Bob was a relatively new ScrumMaster, his company had only just adopted Scrum, well that had to do something differently. In the 20 years Bob had been there they had become a successful company who had managed to carve out a niche writing utilities for developers. They had gone from over 150 people to 15 people in the last few years. A combination of market pressures, just being reactive rather than strategic and being slow to get concepts to the market had taken their toll, the teams morale was rock bottom as they feared for their future.
As Bob walked in one Monday morning he took a look around, most of the team were already in but it was complete silence, everyone had headphones on and was concentrating on their screens. Mike the Managing Director walked past and whispered to Bob “How are you feeling about Sprint Planning today?” Bob wasn’t looking forward to it, they had done 5 Sprints so far, and he had hoped that the team would start working together, but it just wasn’t happening.
Things had started well, they had received some training as a team, and gone into their first Sprint with optimism, after their first Sprint Planning session they had put up a physical board, and their first daily stand-up meetings had been a bit of fun. After about a week though Bob noticed that energy levels had already dropped back to their normal low, nobody was really interested in what anybody else was working on at the daily stand-up. The testers were just complaining that they had nothing to do and by the end of the Sprint nothing was really Done. This had become a pattern, with testers ending up testing a Sprint behind.
Mike could see the anxiety on Bob’s face, so they went to find a meeting room so they wouldn’t disturb the deep thoughts of the development team. “So what’s up Bob? The team seems happy enough with the new way of working.”
“I guess I just expected more”, replied Bob “nothing has really changed maybe we have smaller chunks of work, but everybody is still working on their own thing and then handing it over to the testers. The teams are happy enough, but they are no more engaged in their work than they were before.
“So what’s your next play?” asked Mike “seems to me the team won’t change just by telling them.”
“I checked in with the Agile trainer who came in and he suggested to get the team to agree to Limit the amount of Product Backlog items that they worked on during the Sprint.”
“That seems a bit weird, wouldn’t the team get in each others way, it doesn’t sound very efficient.” Mike was a bit worried.
“That is my concern, but the trainer did play a game with the whole team that seemed to show if you focused on less work you could get it tested and Done faster, which really resonated with the team at the time. So the team have decided to only work on Product Backlog items at once.”
“Ok Bob, why don’t you give it a try, let`s see what happens.”
Coming out of the next Sprint Planning Bob watched what happened, the team were like ok “How do we only work on two things?!”. They decided to split 4 people to each story. He watched as one group went over to a white board to talk about how they would split the work up, they start drawing some diagrams as they went deeper into the design conversation. Amanda – a tester – started asking questions about how they were going to test it, which caused them to change the design. After a while two of the team decided to work together on part of the story, while Amanda and one of the other developers went and worked on their own. A couple of hours later the pair who had been working together called the others over and said “hey come look at what we have been doing.” They had already got something to show, and were quite pleased to show off what they had been doing. So they were a little put out when Amanda pointed out a defect to them.
“Look guys, isn’t this what we want, finding issues now is way better than me finding them 2 weeks later”. Everyone had to agree with Amanda, and the mood lightened once more.
Bob was happy he had just seen shoots of the team working together and they had only just got out of the Sprint Planning meeting a few hours ago.
After 3 Sprints they were reflecting on what they had learned, by this point they had decided that working on 2 stories at a time was probably not the most productive way for the team to be working so they were going to increase the limit to 3. However everyone realized that 2 had been right for the last 3 Sprints, because it forced them to learn to work together. Swarming had become the natural way of working. Also the team had realized they could change their own process.
Six months later the team were quite surprised when Pam their Product Owner announced that she was retiring. Bob got the team together to discuss how they were going to deal with the situation; there wasn’t anybody with Pam’s domain knowledge. “So I guess we are going to have to hire a new Product Owner?” Bob tentatively suggested.
“Why”, said Amanda “we know what the purpose of the company is, we have more knowledge about what to build than an outsider coming in”
Over the next few months the team started to adapt more and more of it’s ways of working, they went beyond what they had initially thought of as Scrum. Sprint Planning was gone and planning became more continuous. The team were doing reviews and reflecting when needed, what they found was they were planning, reviewing and reflecting, much more often, sometimes daily.
A product that the team had come up with was a huge success and as a result the company started to return to profitably. New team members started to join the company, they found that they were able to be on boarded much more quickly.
As the team grew they didn’t design and build more Scrum teams they let it emerge naturally. Anybody could propose an initiative and teams would form around the idea. Teams started to form and disband as new ideas came along. Every employee could see the company’s books, which allowed everybody to act in this entrepreneurial way.
They now believed that Scrum was teams working together, regularly delivering value, driving down risk and continuously adapting its ways of working.
Beyond Scrum is still Scrum but with the stabilizers gone.