Team authorization is at the heart of Scrum. Scrum provides TWO places where teams have substantial authority: The Sprint Planning meeting, and the Daily Scrum. Teams must believe they have authority over team life before they can self-organize. Without authority over team life, Scrum teams can never inflect to 2X, 3X, or 4X levels of productivity.
This post analyzes the levels of formal team authorization that Scrum defines for the Sprint Planning and Daily Scrum meetings. This post calls attention to how most problems in implementing Scrum are rooted in very low levels of team authorization.
Original date of note: 06/30/2010 by Dan Mezick
I wrote the highly incendiary post on ‘Zombie Teams‘ some time ago. It caused a lot of people to say “Absolutely” and “hell ya!” This Zombie Teams post generated other feedback as well, some not quite so positive.
For the record, Jeff Sutherland is linking to that post, displaying it on his Scrum log. See it here.
This newer article and others like it are planned, to provide a bit more background on the dynamics of “team de-authorization”. The Zombie teams post may seem a bit “over the top” but serves to call attention to an essential aspect of good Scrum– which is, very strong support for team authorization.
Team authorization is at the heart of authentic and genuine Scrum. Please note that these insights are coming directly from my experience coaching Scrum teams in all kinds of organizations and situations.
The coaching work is providing experience to gain these insights and I am sharing them with you directly, here. Some of these insights seem obvious when you read them, but the reality is that the actual authority dynamics are often very subtle.
Team Authorization 101
The typical problems in new Scrum implementations are derived from an ambiguous or otherwise troublesome lack of clarity about team authority. The main problem is a lack of sensitivity to Team Authorization.
Team must believe they have substantial authority to self-determine most aspects of team life. Scrum provides high levels of formal team authorization in two Scrum ceremonies: the Sprint planning meeting and the Daily Scrum.
In Sprint Planning, ONLY the team is authorized to fill the Sprint backlog. Note that while teams are authorized, behavior is constrained per the Scrum rules: the team must pull from the TOP of the Product Backlog. That fact is less important than the fact that only the TEAM is authorized to do this.
Here are some ways to undermine team authorization in the Sprint Planning meeting:
1. “ZONED PRIORITIZATION” GAMES BY PRODUCT OWNER. ‘Zoned’ prioritization of the Product Backlog by the Product Owner. Instead of unique priority numbers for each backlog item, have ‘groups’ that are listed as priority 1, priority 2, etc. For example, have 12 items labeled as “priority 1”, then another set of items labeled “Priority 2”. This is the same as telling the team what goes into the next two Sprints. This de-authorizes the team and leads to very weak Scrum.
Guidance: Counsel the Product Owner to stop telling the team what to do indirectly via Backlog Item priority zones. Explain that the team must pull from the top of the Product Backlog and that each item in it must have a unique priority number. Postpone the Sprint Planning meeting until and unless the PO complies with this request.
2. PRODUCT OWNER CAN FIRE TEAM MEMBERS and/or SCRUM MASTER. In addition to zoned prioritization, make sure the Product Owner cannot fire or otherwise influence the employment of team members or the Scrum Master.This de-authorizes the team and leads to weak Scrum.
Guidance: Be mindful that the team is not going to stick their necks out and tell the truth about how they feel if doing so might get them fired.
3. WEAK SCRUM MASTER PATTERNS. The Scrum Master is supposed to mediate and protect the team…from what? From the Product Owner, that’s what. If the Scrum Master does not understand this, other otherwise takes up the Scrum Master role in a weak way that does not protect the team, the team experiences “de-authorization” during Sprint Planning and learns to be quiet and do what they are told. Organizations that do not want to do authentic Scrum often exhibit a pattern of having temporary or not-too-knowledgeable Scrum Masters, or Scrum Masters who often can be fired by (“under the authority of”) the Product Owner.
Another scenario is a Product Owner showing up at the Sprint Planning meeting with a Product Backlog that is not in good shape. Now the weak Scrum Master sits idle as the PO attempts to push epics on the team, and succeeds. This is usually because the team and/or the Scrum Master can be fired by the Product Owner.
Guidance: Notice the weak-SM pattern and question and inspect the pattern. Ask: how is your organization actually exhibiting it? For example, is it expressed as a series of team members who occupy the Scrum Master role for 1 or 2 iterations each? Or is there some pre-existing authority relationship between the PO and SM, such as the PO being able to fire the SM? Examine the situation closely.
