Coaching Experiences

Coaching Experiences: The Power of Tasking Stories in Scrum

Once upon a time there was a Team, with experienced engineers, who were strongly encouraged to adopt Scrum. This team had a story of heroic successes by saving the day. The individuals were energized in every situation where one of them were recognized for doing something helping the organization. As you can imagine, this was not a sustainable pace for the team since it generated behaviors leading to the well-known problematic signs such as “silo” thinking, low signs of collaboration, low swarming to help each other, firefighter response mode, low openness to request help or acknowledge problems, among others.

The organization Leadership invested resources to train and coach them. The organization also encouraged the adoption by communicating that participation in the Scrum were highly recognized and expected – Scrum Master, Product Owners, Team Members. The team started to adopt Scrum following basic rules – Sprint Planning, Retrospective, Reviews, Stand-ups, etc. After “doing” Scrum for many sprints, the team did not see the value coming from Scrum. The team was smart enough to “accommodate” Scrum on top of their old way of work and thinking. Their Scrum Master (a beginner SM) got assistance from coaches and many potential problematic signs were identified:

  • No improvements in the Story Point Estimation in the team after many sprints, that lead them to have a low commit/accept ratio at the end of multiple sprints
  • Low individual pro-activeness to help team in problems. In other words, the team did not “swarm” to resolve problems
  • High “silo” mentality, where members kept thinking that each one of them were the lord of their kingdom and they have to solve any problem, protect it, and keeping away any potential threat
  • Ineffective Stand-up. Team members complained about the waste of time for this meeting.

There was a moment where the Scrum Master, in their retrospective, finally achieved to engage the team to do something different, moving from having only stories to have also the tasks (tasks were identified in the Sprint Planning and adjusted during the sprint execution) . This agreed experiment in the team allowed the Scrum Master to make visible some problems and start to address them as a team

  • Tasks made visible the work required to complete the work in a given story, this helped to have a better dialogue during the sizing of the story and also to have better discussions around the Story acceptance criteria – Added a positive tension with the Product Owner to have better Story Acceptance Criteria
  • Tasks helped to focus the communication in the Stand-up since it allows to report work on specific items impacting the delivery of the stories – Added a positive tension to overcome the natural tendency to report how the work time were consumed. From how I spent the day to how I progress to complete the planned work
  • Tasks facilitated the identification of tasks that can be performed by any member in the team increasing the potential collaboration in the team and reduce the “silo” phenomena.
  • Tasks naturally make visible the potential mismatch between the size of a given story and the required work to be completed. A small size story having 20 tasks may require some conversation to clarify and understand if there is a mismatch.

It is important to mention that just tasking it is not enough, the coaching from the Scrum Master to foster some behaviors is crucial. Tasking provides the material that facilitate the coaching. Some examples:

  • Scrum Master can foster swarming when somebody describes blocking issues by asking initial questions such as: “Who can help Peter to address …..?” “Who can help John to complete this critical story?, there are many pending tasks which needs to be completed…”
  • Scrum Master can foster some reflection during the sizing with questions such as “Ok, this Story is 4 story points and the tasking shows 14 tasks, does this size makes sense to all of you? …”
  • Scrum Master can enforce some agreements in the team during the Stand-Up, where somebody reports something that is not related to any tasks by asking “Where is the task? Is this something missing or not planned? remember our team agreement to make all work visible”

This short reflection about the power of tasking aims to help you, the reader, to get more points of reflection to improve your team and organization.

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