How do you recommend a scrum master to follow up on action items?

How do you recommend a scrum master to follow up on action items?

Welcome to part 21 in our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.

In short, they don’t.

What do we mean by an action item?

In the context of this question, an action item is something that the team commit to doing to improve. It may be something that was agreed in the sprint retrospective, or it may have been raised in the sprint review.

Either way, it’s something that the team have decided is important enough to action, and in the context of this question, something that is a priority for the short-term.

What is the scrum master’s role?

A scrum master doesn’t act in the same capacity as a project manager. They don’t possess any authority in the team environment and so they can’t tell people what to do or insist that something is done in a specific order.

So, in short, they aren’t going to be following anything up and driving the team to produce a result.

That said, there are some things that a scrum master can do to help the team improve and deliver against their priorities and commitments.

Make the work visible

As a scrum master, I would encourage the team to make the work visible.

If they committed to something, let’s get it on the backlog. Let’s create a user story for that item and work with the product owner to prioritize the item relative to other work.

If it’s good to go, right away, and it’s a priority, let’s get it on the sprint backlog and allow the team to decide who is best positioned to action the item and how best to do that.

If it isn’t ready for the sprint backlog, let’s make sure that the team are clear about why it isn’t ready and what still needs to happen for that item to be actioned.

So, we don’t need to follow this up or chase it in any way. We just make it transparent and visible and allow the team to focus on actioning the most important or valuable items, in order of priority, until the item becomes ready for the team to action.

Facilitate valuable conversations

I would focus on facilitating conversations that help the team identify what is important, why it is important, and how best to tackle an item.

If the team have identified a process improvement as critical to improved performance, I would encourage the team to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by the improvement, decide when it needs to be addressed, and how best to address it.

It might require more work, it might require research, it might require permission or approval from a senior executive before it is good to go.

If it requires executive approval, I will help the team compile data and evidence to support the acquisition of a resource or secure the necessary approval.

I will also work with others, outside of the team environment, to secure support for what is needed and help pave the way to acquiring whatever is needed to ensure the item moves forward.

So, we are inviting the conversations for the team, as a whole, to engage in.

Revisit the item in the following sprint retrospective.

There is nothing stopping you from inviting the team to revisit the items in the next sprint retrospective. You can raise the items that the team committed to in the previous sprint retrospective, and you could facilitate a conversation about the progress that has been made and whether that item is still a priority.

Things change. Events happen.

Something might have cropped up that means the item(s) agreed upon in the previous sprint retrospective need to be put on the backburner in favour of something more pressing and valuable.

That is fine.

Encourage the team to discuss any changes or interventions necessary and explore how their priorities need to shift to accommodate new requirements. You may agree as a team that a previous item needs to move out of the sprint backlog and back onto the product backlog.

You may agree that the item is still valuable and urgent and should be included in this sprint backlog.

Use the sprint retrospective to ensure that the team are working on the most valuable improvements, and that they are clear on why something needs doing and how best to achieve the outcome they desire.

So, that is how I would help the team focus on action items that are important.

About John McFadyen

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If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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