what you meant?”

Communication problems are particularly significant in cross cultural ‘virtual’ teams. Here is an example of two kinds of problems with virtual teams:

  1. The international virtual team that typically interacts across continents and countries, to collaborate on a common task. This is almost always a cross cultural team.
  2. Virtual teams within the same country or city when a part of the team opts for telecommuting – they use email and other forms of telecommunication technologies to coordinate work.

Both types of teams will work on a project without regular face-to-face interaction, and therefore have to make their written email communication and telephone conversations as clear as possible. They also have to develop a work ethic of prompt response to queries, if this is not forthcoming it can be a little unnerving and there is no chance of you dropping by the office of your team colleague to discuss the issue.

In the global virtual team with its cross cultural mix of people, it should be expected that some amount of ambiguity is bound to creep in. Care has to be taken with wordings especially when there is disagreement on an issue. Even mildly sarcastic comments meant as a joke can be misinterpreted by a team member in another country and cause a conflict.

Information gaps are another problem area for the virtual cross cultural team. Everybody must be on the same wave length as far as information and data goes. These teams can greatly benefit from ‘Groupware’ software, a relatively recent concept in networking using multi-user technology. This kind of software allows access to a shared database, provides email services, allows sharing of work files, allows online chats, scheduling, and tracking of joint projects. Companies are paying a lot of attention to the use of the right technology to make communication and collaboration among virtual teams effective.

The other issue with international virtual teams is decision making. Decision making is a team activity and given the time zone differences, the team has to find a mutually agreeable time band for direct communication through conference calls or video conferencing. If there is a great deal of divergence and disagreement on the right course of action to be adopted, then a stalemate may be reached. The team may need to follow up with lots of explanatory emails and calls before they reach a consensus.

Work Style

Work styles and approaches may also vary when a team has a cross-cultural mix of individuals. Some work cultures foster individual thinking and offer rewards for individual contributions– like the American’s for instance. In some work cultures people are uncomfortable with independence on the job and prefer to be tied to the apron strings of the boss in decision making! When your team has a mix of styles, the individualistic team members may prove to be aggressive team players while the not-so-individualistic ones may merge into the team and outwardly seem to contribute very little to the team process. It is important to draw out and get the best out of all the team members despite the differences in personality types. 

Dominating Influences

There are concerns that a section of the team that has a certain cultural similarity or homogeneity may attempt to dominate the team process and overrule the rest of the team. The dominant group within the team may try to swing decisions towards a direction that they are comfortable with. This can create a frustrating environment for the rest of the team.

Motivators and Expectations from the Job

Motivators are basically the factors that indicate the things that make a person tick in a business and team environment. Team leaders who handle cross-cultural teams usually find that the factors that motivate each team member vary. It is essential to make the effort to gauge individual motivators in order to encourage and motivate each team member to excel at their roles. In the absence of the right stimulus, the individuals may lack the enthusiasm and drive necessary to perform their role within the team

Making it Work

Cross cultural teamwork is going to increase as businesses expand on a more global scale meaning that people from diverse backgrounds interact on a regular basis as a team. Many large corporations have clients with whom they work across multiple countries and these clients look for integrated global solutions. In such a scenario the cross cultural team has a definite advantage in being able to understand the needs of their clients better.

The key to making the multi-cultural team work well, is focusing on the objectives of the team. The objective is the team output that a cross cultural team can potentially deliver. Team output is usually better when there is diversity of experience among the team players. This applies to any team output, whether or not multi-cultural. The chances of drawing out innovative thinking gets amplified when there is diversity. This is the factor that works in favor of cross cultural teams.

The problems and conflicts are certainly going to be there just as one would have conflicts and problems within teams who belong to the same market. Pre-emptive measures in areas like communication, information sharing, motivation drivers, and group dynamics are called for to assist in the cross-cultural team process. The goal should be to try and build on the strengths of such cross-cultural teams, minimize conflicts, and diffuse the occasional miscommunication that diversity creates.

DiSC – An approach to create the right team balance

Use DiSC profiling an approach to select the team and its members, It is an important element to understand that Agile / Scrum would work not on plans, but on “TEAM CHEMISTRY”. Organizations need to invest to reap the benefits.

Not having the right team and members with a right mind-set would not help the cause of the Agile or the organization trying to adopt / implement the new thought process.