In the Daily Scrum, ONLY the team is authorized to speak. This is not strictly true since the Scrum Master is authorized to play referee, and can speak when the team is not following the rules of Scrum in the Daily Scrum meeting.
There are many ways to screw up the Daily Scrum. Let’s look at a few of these opportunities to derail Scrum team authorization during the Daily Scrum:
1. SCRUM MASTER ACTING AS PROJECT MANAGER. The Scrum Master is authorized to speak during the Daily Scrum when the team gets off-task. If the Scrum Master oversteps by speaking more frequently, the result is team de-authorization and a weakened Scrum implementation. The Daily Scrum is the team’s meeting. If the ScrumMaster oversteps, the result is weak team authorization and a weak Scrum implementation.
Guidance: Emphasize to the team that it owns this meeting and provide counsel to the Scrum Master to stay out of the way.
2. SCRUM MASTER IS ALSO A TEAM MEMBER. This causes all kinds of problems– in particular during the Daily Scrum. The dual-role over-authorizes this “team member” during the Daily Scrum and leads to all kinds of problems. When the person in dual-role (SM and team-member) speaks during this meeting, which role is actually speaking? This confuses the team about Scrum and weakens their sense of team authorization during the Daily Scrum. Note that the highest levels of team authorization provided by Scrum occur during the Daily Scrum. Period. Screwing with this teaches the team that they have low levels of effective team authorization.
Guidance: Avoid dual-role for the Scrum Master. If you must do this, carefully manage it by adding constraints to Scrum Master behavior IN ADDITION TO the constraints defined by Scrum.
3. WEAK BOUNDARY MANAGEMENT BY SCRUM MASTER, ESPECIALLY DURING THE DAILY SCRUM. The Daily Scrum is the team’s meeting. In reality, per the rules of Scrum, the Daily Scrum has three roles: team-member, Scrum Master and Observer. As a practical matter, if the CEO of the organization attends the Daily Scrum, they attend in Observer role. Observers may not speak during the Daily Scrum. This means the CEO is in fact de-authorized in that space and that time in his or her own organization!!
It is essential that everyone involved understands this.
If people with high levels of organizational authority are allowed to speak, that is in fact a corruption and diminution of the extremely high level of authorization Scrum defines for the team in this meeting. This meeting is the team’s, and is facilitated by the Scrum Master. If the boundary management from the Scrum Master is weak or non-existent during the Daily Scrum, the result is extremely low levels of team authorization and a “check out” on the part of team members. They become a Zombie team.
Guidance: Make sure all Scrum rules are adhered to during the Daily Scrum. Observers need to arrive on time, adhere to the rules, and exit upon the conclusion if the meeting. Is short, Observers need to honor the team.
4.SCRUM MASTER CAN FIRE TEAM MEMBERS. This is a cardinal sin in Scrum. The Scrummaster has formal authority to fire team members while also responsible for “protecting the team.”. This is a fundamental conflict and every team member knows it. If the SM can fire you, you are not saying anything difficult to say, that might get you fired.
In the real world, managers and project managers that have hire/fire authority become Scrum Masters…..this leads to profoundly weak Scrum.
Guidance: (direct from Jeff Sutherland by the way) … if there has to be a firing, the Scrum Master needs to ‘delegate it up’ to his or her boss. The SM should never fire a team member.
For hiring, make sure the team is consulted. Consider scheduling a team interview and/or including the team in the hiring or team-member-selection process in some otehr way. make sure the team BELIEVES they have some influence over the selection of new team members.
High levels of team authorization are at the heart of genuine and authentic Scrum. Take care to notice that Scrum literally authorizes teams, formally, via rules for the Sprint Planning meeting and the Daily Scrum.
Scrum literally mandates formal authorization of the team via the Sprint Planning and Daily Scrum rules, Pay attention to this– and take care to avoid undermining authentic and genuine Scrum team authorization in any way.
About the Author
Dan Mezick: An expert on teams and a trusted adviser to CxO-level executives worldwide, Dan consults on enterprise-wide culture change, implementing Scrum, and the often difficult adoption of authentic Lean principles. Learn more about Dan Mezick here.
He creates and teaches specific, useful tools and techniques for facilitating successful enterprise-wide adoption of agile and Scrum. Dan’s articles on teams and organizational dynamics appear on InfoQ.com, ScrumAlliance.org, and AgileJournal.com. Learn more about Dan Mezick’s agile writing here.
Reach Dan at:
dan.mezick [at] newtechusa [dotcom]
You can learn much more detail about Dan via his Agile Coaching page here.