Converting a team to Scrum? Focus on these five behaviours

Tower Bridge in London

Whilst lots has been written about setting up Scrum teams, little has been written about converting teams. In most of my experiences, the team is already in place in some form, and the challenge is to bring new ways of working to help the team become more effective. Here, I take a look at how to do this effectively.

There are many things to think about when setting up a Scrum team. The Scrum Guide is not a long document, but it still has 21 sections. Deciding where to start can be overwhelming, so often we focus on the concrete actions and artifacts that we need to take when separating a scrum team.

But Scrum is a change in the ways of working and the mindset of the team rather than a rebranding of the planning events and backlog. In my opinion, Scrum Masters should focus first on changing the ways that people work. Here are my suggestions of the most important behaviours to change when implementing scrum.

Share what you are working on

In teams yet to start using Scrum, often team members each have their own work to complete that they maintain in a personal to do list of some kind (hopefully). Scrum’s key principle is transparency, and this means openly sharing what everyone is working on. The Scrum Master needs to help get everything the team are currently working on visible to the rest of the team via the Kanban. They should also start building the behaviour of all requests coming to them added to the Product Backlog for prioritisation with the team. This gives the whole team the visibility of the current workload — and can often leave them surprised by the number of simultaneous projects. Focussing the team together can come later — transparency first is important.

Work towards a goal

One of the under-appreciated elements of Scrum is the Sprint and Product goals. These provide the single direction for the team that helps to drive lots of the right collaborative behaviour that good Scrum teams do. All teams have to manage multiple priorities at the same time, and teams yet to use Scrum are often paralysed by trying to achieve many different things at once. Early in the Scrum implementation, make sure there is a sprint goal for the first sprint, and that the team regularly reviews it during the events. This one action will help set the right mindset that the team works towards goals, not towards completion of work items.

Collaborating with each other

A key part of Scrum is the sharing of knowledge amongst team members. This collaboration helps each team member improve their skills, and for the team to become more effective as a group. During the daily scrum meetings, don’t focus on the status updates, but on the opportunity for the team to develop the muscle memory of collaborating together on work to help each other out. It’s the aim to develop a team where the first instinct is to seek and get help when needed.

Prioritising the work

Effective prioritisation is one of the key changes that occurs when a team adopts scrum. Rather than trying to do everything at once, teams need to change to ensure they work to complete the highest priority features or projects first. Enforcing a prioritisation of the backlog early in a tool like JIRA can begin developing this behaviour for the team, and force some useful discussions around what actually is the most important thing for the team to work on.

They can change their ways of working

Teams not using Scrum are in my experience not used to reviewing their ways of working, and being empowered to make changes that would help them as a team. During Retrospectives with new sprint teams, getting them to think big about changes is often more important than encouraging incremental improvements. What big changes would completely change the productivity of the team?

Focussing on developing these behaviours is more important than the events or artifacts themselves. As the Scrum Guide states, Scrum is a framework building on the Agile Principles, rather than a set of rules. Let me know your challenges with setting up Scrum teams, and how you have overcome them!

Agile Delivery Manager at Babylon Health, interested in how to organise software teams to build great products.