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InfoQ Homepage Articles Q&A on the Book Mastering Professional Scrum

Q&A on the Book Mastering Professional Scrum

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Key Takeaways

  • The purpose of Scrum is to enable the realization of business value through the iterative and incremental delivery of a "Done" Increment.
  • Professional Scrum requires embracing the Scrum values and a spirit of continuous improvement.
  • Effective Scrum teams leverage transparency, inspection, adaptation and collaborative teamwork to navigate complexity, uncertainty, and change.
  • Facilitation skills are essential to enabling sufficient transparency to guide decision-making and improvements.
  • Self-assessment is an essential starting point for improvement - know where you are today and make intentional incremental change.

The book Mastering Professional Scrum explores how using the Scrum values and focusing on continuous improvement can increase the value that Scrum Teams deliver. Stephanie Ockerman and Simon Reindl explain how professional Scrum Teams can be focused and committed to delivering a Product Increment every Sprint, and how they leverage empiricism to improve themselves.

InfoQ readers can download a book extract of Mastering Professional Scrum.

InfoQ interviewed Ockerman and Reindl about professional Scrum and key areas for improving the Scrum practice, why Scrum Teams need to develop and improve their facilitation skills, how productive and adaptable teams look and how they can ensure the quality of their definition of "Done", what teams can do to gather valuable stakeholder feedback, how teams can increase understanding of the impact of their impediments, and how teams can use self-assessments to improve their performance.

InfoQ: What made you decide to write this book?

Simon Reindl: When working with teams and organizations there have been many occasions where we have seen mechanical Scrum, and the real value of Scrum is not realized. We wanted to share our perspective to encourage more individuals, teams and organizations to improve the way they use the Scrum Framework. What we have seen is that when teams build the Scrum values into the way they work, focus on delivering business value and using the framework with professionalism, the ability to inspect and adapt improves.

InfoQ: For whom is the book intended?

Stephanie Ockerman: The book is intended for Scrum practitioners who have a working knowledge of Scrum and want to improve.  You may be a Scrum Master, but you could also be a Development Team member or a Product Owner. The important thing is that you don’t want to just "go through the motions;" you truly want to unlock the benefits of agility.

InfoQ: How do you define "Professional Scrum"?

Reindl: Professional Scrum is an intentional application of the framework using Scrum values and the spirit of continuous improvement. There is a clear adoption of the roles, artifacts and events coupled with an application of Sprint Goal, effective Product Backlog refinement and a definition of "Done" that is understood and enables the Product Increment to be used. The purpose of Scrum is to enable the realization of business value through iterative and incremental delivery of working "Done" product. Professional Scrum leverages the inbuilt feedback loops in the framework to boost the real value delivered in an objective empirical way.

InfoQ: What are the seven key areas for teams to improve their Scrum practice?

Ockerman: The seven key areas for improvement are:

  • Agile mindset
  • Empiricism
  • Teamwork
  • Team process
  • Team identity
  • Product value
  • Organization

These areas often interact, and they can be used to guide you in finding opportunities for improvement, as well as determining what experiments to try.  For example, a team’s identity can grow stronger by improving aspects of teamwork, such as consensus-based decision-making.

InfoQ: Why do Scrum Teams need to develop and improve their facilitation skills?

Reindl: The key to Professional Scrum is the interactions between people, and this is demonstrated in the values and behaviours of the people involved. Facilitation is key to this, as effective facilitation creates the conditions for Scrum Teams to interact safely, objectively, and creatively to achieve a conclusion. The opposite is meandering events and discussions that don’t achieve any purpose or support learning. Professional Scrum Teams are able to work together to achieve the purpose of events and other collaborations, within the constraints of the time-box. This focus optimizes the value delivered and minimizes waste.

InfoQ: How do productive and adaptable teams look?

Ockerman: Productive and adaptable Scrum Teams have a relentless focus and commitment to delivering a valuable Product Increment at least by the end of every Sprint, and they are always seeking to improve themselves. They have clarity on what they are building, why they are building it, and their current progress.

They recover quickly from setbacks, failures, and changing circumstances, incorporating their learnings and new insights to grow as a Scrum Team.  They embrace and trust in empiricism to guide them in tackling any challenge.  In fact, they are hyper-transparent.

Team members support each other’s growth and learning, appreciating the individuals on the team while honoring the commitment to team success.  Because of the solid foundation of trust, they are driven by outcomes and make value-driven, consensus-based decisions.  They take responsibility for their processes, tools, and interactions - if something isn’t working, team members take ownership of changing their experience.  

InfoQ: How can teams ensure the quality of their definition of "Done"?

