Scrum - Four Mistakes Teams Make When They’re Trying Out Scrums


So you’ve decided to work with agility and try out scrums with your team. Scrums are a fantastic way to quickly move work forward with engaged stakeholders while producing a product as a team and learning from each bump in the road.

Chances are you have already heard that scrums are simple to learn but difficult to master, which is true - but you can improve your odds by avoiding common pitfalls teams make when first attempting to scrum a project.

The scrum methodology cycles through four very specific meetings: the planning session, the daily huddles, the scrum retrospective and the scrum review. This requires three roles: the product owner, the scrum master and the scrum team. It’s easy to dive into and yet time and time again I come across teams that begin to scrum a project but fall apart after a couple of cycles. This is almost always due to one of four mistakes I’ve seen which I’ll share with you today.

1. Underestimate the importance of the daily huddle

“Wait - what? Everyday?”

Quote from every scrum session I have ever taught

It can feel daunting, overwhelming and excessive but the daily huddle is essential to having an effective scrum team. In order to be agile, shift priorities and deliver, you will need to adjust to problems as they arise (instead of during the next available committee meeting).

The daily huddle should be an efficient touch base that becomes just as important for a productive day as a morning cup of coffee, checking emails or making to-do lists. If it feels cumbersome or redundant – you’re definitely not doing it right.

Here are some tips for having an effective daily huddle:

  1. It’s everyone’s job to stay on task and make sure meetings are fifteen minutes or less.

  2. Keep in mind that trust between team members can be built and lost in the daily huddle.

  3. Model the actions you want your team to emulate.

  4. Have short bursts of info ie. What did I do yesterday, what am I doing today, and where am I stuck.

  5. Don’t not try to fix things during the huddle, that’s not the point here.

2. Make it about meetings and not mindsets

When first learning about scrum, the team will start with the easy stuff: booking the meetings, and starting the backlog. It happens quickly and builds confidence in the scrum methodology.

Things can get a little messy when you start discussing the theoretical values of scrum. The team needs to personalize values like “people above processes” and understand how those values will shift their approach to the project. To be agile, you’ll have to view scrum as more than just a recipe to follow. By shifting mindsets, your team can change the way that they work together.

Now, let’s talk about trust, honesty and failure.

If you can’t trust that the team is going to give you timely feedback that’s meaningful to your work, you may be second guessing yourself and less likely to speak up and share. Trust within the team is imperative for the work; if you can’t trust your team to help you when you’re stuck, you won’t ever feel comfortable talking to them about anything. In this case, opportunities to remove barriers get lost and the speed by which the WHOLE team works slows down.

Honesty is super important and goes hand in hand with trust. If you’re not providing honest feedback and input to the team - especially in retrospective meetings - your team will never evolve. If you’re not honest about how much you can accomplish in a cycle, your team will lose trust in your projections.

Failure as a learning opportunity is a tricky mindset to navigate and should be deeply rooted in the team’s culture. It can be hard to embrace failure because of concerns about shame and ridicule. A scrum team is a place where psychological safety and honesty work in tandem with team ownership. Failure is merely an attempt in learning and is always an option. When you fail as a team, and then pivot as a team, you can succeed and celebrate as a team!

3. Skipping the scrum review

“More than a meeting to share your work”

Something Josh always says!

Although the scrum review meetings engage your product owner and whole team to showcase what you have created, DO NOT forget about your stakeholders. More specifically, show your end-users your first prototype, or wire-frame, whatever it may be. To make the most of this opportunity to learn from the people in the room, the scrum team should be able to show what they have created and then listen. Listen again. And then listen some more.

At this point, the team should take a moment to bask in the glory that is their completed scrum cycle! Celebrate all the successes, even the small ones. This will build team confidence and morale.

And maybe it wasn’t a success, maybe it was not glorious, but remember failure equals learning and it will be OK. The scrum review is about taking in early feedback. This is how a team can be positive that what they are building is coveted by both leadership and end users. If you’re working on the wrong thing your users and stakeholders will let you know and you can quickly adapt.

4. Approaching the project like a manager

When the scrum master is deeply rooted in project management it can quickly demoralize the team. Nowhere is this a bigger risk than during the scrum retrospective. This meeting can be very intimidating and uncomfortable, and if you set it up as a safe place to share there will be no stopping your team and what they can accomplish.

However, if the scrum master is always the only one facilitating and calling out issues or wins, the team will lose ownership of their work and settle back into old habits. A quick and easy way to avoid this problem is by rotating facilitators. Let everyone in the team take a turn in running the retro! It’s good to see different styles and it’ll become more comfortable, less confrontational and FUN!

There are some great tools you can use to amp up your retrospective. My personal fave is liberating structures (you can find them HERE). Have some fun with this meeting! Don’t let it become too stuffy, don’t allow space for blame/shame. The team will not only evolve their product while running a scrum, you’ll see that the team itself will evolve.

Scrums can be a powerful tool that you can mold to fit the needs of your team and projects. To succeed, the whole team should be open to shifting their mindsets by having daily touch-points with early and frequent learning opportunities from the end users. If you’ve got all these bases covered, you’re bound to become a scrum master with a powerhouse team that always delivers!


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