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Stop, reflect, resume

Yesterday, during sprint planning, one of the team members said he didn’t see the point in sizing stories, particularly small ones that could be done in an hour or so. Instead, he’d rather estimate the tasks to complete the story and find the size after working through all the stories in a similar way. You could see frustration written all over their face: he’d rather be writing the code to complete the work. The outburst annoyed me, perhaps not a good response but certainly one I had, not least of the reasons being that this person had wasted the best part of an hour arguing with the business about a story and generally disregarding what the team had to say about things. As the developer wouldn’t listen to reason – the irony of arguing for as long as it’d take to size, estimate and develop the feature seemed lost on him – we called a break from the planning and came back to it 10 minutes later.

After the meeting, I vented my frustration to some colleagues and heard a lot of similar sentiments back. However, the venting didn’t have the desired effect of releasing the tension, and I remained bothered by the outburst, not personally but rather by how it could affect the team’s performance.
As I walked to the car, I reconsidered the situation and realised things had become a bit clearer, with my judgement not as clouded by personal feelings and the pressure of keeping on top of everything in the workplace removed. The sizing issue seemed something picked upon because of the developer’s frustration with either the process, me as a ScrumMaster, or the pressure of getting things estimated in the remaining time of the meeting. This insight meant that it was easy to see that a quick conversation with the developer should give me more of an idea of why they feel this way and how we could improve the situation in this and future sprints. We’ll also have to talk about it in the retrospective, which will be fun.

So, in conclusion, I guess what I have learned is that if you can’t resolve a situation immediately, you should:

  • Stop: stop talking about it and take a break. Afterwards, pick things up where you left them before the outburst.
  • Reflect: later on, look back over what was said and try to understand why they felt the need to have an outburst.
  • Resume: decide on a course of action, maybe talk to the person after the next stand-up, and carry on with your day.

Maybe this will become more instinctive and much quicker with time, but for the moment, I’m happy with what I’ve realised. Let’s just hope it works when I talk to the developer later.

For more on facilitation, check out our article What are some of the challenges I will face in facilitation and how do I overcome them?

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