How will you ensure the team complete action items within the agreed timeframe?
Welcome to part 32 in our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
This is the kind of interview question that lets you know that the person interviewing you doesn’t fully understand agile, nor do they understand the scrum master role. This question lets you know that the interviewer thinks of a scrum master as a project manager, and likely expects you to be the person who drives others to perform in a scrum environment.
The difference between a scrum master and a project manager.
A scrum master is not in the delivery. They aren’t there to micromanage others and ensure that people do specific tasks within specific time frames. They are, instead, committed to creating an environment where the team can excel.
In traditional project management, the thinking is that the senior person in the room tells other people what to do, and someone needs to supervise those people to ensure that the tasks are done within the time allocated.
In scrum, we look to create autonomous teams that are the experts in their field and possess the cross-functional capabilities and skills to perform the work.
We hire them because we trust that they are the best people for the job, and we make work transparent and visible so that everyone can see what is happening, how it is progressing through the system, and at what point it will be completed.
Project Management presumes that people need to be micro-managed and supervised at every step of the way. Agile presumes that people are intelligent, inspired, and committed to doing a great job so we form powerful teams and create systems that empower those teams to do great work.
What should a scrum master do if the team aren’t performing?
Now, that said, if we see that the team are consistently failing to deliver within the sprint, and it becomes apparent that we are not achieving our goals and objectives, there are some things that you can do as a scrum master.
Address the problem with the team.
I would bring the team together and raise the issue of poor performance. I would use the data and evidence to make the team aware that we are consistently failing to reach our goals and start the discussion around what might be preventing us from achieving our goals and why that is.
- Are we simply taking too much work into the sprint backlog?
- Are we bringing in work that should be further refined into smaller chunks?
- Is the backlog prioritized correctly so that we are working on the most valuable work?
- Are there systemic issues that are preventing us from achieving our goals?
- Do we have the necessary skills in the team to perform the work?
- Do we have the correct tools for the job at hand?
And so forth.
We may find that we are being forced to bring too much work into the sprint backlog by a powerful stakeholder, and so whilst it appears like we aren’t reaching our goals, we are actually working over capacity and delivering a great deal of work.
Is it that a powerful stakeholder is disrupting the sprint backlog by insisting on adding work that is not yet ready for the team to tackle? Are there dependencies that are creating delays and preventing us from finishing the work within the designated sprint?
Having conversations with the product owner and developers will quickly reveal what the problems are and allow the team to design a plan of action to address the problem.
Maybe, the problems are beyond the control and influence of the team and you, as the scrum master, will need to take up the cause for the team with people outside of the scrum team to resolve.
Facilitation rather than confrontation.
Understand that a scrum master does not have authority over the team in the same way that a project manager has authority over their teams.
We work through facilitation, mentoring, coaching, and developing trust and influence.
So, we aren’t going to be threatening people with losing their jobs nor are we going to be forcing people to do things, no matter what, in order to ensure that tasks are completed.
We instead facilitate conversations that allow us to understand the problem at hand, and facilitate events that empower the team to decide how best to resolve those problems. If need be, we facilitate conversations and events with senior leaders to gain their support in resolving problems.
Coach the team.
Sometimes, we need to coach the individuals within the team to understand what their options are, what is the most valuable outcome they are pursuing, and how best to move forward.
At other times, we will need to coach people outside of the team to understand what scrum is, why it is critical to the success of the team, and how they can contribute to ensure continuous delivery of value to customers.
As a scrum master, we work from the belief structure that the people on our team are:
- Intelligent, competent, and capable of continuously improving.
- Talented, responsible, and committed to doing a great job.
- Valuable members of the team who want to make a great contribution.
If there is currently a problem with delivery, we want to help them identify what the problem is, provide a context that helps them understand the consequences of that problem – in the context of the team, the customer, and the organization – and tap into their significant capabilities to discover what the next best step will be.
Sure, we would love to come up with the right answer every time, but we work in a complex space and we often don’t know the best solution until we’ve created that solution. Sometimes, we need to move from point A to point C, and only then can we see what point D and point E looks like.
So, helping people progress is a great deal more important than achieving perfection in session one.
About John McFadyen
For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
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.
If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (CSP-SM) course page.
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