How would you, as an Agile coach, manage overlapping iterations?
Welcome to part 7 in our agile coach interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of agile coaches and scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
In essence, you’ve got different scrum or agile teams working at different cadences, and you’re being asked how to manage that. That’s easy. You don’t. That’s not on you as an agile coach.
That said, I understand that you are being asked this question in an interview and you must provide some kind of answer so let’s have a crack at that.
Working with multiple teams on multiple products
So, you’ve got team A who are on a 3-week sprint cycle and working on product X. You then have team B who are on a 4-week sprint cycle and working on product Y. And then you have team C who are using Kanban rather than sprint cycles and are working on product Z.
How do you assist the team, in the capacity of an agile coach or scrum master, to consistently achieve their goals?
The first port of call is to view them separately.
- What does team A need from you?
- What does team B need from you?
- What does team C need from you?
People often think that we all have to work together but that isn’t true.
Each team needs to work in the style that best suits them as a team. Remember, each team is solving unique problems and creating unique products within specific constraints and with specific skill sets.
They aren’t the same. They can’t be the same. Viewing them as a group of people who need to integrate into one another’s workspaces and styles of working is simply going to set you up for failure.
You need to put the team’s needs first and you need to do that consistently for each of the teams that you serve. Get rid of the idea that everybody needs to operate in the same way or follow the same set of rules/guidelines.
Attempting to force everyone to work in the same way, at the same cadence, is optimising for a single person. You. You act in service of the teams, not the other way around, so optimize for the individual team performance and you’re on the right track.
We are aiming for effectiveness, not efficiency.
You may have two teams doing scrum, at different cadences, and you may have a third team doing something completely different. You need to know where you are going to deliver the most value.
- Which sprint planning session do you attend and why?
- Why sprint review are you facilitating and why?
- Which impediment has the highest priority and requires you to resolve for them?
You can’t know these things unless you are actively engaged with each team and seeking to understand where you can make the most valuable contribution.
As a scrum master or agile coach, you will know which team is great at sprint planning and requires very little input or assistance from you. You will know which team is great at delivering a sprint review and which team requires help.
You are involved in conversations with the teams that empowers you to understand where you can prioritise your time, skills, and effort for the highest return on investment.
Team C may be great at all the things within their sphere of influence and control but require you to work with people inside the organisation but outside of the team to acquire resources, remove impediments and facilitate opportunities.
If you’re an experienced scrum master or agile coach, this is fairly easy to figure out and you can prioritize without too much effort. If you are new to the role or organization, it is perfectly acceptable to engage the team in prioritization discussions and allow them to guide you.
Once the teams understand how your time and contribution will be prioritized, it allows them to get on with things and anticipate your support and contribution at the times agreed. It also frees you up to tackle the highest value contributions you can make and allow the teams to better self-manage.
Use your time effectively
As an agile coach, it is likely that each team will have their own scrum master or coach.
I don’t need to be present in every event nor do I need to contribute to every conversation. I can meet regularly with the scrum master or team coach and quickly get up to speed on what is happening, where I can support those coaches, and where the team may require an intervention.
I can achieve a great deal more if I am helping the scrum master and team coach develop their own agile and coaching capabilities, and I can prioritise my time and efforts on the items and impediments that are outside their sphere of influence or control.
Knowing where my contribution most matters, I can also make sure I am having the most valuable impact on the organization and at the same time, increase my sense of professional fulfilment and satisfaction.
I can also work on developing relationships with key stakeholders and senior leadership teams throughout the organization knowing that down the line, they will prove invaluable in helping the team achieve a goal, acquire a resource, or remove an impediment.
Remember, coaches don’t do.
Other people do things. Other people build things. Other people solve complex problems.
My role is to create an environment where other people can excel. Environments where both teams and individuals can continuously improve.
Understanding who needs my support and when they need my support allows me to achieve exactly that. Critical interventions at critical times that allow the team to make valuable breakthroughs, make valuable decisions, and solve critical problems.
If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Scrum Masters website.
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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