Let’s face it — a lot of meetings are boring at best, and a waste of time at worst. As a scrum master, your job is to facilitate team events so they rock! Here are some tips for facilitating great scrum events.
Take just a few minutes to connect at a human level. Some easy prompts include: “Where would you like to go on your next vacation?” “What superpower would you like to have?” “What do you enjoy but are not very good at (yet)?”
Each scrum event has a very specific goal, so remind everyone what it is. Don’t let the discussion stray into topics that should be discussed at a different event.
Use a white board and sticky notes if you’re in the same room, or a digital real-time tool for remote meetings: Mural, Miro, or Google docs allow everyone to work in the same document concurrently.
Intervene when needed to give space for quieter team members to speak, and to respectfully ask the louder voices to pause so others can speak.
Related Article: How to Engage Quieter Team Members into Discussions
Set a time limit for each topic or agenda item. If a conclusion cannot be reached, either opt for an additional (usually shorter) time box, or ask for a volunteer to own the follow-up action item.
If the discussion drifts off-topic, put it in a “parking lot” to discuss later.
In the last minute of the meeting, ask everyone to assess their Return on Time Invested (ROTI) on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 means it was a waste of time and 5 means it was worth every second. Low scores mean the scrum master must find ways to improve facilitation, and may raise the topic at the next retrospective.
Prior to sprint planning, the team (led by the product owner) should have completed product backlog refinement to prioritize and prepare backlog items for this upcoming sprint. Now the developers (all roles and skill sets responsible for delivery) determine how many items can be delivered in this sprint. Adjust the sprint goal, if needed.
Some teams like to identify detailed low-level tasks for every backlog item, and ask team members to self-assign to all those tasks. Others are comfortable with less detail and more fluid task assignments. At a minimum, each team member should know what they will do for the first few days of the sprint.
Refine the outcome-based sprint goal, if needed. Use a thumb vote (up or down) for all team members to indicate their confidence in the sprint goal and sprint plan.
The daily scrum should be a quick ‘huddle’ with the team - the goal is to get work unstuck and adjust plans so the team can achieve the sprint goal. Most agile practitioners are familiar with the standard “three questions” format, but that can make the daily scrum feel like a boring status meeting. Instead, try “walking the board” as shown here. Starting with your highest priority PBI (product backlog item), ask “What do we need to finish this item?” Repeat for each PBI.
Other facilitation tips for the daily scrum:
Agree on a code word that any team member can use to pause the conversation if it goes into the weeds. I like “ELMO” (Enough, let’s move on) or “Squirrel.”
If a roadblock or impediment is raised and can’t be resolved in 30 seconds, then put it in the “parking lot” and have a follow-up conversation after the scrum with only the people who need to participate.
Here are Five Tips for Better Sprint Reviews. (Follow the link for more detail.)
Make it a “test drive” of the product, not just a demo.
Foster direct collaboration between stakeholders and team members.
Invite the right stakeholders.
Review the product vision and key value drivers.
Ask stakeholders to rate the meeting effectiveness (using ROTI as described above).
A five-part retro agenda is suggested in the excellent book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Team Great (D. Larsen & E. Derby).
Set the stage
Decide what to do
Close on a positive note
To set the stage, the scrum master may sometimes choose a theme for the retro. Examples of themes might include: product quality; team collaboration; cycle time; learning opportunities; or adherence to team values & agreements. The scrum master should also leave some retros open to any topic.
Don’t let the retro get stale: choose different formats to keep things fresh. For some great ideas, consult RetroMat.org, which aligns with the five-part agenda!
Many improvements require more time to implement, so define clear action items and an owner for each one. Capture these as backlog items for the upcoming sprint for visibility and accountability for follow-through.
Effective facilitation is a skill that requires practice and a deep toolbox of techniques, and it can have a huge impact on team productivity and satisfaction. To be a great scrum master, invest the time and effort to become a skilled facilitator.
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About the Author
Brad Swanson is Chief Coach at Agility 11. As a Leadership and Organizational Coach, he guides organizations to achieve sustainably better results using Lean & agile principles. He has been a trusted advisor for executives and organizations across the globe. Brad is a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST®), Certified Enterprise Coach® (CEC®), and Certified Agile Leadership® (CAL) Educator. Follow Brad on the Agility 11 website, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Scrum Alliance.
These interpersonal skills can be incredibly hard to master but will ultimately help shape you into a better facilitator, teammate, and employee.
If you’re interested in improving and growing your facilitation skills, we're excited to announce our new course, Agile Coaching Skills - Certified Facilitator (ACS-CF). This course is taught by experienced practitioners and feature live facilitation practice. To learn more about the course and view the learning objectives, click here.
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