Self-organization and our belief that we are in charge

The Scrum Master only has the authority to ensure that the Scrum Team follows the rules of Scrum. If not immediately compliant, then working toward compliance increasingly and consistently (for instance, transparency of the increment surpasses most development teams skills and tooling initially). The Scrum Master has not authority to tell the development team or the product owner what to do their job. The Scrum Master can coach, teach, establish learning situations, enter Socratic dialogue, and parent. However, they weren’t given the authority to manage the other members of the Scrum Team.

Some people on the Scrum Team learn by failing, trying again, and failing. Some are terrified of failing and need some prompting, some more coaching, some guidance. But they have to learn. Otherwise, they will always be dependent on the Scrum Master.

 

I pose the following question to Scrum Masters: “What is the best way to organize 100 developers into Scrum Teams and ensure that they select the correct Product Backlog items.”

The correct answer is to let the developers organize themselves into Scrum Teams. The Scrum Master may remind them that they have to have all the cross-functional skills on each Scrum Team to build a done increment. The Scrum Master may remind them that all 100 people must be engaged meaningfully and that mentoring is expected. The Scrum Master may have the lead developers lead a discussion about the software and architecture to be worked on, with the underlying dependencies. The Scrum Master may have the Product Owner discuss the intricacies of the Product Backlog. The Scrum Master may remind them that they have to deliver one integrated, integration tested increment at the end of the Sprint. But then it is up to the developers to organize themselves. I would expect that the lead developers would form the seed for the new Scrum Teams, but who knows?

If the Scrum Master organizes the Scrum Teams and parses out the Product Backlog, the developers are constrained by the intelligence and knowledge of the Scrum Master. If the developers organize themselves into Scrum Teams, we are engaging the intelligence of all 100 developers. And, if they organize suboptimally, they can correct and continually adjust team membership as they find out more. A learning organization. Bottom-up intelligence.

I have successfully used the technique of letting developers self-organize into teams with groups of up to 200 people. They were working on complex, mission critical software, included subcontractors, and didn’t necessarily know each other well. As training wheels, I once arbitrarily put them into Scrum Teams and then told them to fix my mistakes by reorganizing.

I’ve never tried more than 200 because I can’t get more than that in a reasonable sized room. I suspect that if I were able to do so, they would soon decompose themselves into smaller groups, then smaller groups, then Scrum Teams.

Imagine the arrogance of a Scrum Master who believes that he/she knows how developers should organize better than the people themselves. This Scrum Master often has the thought in his/her mind that to be sure, he/she must control the situation; after all, they think that they are in charge (they think).

Some food for thought.

21 thoughts on “Self-organization and our belief that we are in charge

  1. Clear introduction in the subtle expectations and purpose of a Scrum Master. It’s bringing oxygen to the discovery of self-organization, which is more than just sitting, watching and not being involved and very different than continuously instructing people.

  2. PRIVATE Suggestion: ” The Scrum Master has not authority to tell the …….product owner what to do their job”
    I think the “what” should be replaced by “how”; Also they can “tell”, but not “order”;

    • Careful Srinivas, that “tell” can become a blur line between “order” as “tell” could attract attention to the Scrum Master instead of reflecting the issue at hand back to introspection and self discovery.

      Ken’s advice:
      “The Scrum Master can coach, teach, establish learning situations, enter Socratic dialogue, and parent”

  3. “What is the best way to organize 100 developers into Scrum Teams and ensure that they select the correct Product Backlog items.”
    Food for thought indeed;
    Would there not be a need for some detailed communication to provide to all a big picture view BEFORE encouraging them to self-organise? Often I find less than 15% of a group of 100 have a decent big picture view.

    • Srinivas, the article discussed the challenges you highlight. Here are some fine points from the article:

      -”The Scrum Master may have the lead developers lead a discussion about the software and architecture to be worked on, with the underlying dependencies. ”
      -”The Scrum Master may have the Product Owner discuss the intricacies of the Product Backlog.”
      -”The Scrum Master may remind them that they have to deliver one integrated, integration tested increment at the end of the Sprint.”
      -”But then it is up to the developers to organize themselves.”

      But Srinivas, do not miss this point as you think about how to fill the remaining 85% group of 100 with good knowledge and decent big picture view:

      “If the Scrum Master organizes the Scrum Teams and parses out the Product Backlog, the developers are constrained by the intelligence and knowledge of the Scrum Master.”

    • If he/she had authority, he/she would believe that he could tell people they had to change, that they had to remove the impediments. That would cause massive organizational upheaval.
      Instead, he/she has to use cunning, cleverness, persuasion, facilitation …. any of the subtle techniques to get the impediments to become clear pathways to agility.
      Life is tough.
      Ken

      • This sounds like SM doesn’t remove impediments himself, but helps the team do that. To me it doesn’t agree with the Scrum Guide which says: “The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress”.

        Maybe the Scrum Guide should be corrected then in order not to sound so directive?

      • An impediment is understood in various ways within the team. One strategy Scrum Masters use is to level differential knowledge of that impediment within one to another, thereby creating awareness, ideas and intent (or buy in). And the impediment is resolved because the resistance causing that impediment within that project is released.

        When the Scrum Guide sentence is understood another way, it would seem Scrum Master roll up his sleeve and massage with his own hands/sweat/brains/blood to an outcome/resolution towards satisfaction for everyone involved.

        Both is valid way of ““The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress”.

  4. Kostya,
    if impediments lie with the (Dev) Team, the SM has to help the Team to discover them and to remove them. If the impediments lie with the organization, the SM has to work with Management to make them transparent and to help them discover solutions. Sometimes the SM will have good ideas, but most often the joint approach creates even better ones. It’s a hard job, but that’s what we volunteered for. :-)
    Most often, the impediment for the Team is not the impediment as such but people’s self-restrained way of thinking. By removing this barrier there is accomplished far more than just by curing a symptom. I suggest looking at the term “removing impediments to the Team’s progess” from that angle.

    Best

    Dominik

    • Dominik, thank you for a good clarification, I can’t agree more. I am just worried about the wording in the Scrum Guide. As a non-native speaker I am reading the phrase “SM removes impediments” as if SM always did it himself. Which obviously is not true and confuses me :)

    • We’re deploying Scrum for the first time in several areas of our organization. Our development team is quick to come back with ‘it can’t be done’ but short on specifics. Have to admit the core infrastructure system may be an impediment due to its complexity and interdependencies, but have to believe that Scrum can overcome by extending the time allowed for the Sprint. Thoughts?

    • let the development team decide.
      Here is the reference from the article: The correct answer is to let the developers organize themselves into Scrum Teams.

  5. Pingback: Self-organization: Techniques and Encouragement - Chris Steele on Agile

  6. Self organization is an amazing force in the world. I’ve been bringing it to public art projects and city and state-wide events. When people come together to figure out how to fulfill stories about what a specific and unrepeatable occasion needs, human complexity becomes beautiful.

  7. Let them decide how to organize as Scrum team can be enabled by facilitating session which will allow employees to make the decisions visible.

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