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Working It Out: How Personalities Play Into Agile Sprint Planning

by Dan McLean, on May 19, 2020

 In our prior blog post (Here), we examined how personality types can impact Agile teams. For this edition, Dan McLean and Peter Doyle teamed up to share this story with us.

Over the course of the next few blog posts, we’ll be looking at the potential impact of personality types on specific sprint events. If you recall, we introduced you to two fictional characters, 'Donald' and 'Fabio', whose personalities we profiled using the PI Index. These characters will again make an appearance as we discuss how their personalities could impact a sprint. For the purpose of our analysis, we will refer to the agile Scrum Framework sprint events.

If you haven't caught any of the previous series, check them out here!

  1. What Does It Mean to Become Agile?
  2. Taking Agile to the Next Level: Managing the Unmanageable
  3. Agile Collaboration: Becoming a Team Player
  4. How Do 'Personalities' Impact the Way We Work?
  5. Working It Out: How Personalities Play Into Agile Sprint Planning (You are here.)

Sprint Planning

For this post we will be delving more deeply into how their PI index has an impact on the first sprint event, the Sprint Planning process.  As part of this process, the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team collectively decide which items from the Product Backlog (sorted by highest business value) will be completed during the sprint.  This process incorporates not only “what” can get done during the sprint, but “how” the work will get done.

As the Scrum Master, you will present your team with the tasks from the backlog that need to be completed in a given sprint. You will request that your team review the available tasks and commit to completing some form of deliverable work in that sprint. This is the point at which the team dynamic and the PI Index profiles again come into play.

Personalities at Play

If you recall our two characters, Donald and Fabio, each one had their own character traits that factor into their relationship and the thoughtful work they’d produce. For purposes of this analysis, let’s assume that Donald is a developer and Fabio is a tester.

Let’s examine how each might hypothetically approach a Sprint Planning session. 

Donald urged the team to take two deliverables valued at five story points each and four deliverables valued at one story point each to complete during the two-week sprint.

Fabio promoted the idea that the team should build more of a consensus surrounding the selection of work. Conversely, Donald has the tendency to talk over the team and shut down discussion on work due to his desire to take on challenging tasks and complete them quickly.

On the other hand, Fabio wants to get more buy-in from the team, listening to each of the arguments for and against selecting a given work item for the sprint. The challenge facing you as Scrum Master is having to reconcile these two different personalities and come to an agreement that leads to higher productivity as a collective team unit. 

Reflecting on Previous Sprints

In past sprints, the team has only been able to complete, at most, two deliverables valued at five story points.

Donald’s more aggressive approach encourages more productivity from the team, but it also runs the risk of alienating some team members. Fabio, on the other hand, is more willing to sacrifice productivity for team cohesion.

As the Scrum Master at your organization, you should encourage the team to consider more strongly the merits of Donald’s arguments but not allow him to completely steer the decision-making process. We suggest that you allow Donald the opportunity to make his case, but be alert to how much he’s controlling the flow of the conversation and step in when needed to redirect and soften the language of Donald’s argument for more work.

Team Decision Making

You should actively engage the other team members, especially those who are not typically ones who speak up, to solicit their opinions. One technique to encourage this is to have each person take turns speaking (possibly using an object, such as a ball, to symbolize this).

When the speaker has the “ball,” no other team member should interrupt. This continues until each person has had a turn. This will hopefully allow team members to be willing to voice their opinions/concerns and express objections with less of an emotional response. In doing so, this will help individuals like Fabio gain more strength in the sense that they feel like their thoughts and opinions are valued in the decision-making process and help them buy into the Sprint Planning process. 

Achieving Consensus

After hearing all sides and achieving group cohesion, the Scrum Master in our hypothetical case made sure the conversation surrounding the Sprint Planning was meaningful and thoughtful by having the team decide to take two of the five story-point deliverables and two of the single story-point deliverables.

In your role as Scrum Master, it is important to know your team, and it is equally important to help guide them to making a decision. By allowing the team to voice their opinions in a safe and comfortable environment, you are now on a path to complete more work than had previously been accomplished in prior sprints. 

What's Next for 'Donald' and 'Fabio'?

We hope we have given you some insight into how to operate with your team in the initial phase of the Agile Scrum Framework, Sprint Planning.

As we continue down this path, we will again visit with Fabio and Donald, taking a peek into their Daily Scrum meetings. 

Topics:Agile