Agile Collaboration:  Becoming a Team Player

by Peter Doyle, on January 15, 2020

Role of the Scrum Master

One of the biggest challenges any new Scrum Master faces is bringing cohesiveness to a team.  Instead of running like a well-oiled machine, you find that you’re facing daily maintenance and repair work. As an added challenge, each cross-functional team is typically filled with a wide array of personality types and working styles.

The standard way that the Scrum Master takes the team’s pulse is through the daily stand-up, typically 15 minutes long, in which each team member provides an update on individual progress and blockers.  From this, the Scrum Master has an opportunity to gauge the general health and progress of the team.

Opening Lines of Communication

Communication (or the lack thereof) is often one of the key issues that emerge in a rapidly evolving software development environment. Most of the planning and collaboration tools (JIRA being a prime example) at the Scrum Master’s disposal allow for quick and targeted communication.

Outside of the daily stand-up there is often the need for the Scrum Master to tag a team member for an update on a specific issue on which to take action or to get a status.  Since the stakeholders determine priority, issues will move up or down the list demanding immediate action. Teams need to be able to adjust to that demand, and the ensuing communication needs to be swift.  

Accountability is Key

Given effective communication, some team members may still not be responsive.  What then? Persistence is one key. Keep bubbling it up to the team. Push for resolution in whatever channel you can find.  Utilize the internal team dynamics to create pressure to make things happen. Certain personality traits can be leveraged to push things forward. 

Different types of people respond to unique incentives or disincentives. Personality tests that identify certain personality types can be useful here. Pairing up team members to appropriately may alleviate some of the stress.  Many different personality inventories and tests are available to help gauge individuals’ inherent strengths and weaknesses.

Tracking Efforts to Measure Progress

Another key to tracking the team’s output is breaking down the work to the most granular level.  Create your JIRA issues in such a way as to clearly define producible output. Get the team to weigh in either with points or time estimate so there’s buy-in.

Be sure to have an accurate assessment of the availability of team members. Some team members are often allocated to other projects. Ask these questions of yourself and with the team:

  • Are those projects consuming your team members’ availability for your project?  
  • Is that person struggling to juggle the workload from the other projects?
  • Is there some way for you to negotiate availability with the team lead from the other project?
  • Is there flexibility to swap people between projects, even temporarily?

Often one project may ramp up while the other hits a lull. Syncing between or among projects is a useful skill to develop as a scrum master or team lead.  Creativity can be useful in these circumstances.

Ultimately, accountability is the bottom line.  The team needs to produce, and the job of Scrum Master may require everything from fine-tuning to drastic surgery. Knowing how and when to use the instruments in your toolkit can make all the difference to a team’s success.


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