Scrum Is a Higher Energy State

April 19, 2011 pheiramo

flameWhat happens to a hot stone thrown into a lake?

“The lake gets warmer.”

Yeah, true. But for the lake, the effect is pretty insignificant, whereas the for the stone, the effect is quite more drastic.

Maybe I should refine the question, to get a better metaphor. What happens to a hot stone on top of Sauna stove?

“It gets water thrown on it.”

No, no, no, dammit, let’s try one more time: what happens to a hot stone in open air?

It starts cooling down. It’s energy, following the second law of thermodynamics, dissipates to the environment until the temperatures even out.

And that’s what happens to a Scrum team, unless:

  • there’s someone or something pumping new energy into the system (“stone”), or
  • the temperature of the environment is increased

Let’s ignore the second one for now, and focus on the first one.

To work properly, Scrum requires that the people in the Scrum Team have passion for what they do. They need to be motivated enough to take responsibility for their actions and the work they do. To care is to exert effort beyond the bare minimum to get by. That effort needs energy.

Who is responsible for pumping in that energy?

Essentially, it can be anyone in the Scrum Team (i.e. PO, SM or Team Members), or it can be Managers, but quite obviously, the ScrumMaster should be the one particularly caring about it. So what tools do ScrumMasters have for this? Blowtorch?

What is that energy made up of? It’s the stuff that our hearts and souls are made of. To be less lyrical, it’s our intrinsic motivators – Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. When those are present in our environment, we automatically motivate ourselves. So all our skilled ScrumMaster should need to do is to ensure that they are not turned off. Unfortunately, for most of us, our working environments are full of examples of “cold water”. Also, even when they are present, they may be a hidden. Or sources that add energy are not utilized.

So to recap, there are fundamentally three types of actions a SM can do to maintain the energy flow:

  • Prevent “cold water” being thrown on us
  • Make sources of “energy” visible to everyone
  • Promote / support actions that add energy to the system

To prevent negative energy, these are some examples of such actions:

  • Work with organization to reduce the amount of “command & control” actions and attitude in the corporate environment (or individuals’ behavior)
  • Work with management to reduce negative extrinsic motivators and suboptimization
  • Work to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and “corporate policies” that limit teams’ performance
  • Work to eliminate unnecessary approval and replace them with collaboration earlier in the work process
  • Protect the team from unnecessary interruptions that take away from the team’s purpose / goals

To make sources of “energy” visible, these are some examples of such actions:

  • Help PO to articulate and share the purpose of the work – discuss why this work is important
  • Make progress visible and tangible
  • Make financial information (as much as you can) visible to everyone, so that people can take interest in the financial issues in the project
  • Challenge people to take up responsibility – in most cases, it’s not that people are actually prevented from doing so, but there’s just a lack of realization it is possible
  • Broadcast successes, good actions and celebrate them together

To promote and support actions that add energy, these are some examples of such actions:

  • Keep retrospectives valuable and varied
  • Facilitate similar variability to also other activities in the project – why not hold a quiet Daily Scrum, just to see what it would be like (and for a laugh, maybe), or challenge the team
  • Ensure that the PO understand the importance of appropriate challenge for the team, and gives those appropriate challenges to the team
  • Ask the team to champion their successes in the greater organization, e.g. hold brownbag sessions or coach other teams
  • Remind the managers (up to CEO) of the importance of maintaining their interest in the work the teams do and maybe show up in Sprint Reviews and ask meaningful questions to show it (or in some other way)
  • Challenge the team to maintain their pursuit of excellence by showing example and seeking to excel in your own work (e.g. keep looking for greater understanding in Agile, improve personal working habits, maintain personal discipline, keep your promises)
  • Encourage (and help) the team to take control of their environment – tools, processes, premises, etc.

And of course, that all has to be genuine. Fake cheerfulness don’t cut it. Nor does empty promises or unfounded optimism. People see the falseness, plus faking it burns out the ScrumMaster, too.

When the energizing happens, the stone starts heating up the environment – the lake and other stones.

Photo credit: Velo Steve

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