A member of the scrum team does not want to participate in planning. How do you deal with that?
Welcome to part 12 of our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
So, a member of the team considers scrum a waste of time. They don’t want to participate in sprint planning, sprint retrospectives, or contribute to the continuous improvement of the team.
Talk to the person
The first thing a scrum master should do is talk to them.
Understand why they feel the way they do and explore how this came to be.
We work with smart people, who for the most part want to be great at what they do, and so it helps to remember that they must have a good reason for feeling the way they do. They must have negative experience that has informed their perspective on scrum.
Explore their line of reasoning.
Start with asking them whether they understand what sprint planning is? Ask them about their experiences with planning, in general, and whether they feel like planning is a valuable thing to do.
Not in a condescending way, just an exploration of their experiences and lines of reasoning.
You’re either going to get an insight into negative experiences they have had around planning, none of which resemble great planning practices, or you are going to discover that they don’t have any experience with planning and don’t understand why it’s valuable and how it can benefit them.
I’ve seen some bad planning events in my time, and I wouldn’t want to go back to that either.
So, give them the benefit of the doubt and just take time out to understand where they are coming from.
- Tell me about your experience with planning sessions in general?
- Tell me about your experience with sprint planning?
- Do you not value planning at all or is it limited to certain elements of planning?
- How effective has planning proved to be in the context of your job and responsibilities?
And so forth.
Respond to the feedback and insight you have received.
It may simply be an education point where you can explain what a great planning session looks like, how that looks and feels in practice, and what the benefits to the individual, team, and organization are when sprint planning really works.
It may be a coaching moment where you help them achieve clarity around what is important, what might be an impediment to the adoption of planning, and what actions or steps they need to take to get back onboard.
It may be that the team really are super bad at planning, especially sprint planning, and you as the scrum master need to work with the entire team to learn and practice great sprint planning techniques.
In this last scenario, the person highlighting the problem has done you a massive favour and provided an incentive for you to make a coaching intervention that yields massive returns for customers, stakeholders, and the organization.
Reinforce the value of their contribution to the team
It is worth taking the time to remind that person of their contribution to the team, why that matters, how it matters, and what great teamwork can achieve.
They may not realise the significance of their contribution in planning sessions, so taking time to explain what a great planning session looks like and why it needs everyone on the team to actively contribute, just sets a different context that allows them to understand the value of their participation and contribution.
Ideally, you’re looking to have a conversation that allows that person to understand the importance of ownership – in the context of their participation and willingness to help the team improve – and taking responsibility for helping the team improve their planning capabilities.
Maybe this person just can’t stand meetings and you’re flogging a dead horse.
- Is it essential to the team that this person attend meetings or sprint planning?
- Is it possible to change the format so the person is only required for a limited time?
- Is it possible to change the format of participation, for example, could this person contribute via a slack or digital channel instead?
Maybe this person hates morning meetings.
- Is it necessary to plan at 8am on a Monday morning or can it be shifted to the afternoon?
- Is the date and time cast in stone or are the team happy to consider a different option?
- Is it possible for the team to prepare in advance and limit wasted time in planning sessions?
You get the idea.
It isn’t about bending the entire organization to accommodate a single person, it is about exploring options and discovering if the feedback can lead to improvements or better outcomes that works for the entire team.
It’s acknowledging that people have different needs, wants, and perspectives and sometimes, those insights and feedback loops can lead to improvements that benefit everyone on the team.
Include the team
Remember, a scrum master doesn’t have any authority to make a decision or judgement call about a topic or issue that impacts the team or the organization.
Yes, we have a great deal of influence, but we don’t have authority, so we need to include the team and allow them to make a decision about what works, what doesn’t work, and what they are willing to attempt in future.
So, take the feedback you have received from the one-on-one meeting and present that to the team.
Identify whether there are others who feel the same and look for opportunities for the team to run an experiment to prove or disprove a hypothesis.
Maybe everyone would prefer a slightly more laid back planning session on a Friday afternoon than an 8am Monday morning planning session. Great, the feedback has led to an opportunity to test something new.
Run the experiment, examine the outcomes with the team, and encourage the team to commit to something that works or run another experiment to test a different hypothesis.
If the team want to make an exception and allow that one person not to attend planning sessions, great, we have identified a way forward that helps the individual but doesn’t impede the team.
If the team decide that one person is simply uncooperative, unwilling to contribute, and makes a fuss of the smallest of items, maybe it’s worth recommending that the person in question move to a different team that doesn’t use Scrum or operate with agility.
There are several possible outcomes, but it must be on the team to decide what works best for them.
About John McFadyen
For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
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