Monday, June 11, 2018

The red lines of Contributors and Observers in Scrum | Supreme Agile

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If your organization is starting with the transition to Agile, then your team may start to attract a lot of attention. Often external stakeholders of the team will want to take part in your Agile activities. Often these stakeholders are motivated by curiosity, interest in the team deliverables or just want to understand the different phases involved in such transition.

An Agile team can gain many benefits from these external stakeholders. It is important to remember, we need to keep in mind Scrum teams need their time to become "Self-Organized". This is especially true when they are new to Agile. The main challenge is to maintain the interest of those stakeholders without affecting the team capability to become "Self-Organized". Allowing the team to take full ownership of their deliverables.

The SM is a specific role in the Scrum framework who is responsible to set the scrum activities and to ensure that only the right stakeholders will contribute. During those activities, they need to make sure that only the right people are talking (Contributors) and the right people are listing (Observers).

Based on my experience, it is not a good idea to tell a senior manager they can only talk during the team activities if they share knowledge and ideas that can contribute to the team. This is even if it may contradict the pure scrum guidelines regarding on how to execute Scrum activities. 

It is very important to always watch for external stakeholders (Including senior management) who attend team activities on a regular schedule. By attending these meetings, it makes it very hard (near impossible) for the team to function as we expect from them. 

The only way that we can help our scrum masters to handle similar issues, is to set standards early in Agile projects. Those standards must define the different Agile activities as well explain the differences between the contributors and 'observers (Any stakeholder who has an interest in the team activity but does not belong to the scrum team. Therefore should not interfere while the activities are in progress).  

This may sound simple, it’s not. As a ‘Scrum Master’, it's difficult to keep "observers" from talking. The SM needs to defend the Agile activity.  Agile activities discussions are limited to a specific “time boxing” period and therefore is vulnerable to being “hijacked” by an observer who asks questions.

Of all the activities the daily scrum meeting is the most likely to be hijacked by an observer, this meeting is "Time-Boxed" to 15 minutes and that's a very narrow time frame for the development team to synchronize, share their impediments and to focus on the iteration goal.

It is, therefore, of utmost importance that during this meeting the SM ensure the meeting is not “hijacked”. Only the "Contributors" (Development team) will talk while the other "Observers" will not interfere (Scrum Master, PJM, Management and the Product Owner).

Keeping the observers from talking is a crucial part of a well-executed Agile activity. The SM must set the standards and expectations as early as possible at the start of the transformation. This will help both the team and the organization to save a lot of headaches. 

Note: Contributors refers to any stakeholder who is expected to contribute as part of the scrum team. Observers refer to any stakeholder that has an interest in the team activity, but still does not belong to the scrum team and therefore does not expect to interfere while the activity is in progress.  

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