The Misunderstood Scrum Master
By Christian Bisson
Inspired by The 8 Stances of a Scrum Master (a great read if you haven’t done so already), I want to focus this article on a few of the “misunderstood” stances of the scrum master.
Recently, I asked colleagues to share what they think a scrum master does, and the answers revolved around organizing scrum events (secretary) or note taking (scribe). It’s even expected that they make sure the office has coffee (coffee clerk).
Although there is nothing wrong in helping the team with any of the above—especially when it’s a brand-new team figuring out everything from setting up their work station to getting to know each other—there is a line between helping and not fulfilling your potential as a scrum master. This is important for you as an individual, but also for the team in the long term (even if they don’t know it).
So how can we fix this?
As a scrum master, you have to factor in everything when making a decision about whether or not to do something for your team. So, if the team is used to you doing a task and all of a sudden you stop, this might have a negative impact.
On the other hand, it might be what they need to break bad habits. If you do stop doing it, the team will have no choice but to do it themselves. However, in this case, you should warn the team or give them a heads up that you will stop by the next sprint, for example.
If you are new to the team, or the whole team is new, you might have the opportunity to simply never start doing a given task in the first place. Although it seems counterintuitive to “not help” the team, you’ll avoid creating any habit that will affect them in the long term—and will be challenging to break.
In this case, you should explain to the team that it’s everyone’s responsibility to handle these tasks and to build good habits from day one.
I personally did this with note taking a few years ago. It was challenging at first, but now I go to meetings without any apparent ways of taking notes, making it obvious that I won’t be doing it. (I do have my phone in case something important comes up that I need to note for myself, of course). Now in meetings, I’ve gone from the note taker to being able to focus on facilitating the meeting and help the team get the best out of the conversation.
It’s quite challenging to avoid all the “misunderstood” stances of the scrum master, but we have to do our best to be true to the real value scrum masters can bring to teams.
What misunderstood stances have you fought against? How have you tried to combat them?
By Wanda Curlee
Some believe that project management needs a complete overhaul. Whether you agree or not, there’s no doubt that technology is driving radical change. As I have mentioned in different blogs and presentations, I believe that artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a large impact on the next generation of project managers. Thanks to this new tech, project managers will be adding more value, versus completing mundane tasks.
Technology will do the mundane for the project, program or portfolio manager. So, what will be left for the practitioner to do? For starters, the project manager will be able to focus on the many things put to the side because they’re doing their best to keep stakeholders informed and complete routine tasks, as well as trying to maintain their sanity.
Targeting the Mundane
The good news is, AI and IoT will take on these mundane tasks. Technologies will be able to review a schedule and track down those who haven’t inputted their time. The schedule options, along with recommendations, will be provided to the project manager.
And that’s not all: Tech can also assist with drafting presentations and status reports. The project manager can then add the final touches. Potential risks can be assessed and the probability and cost to the project can be determined.
Impact on the Project Manager
They’ll also have to deal with problem resources already on the project. This may mean less qualified individuals who aren’t able to do the work (through no fault of their own), those who are unhappy on the project and are projecting the feeling throughout the project, and those who are lazy, among other things. The project manager may need to counsel these individuals or may even have to fire them, which, of course, creates risk for the project.
In addition, the project manager may have to deal with subcontractors and vendors. More attention can be paid to higher-level risks and preventing or minimizing their occurrence.
Integration management is also an area of focus. There are project managers who put this aside because they feel if the schedule is all right, the project integration is handled. This is not true. There may be individuals who are not sharing their information promptly, or those who are producing a major milestone but have a family emergency. Without them, no one else can finish a milestone that’s critical to the remainder of the project.
Predicting the future is hard. Time will tell how technology will be used in project, program and portfolio management. Technology should not be considered a silver bullet, but a means to provide help with everyday tasks, allowing leaders to devote time to value-added work.
What do you think: How will future technology change the way we manage projects?
Why Agile Is a Humane Way to Work
Years ago, when I first heard of agile making waves, I was curious enough to pay for a class out of my own pocket to learn more.
By the end of the two-day session, I knew I wanted to be associated with agile. It wasn’t just its merits that convinced me—it was the basic philosophy of trusting another being, of being open to communication and most of all, respecting another’s opinion. It seemed humane.
In the mad rush of work, all of the above are often sidelined. There’s no time for niceties, no time to respect another opinion; there’s only the ambition to prove another wrong.
