I’ve been struck by how little is written about being a great Scrum Master. There have been a stack of articles written about Scaling Agile and many great technical books, but very little on playing individual roles well. The Scrum Master Tales are intend to fill this gap.
Cast of Characters
Scrum Master John – he’s been in the software industry for over 10 yrs. He’s been a developer and sometime development manager. Recently he’s been “promoted” to Scrum Master and was sent on a Certified Scrum Master Training course, but has no practical Scrum experience.
Product Owner Sue – she’s also new to Agile. Unfortunately she hasn’t had training yet, although she has read a few books. She’s open-minded, but a little confused about what needs to be done. Sue has 15 years experience doing Product Management.
Smallestonlinebookstore.com caters to the view that Amazon is wrong; an infinite supply of books is too much. Readers don’t want an infinite supply; just the right choice for their next book. They don’t want to spend hours agonizing over their decision, instead they want to spend that time reading.
I will introduce other characters as the tales evolve, but now, onto our first story:
John is preparing for tomorrow’s Sprint Planning session. He asks Sue to show him the product backlog. She sends him a spreadsheet; and, boom! He’s surprised at how poorly the written the User Stories are:
- As a user I want to search Smallestonlinebookstore.com to find some books
- As a user I want to buy the book that I’m currently looking at
- As a user I want to search using the author’s first and last name fields along with the title field
John panics and his jaw drops; he thinks the team can’t possibly have a Sprint Planning meeting tomorrow.
What problems do we face here?
- The stories are very broad and too large to complete in a single Sprint. To be useful stories must be specific and focused. A great user story is so small it can be implemented in 2-3 days.
- The stories have generic users, while good user stories have specific users.
Example: Frequent Book Buyer; Casual Book Buyer.
- They lack value and “Why?” statements. Good user stories have “so that” statements that make the value of the story clear to the team.
Example: “As a user I want to search using the author’s first and last name fields along with the title field” the story is very specific about the implementation. It ties the team member’s hands without adding significant value.
- None of the stories have estimates associated with them.
- It’s the day before the Sprint Planning meeting and only now is John is discovering the problem.
So what options does John have?
- He could work for the rest of the day with Sue to rewrite and split the stories but that still wouldn’t get the stories estimated.
- He could cancel the Sprint Planning session and delay the start of the Sprint. The backlog is ill- prepared but Sue is new to Agile and appears to be trying to do the right thing. Cancelling Sprint Planning is an extremely strong signal to send at this stage of the game.
- He could turn tomorrow’s Sprint Planning meeting into a Backlog Grooming (to rewrite and estimate the stories). After that’s completed he could hold a traditional Sprint Planning meeting. This seems like the best option, but…
Before he takes any action John should sit down with Sue and discuss the problems he sees, all the while making the focus not on the mistakes Sue has made but instead focusing on the backlog and what a good story would be. Then he should explain the current state of the world to the team, including all the options that they have and let the team decide what to do. Even if they make what John perceives to be a weaker decision they will learn from the mistake and grow.
What options did you consider for John? What could he do differently?