Reindl: A "Done" Product Increment can be released to the end customer with no further work. This is not an ambiguous state; it is binary. It is the duty of teams to ensure that they build this capability into their Sprint. Many teams we work with are subject to regulatory or compliance standards, and all of this needs to be built in to the definition of "Done."

For teams to ensure their quality, there should be a constant cycle of review and improvement.

  1. Understand and clarify what it means to release the product – really. This means determining all the supporting work to release the product (e.g. documentation, quality reports, compliance checks etc.).
  2. Confirm this understanding with the Product Owner as well as with everyone supporting the product, either in the Development Team or in other roles in the organization.
  3. Ensure that the definition of "Done" is clear and understood in a practical way for all the people working on the Product.
  4. Automate as much as possible.
  5. Review the definition of "Done" each Sprint, and look for opportunities to improve every time that the Product is released.

The ultimate test is a silent release – where the Product Increment is released to the customer and there is no noise. This means that the Increment was "Done!"

InfoQ: What can teams do to gather valuable stakeholder feedback?

Ockerman: It’s all about transparency. It starts with a clear product vision, value metrics, and Product Backlog items that clearly identify the desired value.  And it’s not enough to just have those things. A Product Owner, as well as others on the Scrum Team, can continuously re-iterate these things when engaging with stakeholders. This is essentially creating a more transparent Product Backlog - but it’s not just a "document" or a "tool" - it’s about the conversations that it enables and encourages.

Once the Product Backlog items have been turned into working product, then it’s time to enable more transparency as the stakeholders engage with it and the valuable outcomes. Perhaps the engagement is through a demonstration or they actually use the product in a production-like environment. Maybe you inspect data that reflects how users are already engaging with the product if you’ve already released it to users.  

Ultimately, when you want better feedback, you have to ask better questions.  Facilitation skills come into play.  

InfoQ: How can teams increase understanding of the impact of their impediments?

Reindl: The core to this is using empiricism. Create transparency to understand the impediment and its impacts, and then inspect and adapt until the impediment is resolved.

The first step is understanding impediments – they are anything that slows down or hampers the team’s progress. If you wait until they stop you, you have waited too long. This is why they are called impediments and not blockers. The Scrum Team needs to make time to reflect on what their impediments are, and then measure the impact quantitatively if possible.

The most obvious check that many teams overlook is the ability to create a "Done" Product Increment each and every Sprint. This indicates whether the team is working together effectively, and that they have the appropriate tools and capability to create the desired product.

The next step is to start measuring the system. There are many ways that impediments may affect delivery. The team should be using some measurement of outcomes and effectiveness. Examples include:

  • Throughput
  • Cycle Time
  • Bug fixing / rework
  • Waiting for dependencies to be resolved / Handovers
  • Financial cost/cost of delay

These can be qualitatively measured by using team morale. This is often the fastest way in which the interactions within the Scrum Team and within their wider environment (stakeholders, other teams, suppliers, etc.) can be better understood.

InfoQ: The book includes a self-assessment for agile teams. How does this work, how can teams use it to improve their performance?

Ockerman: The self-assessment is an essential part of improvement because it enables teams to improve iteratively and incrementally (empiricism!). You have to know where you are today in order to determine the areas in which you want to improve. Then you can identify steps to take towards your improvement goals. The self-assessment enables the conversations that create transparency and a shared understanding within a Scrum Team. The Scrum Team can then create an ordered improvements backlog. On a regular cadence, they can come back to the self-assessment and see what has changed, and then determine appropriate action based on that data.

It can feel overwhelming for a Scrum Team to consider all of their challenges and where they want to improve. Often, there are underlying challenges a Scrum Team doesn’t even see that could create a ripple effect of improvements. The self-assessment enables a simple empirical process to tackle things in a manageable way while making better decisions.

About the Book Authors

Simon Reindl is an experienced coach, speaker, author, trainer and technologist, with over 25 years helping people adopt new technologies and realising business value. He has experience in a wide range of business domains, in both the public and private sectors around the world. His passion is helping individuals, teams and organisations deliver better value by building products that delight the customer. He does this by engaging with people, facilitating their understanding and helping improve their performance.

 

Stephanie Ockerman is the founder of Agile Socks LLC, an agile training and coaching business whose mission is to help people build amazing things together, so we can all thrive in an unpredictable and complex world. She brings more than 15 years of experience supporting teams and organizations in delivering valuable products and services, as a Scrum Master, as a trainer, as a coach, and as an organizational change agent. She also enjoys writing, speaking, photography, and traveling the world. You can read her blog and stay up-to-date on the latest resources at AgileSocks.com.

 

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