DiSC profile is a non-judgmental tool used for discussion of people’s behavioral differences. The DiSC model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and adapt their behaviors with others – within a work team

DiSC profiles help you and your team:

  • Increase one’s self-knowledge: how one responds to conflict, what motivates? what causes stress and how do we solve problems?
  • Improve working relationships by recognizing the communication needs of team members
  • Facilitate better teamwork and minimize team conflict
  • Develop stronger negotiating skills by identifying and responding to customer styles
  • Manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members
  • Become more self-knowledgeable, well-rounded and effective leaders

What does DiSC stand for? What do the letters mean


Last but not the least …. If you want to win a lottery (read as … better agile adoption and transformation), you would have to buy a lottery ticket (read as … invest in team building, getting the right people, good infrastructure, education, awareness and Leadership aligned to the agile thought process)

Stress Management – New Skill that a Scrum Master needs to learn and master

All of us experience stress to some degree regularly, but stress on a leader is comes from unique situations, limitations, demands of the system, environment, the behavior of the stakeholders, lack of control of the environment or just some personal insecurity.

Research has shown the Scrum Master experiences same level of stress from different sources e.g. Product Owner, Stakeholders, Development teams or other Scrum Masters, but reasons for the stress that they feel would differ, as this would typical depend on the source of the stress.

Why Scrum Master Role is full of Stress?

By definition, Scrum Master role requires you to be out in front of the people, rarely there would be a standard path or approach that one could follow. There are no readily available answers to the acute problems as faced by them. Scrum Masters often would be required to make critical decisions based on the limited information and just as often the customers, PO, Development team, sponsors or the management would hold them accountable for those decisions.

Lack of control – By definition the SM role does not have any authority or control on the people issues (meaning all the HR related matters). SM’s often have to negotiate with the stakeholders, directors or sponsors and try to use their own power of influence, all of these are recipes for stress.

Every good news or a achieved success is a source of stress, reason: expectations are set, Bar of performance has risen and the whole universe now expects day-in and day-out that you and your team would be delivering improved results every sprint – A new source for stress.

Building relationship, show the traits of Servant Leadership. Role of the SM requires them to coordinate and collaborate with different stakeholders, each of them brings unique challenges due to their individual characteristics. Managing conflicts takes different forms. No standard approach or technique can be applied. It again depends on the situation right personal disputes to political games (mind you organization have major politics) – All of these are sources of stress.

Scrum Masters must shoulder a high degree of expectations from various elements of the organization. Each of them expects results in the form of success since failure is not an Option (all of management forgets that Agile is all about FAIL FAST and INSPECT & ADAPT). Scrum Masters often feel the pressure of having to know all the answers and make all the right decisions and also be ready to face the consequences of the decisions that they make.


Scrum Master has to start recognizing that it is not important to define what is stress about, but to identify WHO is the source of stress? If you feel that your boss does not show his support to your decision or respect your authority, then this will contribute towards elevation of stress. So, BOSS could be a source of stress

One of most general source of stress is your peer community. A competitive environment and lack of cooperation from your peers is going to induce new levels of stress (quite different then ones you get from the Boss). Think about your relationships with your peers, do they:

  • Compete rather than collaborate?
  • Focus on their own individual outputs rather than the group’s achievements?
  • Act overly about who gets the credit for getting the job done?
  • Lack of inclusion and Trust

Your team would be the next in line. Think about your relationships with your team, do they:

  • Lack commitment?
  • Resist changes?
  • Expect you to solve all the problems / issues / impediments?
  • Fail to implement plans or complete their own tasks?

It may be worth noting that not all stress is bad. The problems associated with stress arise when demands put on you outweigh the resources and coping strategies you have to meet those demands. The key as Scrum Master is to know which stress is which, how to judge your reaction to situations and how to manage the negative type.

Handling the pressure in the job of Scrum Master is necessary. One needs to know what signs of stress to look for, and have a strategy for increasing your resources so that you can manage the leadership stress that comes your way.

Managing the stress is the new skill that Scrum Master would be required to acquire. Stress is now a part of everyday life, but consequences of stress can be serious. By understanding the nature of stress, once can find ways to adapt and thereby be more effective in their career. Things you can do to better manage your stress include knowing the signs / signals, taking breaks, setting boundaries between work and home, building a support system, organizing and streamlining your work, building in recovery time, exercising and creating positive eating habits.

Finally – Implementing Agile or Scrum or anything new, requires courage, that would require in turn learning to manage the “NEW STRESS”, that comes along with it.

Bye for now.


