Don’t muck with the board!

As a former Project Manager I’m used to fixing things.  I want to make things easier, better and have a happy team.  As a Scrum Master I’ve had to shift my mind-set.  I want the team to see things that might need fixing and fix it so they will be an efficient, higher-performing and a happier team.  About a year ago, I was asked to come and coach a team that had been up and running for a while.  I figured it would be easy-peasy.  HA!

The team was not running Agile at all.  Their managers wouldn’t let them.  I observed them and wondered to myself how on earth I could influence the managers and help the team.  I knew it would take time, so I was prepared to be patient.  That said, there was one little thing I observed which I thought would make things a teensy bit better.  The team used stickers to denote which cards on their board belonged to which role type.  Remember, they aren’t Agile.  They had a project coordinator who did their daily burn down and the stickers made the cards get stuck together and her life miserable.  I had the brilliant idea to use the magnets which were the same colors rather than the stickers.  So, I made the change.

The team didn’t understand Agile, but they sure understood empowered.  Boy did I hear about it!  And, my initial reaction was one of shock.  I mean, what’s the big deal switching stickers for magnets?

Fast forward to a month ago, a team was furious with a coach telling them how their board should look and be arranged.  One of the team members used to be on one of my teams and was venting to me about it one day.  My reaction was horrified.  How could a Scrum Master, or a coach for that matter, tell the team how their board should look?  The team makes those decisions!

After some reflection, I ended up going back to that other team and apologizing even though it had been months since I had worked with them and even longer since magnetgate.  The team decides how.  If it’s not broken for them, and even if it is, don’t fix it.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t muck with the board!

  1. There are several cool observations and thought-starters here!
    It is “the team’s board,” since it functions to help them stay organized. But at the same time, it’s the scrummaster’s information radiator, and thus also serves to communicate with people outside the team. So if it’s not broken for the team, but it’s broken for someone else … well, maybe that does mean it’s broken for the team. There has to be cooperation.
    And as I see it, the role of a coach is to see and comment on “pictures” that are outside the team’s focus. So as coaches, we do have a right to tell the team how the board “should” look, if there’s a legitimate problem. But it might take some patient observation and careful explaining to illustrate the problem.
    Here’s a sample: should the story-lanes on a scrum wall run horizontal or vertical? The team I was on at Cars.com chose vertical. That’s not “normal” but it worked given the physical space and number of stories we had. Did it cause problems? No, but it could have if more external observers were looking at our vertical board and then seeing all the other horizontal boards, and getting confused. The need of the team then would have to be weighed against the need of the larger enterprise (itself, a team of which the scrum team is a part!).
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

    • Jacque – Thanks for stopping by and starting a dialogue. I agree the board should serve as a radiator for those outside the team. In which case, we need to get the conditions of satisfaction from those on the outside and still let the team decide HOW to present the information in a way that satisfies. The funny thing is the problem with vertical and horizontal you bring up is EXACTLY the situation the team who was mad at their coach was experiencing. Do we work together?? Anyway, they wanted it vertical. She wanted it horizontal. Bygones…. Cooperation is key and so is keeping the teams ability to decide how. Thanks, again, for stopping by!

      • Work together? Well, we’re on the same planet…!

        Getting the conditions of satisfaction and letting the team decide, that all goes to the idea of Transparency, something we definitely want to encourage. So often resistance falls away when ‘reason’ is understood!

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