Agile teaches us to be open, trustworthy and make mistakes. Failure isn’t the end of the road; risk-taking and experimentation are supported and bonhomie is encouraged.
My Experiments With Agile
As I started working as an agile coach, I brought in the humane side of work. I helped my teams to stop finger-pointing and instead, really talk during standups. I tried to liven up the mood by asking team members about the last book they read or movie they watched, and I learned the name of the scrum master’s kid. This helped the team get to know each other as humans.
I planned games and drew on whiteboards so team members could match the hobby with the individual who practiced it. It was hilarious. Interest grew, not in agile but in knowing each other and building better relationships with team members.
We celebrated birthdays, we talked about failure, trust and anything that would bring out even the introverts and encourage them to join discussions. Everyone’s opinion mattered. The right complexity point during estimations didn’t matter, as long as everyone was talking and participating.
And our work wasn’t virtual anymore. I would move a story card to completion, draw to celebrate the completion of a goal and use the white board to keep the team motivated with quotes, scribbles and doodles. It got everyone involved.
Managers soon joined the sessions, sometimes just listening when they were uncomfortable. It allowed team members to be vocal and to think for themselves. Everyone was involved—not because that’s how it should be done, but because it takes time to build that vibe and tribe.
Why Agile Works
Agile isn’t for measuring KPIs or bringing in ROI. But those results happen, because the team comes together and enjoys working with each other.
Agile has been written about over and over again, from why it works to why it’s a failing fad. People rarely see the fact that agile has made many organizations humane again. The best way to understand agile is to think about working in a secure, comfortable environment with people you trust.
In 2013, Rosabeth Moss Kanter published an article in the Harvard Business Review about how the happiest people seek out the most complex problems. It just makes sense to keep individuals and the team happy at work.
It can be intimidating to turn around a team struggling with bad quality, low productivity and minimum engagement. But the best fix has always been to get team members to feel engaged, and that their views are heard and their opinion respected. It’s always about people. Once you get that right, the rest is easier.
I have always had a positive experience with agile. When everybody comes together and believes in it, I have seen change happen. However, the most rewarding experience for me has always been that associates in an organization become humane again. They care about their colleagues, they speak face to face and they handle difficult discussions better.
What about you? If your organization has embraced agile, what results have you seen?
By Kevin Korterud
The definition of a successful PMO has changed over time. Today, a highly complex delivery ecosystem is the norm in most organizations. So PMOs that serve primarily as a “back office” function, providing only operational support services, are not seen as adding value. They are viewed as a means of reducing costs by assisting project, program and product managers with operational tasks.
The same can be said for the PMO lead in today’s modern organization. Organizations are turning to their PMO leads to share insights, impart predictability and strive towards the preservation of business value. Today, leads need capabilities that to a great degree mirror their project, program and product delivery leadership counterparts. A highly visible leader with a broad perspective across both delivery and business operations is rapidly becoming a key role in a delivery organization.
Based on the changing PMO landscape, here are what I see as the three essential characteristics of contemporary PMO leads:
The inherent complexity of projects and programs continues to increase as more of the business landscape is automated. In addition, there is growing opportunity for technology and process innovation. Projects and programs can morph into persistent and recurring product development, which in turn creates an environment where delivery is continuous.
PMOs over time have also matured in lockstep with delivery complexity and persistency. PMO service groups have mechanized and industrialized PMO processes to support this growth. In concert, the charter of a PMO has shifted from being just a pure service function; it is now expected to serve as a predictor as well as an enabler of delivery.
These factors put a PMO generalist at a distinct disadvantage. With higher expectations, it’s key that PMO leads have project, program and product delivery experience. These delivery skills provide insights and observations that are more organic in nature and go beyond what is found in status reports; their delivery experience allows them to get to the “so what” insights as well as to realistically predict delivery trajectory. In addition, prior delivery experience makes them more credible as a PMO lead with their project, program and product delivery peers. This also gives them the capability to become an adjunct delivery lead where required.
2. Ability to Conduct Delivery Assurance Reviews
Organizations today can have hundreds of concurrent projects, programs and product delivery initiatives. In addition, the use of delivery performance metrics and other indicators can vary widely. While metrics have always been a useful starting point to determine the overall health of delivery, they don’t always reveal potential volatility in a timely manner.