Influence – The only tool that a Scrum Team needs

Influence is an essential component in any project, organization or relationship. At times in Organization or in a project, your position in the system is not sufficient or adequate to motivate people to do what you need / ask or want. Influence is the key solution to this problem. Developing your influencing skills can help you gain commitment from people at all levels in the organization or a project.

Leaders are often challenged in learning this skill on how to influence different & diverse set of stakeholders. One cannot apply a single standard approach or technique, even with the same stakeholder, with different situations the techniques would be required to be changed or modified. Knowledge alone is insufficient, but it reminds leaders that positive results often depend on variety of different influence tactics.

By considering whom you want to influence, one can settle for a tactic that is likely to produce the best results. Reviewing the outcome of those events creates an opportunity to learn from experiences and to become a more influential leader and a more powerful contributor to your organization’s / projects on-going success.

People forget that Influence has more power than formal position in an organization or a project.

Speaking about Scrum teams and the 3 roles it has. Each of the role is a leader in their own rights and approaches, each role brings different flavors to the table, each of them requires to possess this skill of influencing to have the work completed.

For example, Product Owner would be required to influence the stakeholders, business users on which PBI’s to be prioritized, what business value it would bring as compared to the other items on the backlog, On the other hand the PO would also be required to influence the development team on adopting his / her strategy or agree on the order of development. In the entire contrast the development team would have to influence the PO why a particular item should not be prioritized for the current sprint (could be due to technical issues or dependencies with other PBI’s or dependencies with other Scrum teams), development team should also exercise the idea of influencing the Scrum Master to help understand which impediments requires more urgent attention of theirs as compared to the others or how a process should be adopted based on their teams requirements. Development team needs this tool most during estimations of various PBI’s (when the entire team is supposed to estimate and come to a consensus to a common ground or a bare minimum agreement that all of us can live with or atleast nobody is opposing it, though it may not be their 1st choice).

Coming to the last character of this play i.e. Scrum Master, well this one must influence the PO, the team, stakeholders, sponsors, business owners (where and when required), the strategy of influence would change depending on the role that needs to be influenced. SM should and must influence the PO to emphasis the idea on how to maximize the ROI from the development team, or Influence the development team on an approach, idea or a new concept to be experimented.

At times, due to business exigencies PO may be required in the middle of the current sprint to change a PBI item (yes, this goes against the Agile principles and values), this is a place where logical discussions (with the development team) take place and discussions have to be more of influencing (in nature) and selling the concept of why a particular PBI is more important and how would it hurt the business if not done now.

Sometimes during sprint planning meeting, when the development team has a little bit of spare capacity, it needs to influence the PO to not push for more PBIs but allow them to focus on technical excellence or reduction of technical debt or refactoring the code / design or spending a few available hours to learn a new feature or experiment something that can be of larger use to the system / project later.

What power cannot achieve, influence can. It is a tool that should be used instead of power, it also shows the influencer’s ability to motivate people / resources to act according to a given situation or the respond to an issue in desired manner (which otherwise would not be the case).

We all influence the other party (or a person) to act in your favor or bring them to the alignment of your thought process

There is no dearth of ideas / situations where this influence as a theory can be applied to get the desired results for the success of the project.

Influence as a strategy to be successful requires, the influencer to understand the psychology, social psychology and dynamics of human politics, Technical competency are no longer enough to succeed. It is important to note that you cannot influence what you do not understand.

Influencing as a strategy would work, when you start to identify your own personal values and that of others. Each situation of influence one faces is circumstantial and this is a dynamic process and which would require to judge the factors (on ground and as per situation).

The following are the recommended steps to be followed:

  • Preparation (Intelligence gathering, mental preparation)
  • Pleasantries (rapport building and management of impressions)
  • Position (reaching a common understanding of the current situation)
  • Problems (Coming to an agreement about the issues associated and build a case around it)
  • Possibilities (Not locking yourself to a single approach / solution, but negotiating around a range of possibilities, create a sense of joint decision-making process)
  • Preference (By explaining your thoughts and ideas, you seek you get agreement on specific action that should be taken)
  • Proposals (Skills of persuasion required, appealing to both logic and emotions, showing at times assertiveness in stating what you want and to build the proposal collaboratively)
  • Proactivity (leading the other person / party to take action and getting commitment to proactive positive action)

Finally; a word of caution: Influencing comes with a theory of adaptability.

As we say in Agile … Inspect and Adapt …

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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