Second day as Scrum Master

In the first post of this series, First day as Scrum Master, I talked a little about he first day with your new team. In this post I want to talk about conducting your first one-on-ones with the team members.

After your first day or so with your new team, it’s time to get intimate and personal through one-on-one discussions – I don’t call them interviews because I want an informal atmosphere for a discussion and not one where people feel they’re playing a role.

I use one-on-one to gain insight into the team members world in a non-threatening way. This is a three step process, setting up an one-on-one, conducting the one-on-one, and making sense of the results. For the team members, this process generally gives them a chance to voice their concerns and issues but it almost always leaves them with a sense that someone cares. For you as a Scrum Master, you do care but it’s important the team gets the idea that you are there to serve them, that you actually care more about them than yourself.

Setting up the one-on-one

To get started I approach each of the team members and simply ask if I could have 30 minutes of their time to talk about what’s working and what isn’t from their unique point of view. This establishes a few things:

1) I value their time by setting a time limit,
2) I value their opinion because I want it from their point of view, and
3) I hold out hope and optimism that I might be improving their personal situation.

Most often the person will give me their time right then but if they’re too busy, I don’t press too hard but ask when would be a better time and suggest a time. This gives them lots of space in case there’s apprehension but also lets them know I’m respectful to their time.

For the one-on-one session, select a neutral, non-threatening, private, and casual space. You should avoid meeting rooms if you can as these are usually sterile and a bit too formal for your purposes. At one company they had a room with sofas where I did these and it provided a very relaxed atmosphere.

Conduct the one-on-one

I open the discussion with a promise of non-attribution and ask if it’s ok for me to take notes. If you can do this without notes that’s better. I have a standard set of questions that ask, worded appropriately for the context. I ask these specifically in this order starting with what are their expectations of me followed by things that might be slowing them or the team down. I finish with a very personal question that almost always is a surprise to the team member. Examples of these are:

1. Why do you think I am coaching your team?
2. What difference do you hope I’ll make?
3. What do you want to learn from me?
4. What outside influences hold the team back?
5. What internal barriers/impediments hold the team back?
6. What can we continue doing or do more of to make life on the team better?
7. How can we work more effectively?
8. Why did you come to work this morning?

The first question is important as it sets up all the followup questions but it also sets the tone. I might specifically say, “My job description says to implement Scrum but I didn’t get a strong sense of team’s perspective of what that means. Why do you think I’m here?” The tone I’m trying to set is I’m here to learn and not coming in with an agenda.

It’s also important that however these questions are put forward, use the exact same structure if not word for word, with each team member. This makes it better and easier to compare and consolidate their responses.

At the end of 30 minutes, conclude the session with a very sincere thank you, repeating the key results and promises to follow up.

Spend a few minutes after the person’s left to collect your impressions. Clearly note the issues brought up and what you may have promised to do.

Making sense of the results

Once you’ve gathered your notes from all discussions with team members, including the Product Owner, begin consolidation and looking for common threads. Use this to help prioritize you contributions for improvements. How to do this with examples will be the topic of my next post coming soon.

Thank you for reading and I welcome your comments and suggestions.

First day as Scrum Master

If you’ve been hired as a Scrum Master, you’ll most likely have a vision of the future state of the team based on interview questions. But do you really know what’s going on? Here’s what I have done to start integrating myself with the team and building my knowledge.

The very first thing to do after you get a brief tour of the place, it always starts with a tour, is have a general meet and greet session with your team. Tell them your story, invite questions, and if appropriate, (like the team is new to Scrum), discuss why you’re there. This is a light-weight meeting more about introductions than any deep understanding. But, you’re not just saying hello, you’re watching and listening closely. The team will almost certainly be on their best behavior at this first meeting so the clues of how they interact will be subtle and mostly come from body language. Watch how the others react when someone speaks.

Start by asking each team member in turn what their most recent proudest moment, greatest success, or greatest satisfaction was as a member of the team. As you go, note the introverts and extroverts, the cynics and optimists, and note how many shared the same positive experiences. If everyone shares the same experience as their best then this becomes your target of understanding later, that is, what about that experience pulled the team together. If there are several ‘greatest’ moments then you’ll need to dive into this during the one-on-one meetings with the team after to figure out how each person measures success.

Ask each member in turn what their biggest issue or impediment is. Write this down. Be seen as writing it down. This is important as you need to follow-up. The first question is about past successes but the second question is about the team’s future and although not explicitly stated, it’s setting the goal of more successes in the future.

On your first day, you’re looking to set the tone as an open and honest person, as someone who cares about the team, as someone the team can be open with, and as someone there to help. You can do this following these three steps:

1. Telling your story with some personal details, family, pets, an awkward moment but use caution to not go too far. You want to leave the team yearning to learn more about you, not for them to make final judgments.

2. Ask a question about team successes that helps to reveal team dynamics and ask it of each individual. Listen and watch closer for clues to the team. Be cautious that you’re not judging but ask any follow-up questions to draw out the experience they felt.

3. Ask the question of what the team expects or hopes you can do for them. You make it clear that you serve the team. Resist any temptations to “solve” problems here, this is not the setting. Do follow-up on any issues or problems, you need to establish that you’re there to actively help.

The next thing to do is conduct a one-on-one interviews but that’s another topic.

Have a supremely successful week.

Leadership and Vision

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. – Antoine De Saint-Exupery,  Author of The Little Prince

When you’re working to change the way things work, always strive to provide a strong and compelling vision. If you’re simply telling people to do ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’, and you have the authority to do so, then you’ll most likely get compliance. You’ll also probably get something done in the near term but it’s very unlikely that the change will sustain itself.

Instead, share the the vision of a better world with the team, share the hoped for impact of the change and share why it might be better. Share too the idea that it’s an experiment to be better. If the team can see the vision, have them provide the way to achieve it. Then, serve the team by helping them achieve it.