Delivery assurance reviews go beyond the metrics to explore the factors behind the current trajectory of project, program and product delivery. These reviews are objective examinations conducted on behalf of an organization’s senior leadership to uncover potential delivery “surprises” not visible in status report metrics. The accumulation of delivery surprises over the entire portfolio can readily add up to a significant loss of value.
Leveraging their prior experience, today’s PMO leads are adept at conducting delivery assurance reviews. Enabled with a PMO charter that has been approved by senior leadership to mitigate delivery surprises, the combination of prior delivery knowledge as well as a value-driven mindset allows them to successfully execute delivery assurance reviews. Their organic ability to answer the questions “Where are we, where are we going and will we get there in time?” positions the PMO lead of today as a key team member within a delivery organization.
Today’s delivery ecosystem is a highly complex, fast-moving environment that demands a high level of people engagement. As a project, program or product delivery leader, the ability to seamlessly connect with organizational leadership, stakeholders and suppliers has proven a key factor in delivery success. The same can be said about today’s PMO leads.
In the past, PMO leads and their respective teams were viewed more as an accessory to core delivery activities. Their services were employed directly to a project, program or product delivery lead; they rarely interacted with senior leadership, stakeholders or suppliers. However, today’s delivery ecosystem can tax the capacity and capability of delivery leadership. They need a peer partner who will help them achieve delivery success. To do so requires that the PMO lead understand both delivery and business operating models.
This new PMO interaction model requires that a PMO lead possess a persona that can credibly engage with senior leadership, stakeholders and suppliers. They need to understand both delivery and business operations; the latter coming about from either professional study or exposure through prior delivery experience. While a PMO lead cannot understand every facet of business operations at a deep level of detail, having this exposure makes for more efficient and effective engagement with stakeholders as well as suppliers who are also key contributors to delivery success.
The PMO Lead of Tomorrow
Not long ago a colleague told me they were going to take on a PMO role in an organization. When asked about their motivation to do so, they shared that there were no current project, program or product delivery lead roles open, so they thought this would be a good place to start in this organization.
Much to my delight, this person had a strong background in delivery, professional training in relevant areas of business operations as well as plentiful experience engaging with leadership, stakeholders and suppliers. I smiled to myself that although they had no prior PMO experience, they had all of the right skills to succeed as a PMO lead.
PMO leads need all three of these skills in order to succeed in today’s modern delivery ecosystem. For the PMO lead of tomorrow, they’ll require even more skills to deal with ever-increasing demands for project, program and product delivery. This will position them to play an even greater role in the delivery success of an organization.
I’d love to hear from you: What do you think makes for a good PMO lead?
By Lynda Bourne
Any output from a planning process is an embodiment of the planners’ fundamental principles and philosophies. They apply these principles, or approaches, to develop their plans. And different people will develop different plans to achieve the same objectives.
As early as the 1950s, James Kelley, one of the developers of the critical path method (CPM), reflected on this theme. He noted that in a class of 20-plus people learning the new CPM approach to scheduling, developing a 16-activity schedule from a set class exercise would result in nine to 10 different schedules. Clearly, different people use different approaches and assumptions.
What Shapes Approaches
The planner’s approaches may be explicitly stated, or they may be implicit and affected by:
The conundrum facing organizations is deciding the best approach to develop a plan—one that’s accomplished in the most efficient way within a given set of circumstances, in a given cultural environment, that results in the best outcomes. There is no one right answer to this question, or one way of knowing if the chosen options have delivered the desired result. Each project is unique, making tests and comparisons impossible.
Some of the approaches that can be used in combination, or isolation, include:
This diagram pairs opposite approaches; it’s up to you to determine where on the continuum is best for you in the current situation.
Applying the Approaches
The challenge is understanding the choices open to you and then making informed decisions about where on each of the dimensions is best for you in the current circumstances. Making overt choices rather than just doing the normal thing will generally lead to better planning outcomes.
For example, an agile project will require a planning approach that leans toward using non-rationality, incrementalism, contingent, emergence, improvisation, utopian, pluralistic, democratic and continuous approaches to the planning activity. A traditional “hard dollar” engineering contract, on the other hand, tends to require the opposite.
My recommendation is you think through these options. This offers you an opportunity to improve your planning practice, as one approach will not suit every project and simply doing the same as last time will inevitably lead to a suboptimal outcome.
How do you think about your approach to planning?