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. Scrum By Example is intend to fill this gap.
Cast of Characters
Scrum Master Steve – 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 Paula – 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. Paula 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:
Steve is preparing for tomorrow’s Sprint Planning session. He asks Paula 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
Steve 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 Steve is discovering the problem.
So what options does Steve have?
- He could work for the rest of the day with Paula 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 Paula 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 Steve should sit down with Paula and discuss the problems he sees, all the while making the focus not on the mistakes Paula 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 Steve perceives to be a weaker decision they will learn from the mistake and grow.
What options did you consider for Steve? What could he do differently?
Scrum By Example is a series of stories about ScrumMaster Steve who is the ScrumMaster for the WorldsSmallestOnlineBookstore.
Mark Levison has been helping Scrum teams and organizations with Agile, Scrum and Kanban style approaches since 2001. From certified scrum master training to custom Agile courses, he has helped well over 8,000 individuals, earning him respect and top rated reviews as one of the pioneers within the industry, as well as a raft of certifications from the ScrumAlliance. Mark has been a speaker at various Agile Conferences for more than 20 years, and is a published Scrum author with eBooks as well as articles on InfoQ.com, ScrumAlliance.org an AgileAlliance.org.