4 SCRUM Best Practices for Leading a Team: Keep Your Project on Track

Top 4 SCRUM Best Practices

These SCRUM best practices are important to follow when leading a SCRUM team. In order to ensure the success of the project, it is important to have a common understanding of the work that will be done, how it will be completed, and the value that will be provided.

There are 4 SCRUM best practices that must be followed to make the most from your SCRUM team:

1. Focus on Value

  • What is the highest priority value the customer currently needs?
  • How closely does a given work item align with the customer’s target value?
  • How do the latest expressed value definitions meet with the original scope of the overarching project? (helps to avoid scope drift)

Answering these simple questions will help the team stay focused on providing relevant value, keep the agility necessary to adapt to changing needs or definitions of value, and ensure we don’t deviate from the core reason the project was chartered in the first place.

2. Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership is a key element of the Agile mindset. Unlike the top-down, command-and-control approach that is often taken in a waterfall approach, servant leadership essentially flips the team’s org chart placing the SCRUM Master into a support role rather than a traditional directive leader role. One of the biggest challenges many command-and-control-minded project managers face in the transition to SCRUM Master is this switch from directing to facilitating.

It is important to recognize the SCRUM Master (Project Manager) isn’t the one actually providing the value requested by the customer but rather it is the team that does the work. Thus, the SCRUM Master’s role is to facilitate the success of the team. We should take the approach of asking, “What can I do to help the team be successful?” This means much more emphasis on collaboration techniques. Beyond assisting the team to keep consistent in their execution of the Agile cycles, the Servant Leader removes impediments and distractions (including running interference from entities outside the team), encourages team ownership of decision making, and invests time coaching/mentoring the team striving for Commitment rather than Compliance.

3. Meeting Facilitation

One of the challenges in making the transition to Agile is the increase in the number of meetings that occur. While in Waterfall there are a lot of meetings upfront to lock down requirements then a shift toward recurring status and touchpoints, in Agile SCRUM there are daily meetings. There is the Sprint 0 series of kick-off meetings for each release. Every Sprint has a Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective as the ever-present Daily SCRUM meetings. Agile SCRUM requires constant touchpoints throughout the entire life of the project. Meeting facilitation skills are thus even more critical for a SCRUM Master to minimize wasted time and distractions. The last thing most people want in their schedule is another non-value-add meeting. Project Management Academy’s sister brand, Watermark Learning offers a 1-day Facilitation Skills Workshop training that provides techniques, tools, and tips on how to successfully facilitate team meetings, but some of the most important key elements of meeting management to keep in mind are:

  • Defined Agenda for every meeting: How can you stay on target if you don’t have a target?
  • Correct attendance: Too many meetings consist of a handful of people being productive whilst many others sit in a meeting that really doesn’t benefit them or require their participation.
  • Use a Parking Lot: Placing tangential conversations into a parking lot allows us to complete the meeting’s agenda without getting highjacked and then return to those tangential value items in a separate meeting with the correct attendance and agenda focus.
  • Honor the start and stop times: Meetings that start late often end late. Time returned from a meeting finished early is a gift but time stolen due to running late is a show of disrespect for the time of the attendees.

4. Consistency is Key

Finally, remember that consistency is key. Agile SCRUM is not chaos but consistent, intentional adherence to a repetitive cycle of activities consisting of time boxed cycles where we define value and reach an agreement, do focused work, get approval of work completed and value achieved, then do it again in short 2–4-week cycles.

Product Backlog

Product Backlogs are not just an open shopping list but are a continually groomed list of prioritized items of value. The Product Owner is responsible for maintaining and prioritizing the Product Backlog. Consistent grooming of the backlog by the Product Owner and key stakeholders allows the team to always focus on the highest prioritized items based on the evolving needs of the customer. The items on the backlog can range from small tasks that can be completed in a single day, up to larger features that may take weeks or even months to complete. The backlog is constantly evolving as new items are added and others are removed based on their priority and the team’s ability to complete them.

The Sprint

The Sprint is the time-boxed cycle to keep a finite focus on work that is to be completed. Building a consistent, level-loaded velocity of workload into each Sprint allows the volume of work to become predictable for the life of the project. It also helps the team feel a regular sense of accomplishment which leads to higher productivity and increased morale.

Sprint Planning

The Sprint Planning meeting works with the latest version of the prioritized Product Backlog to identify the items of work that will be focused on for the duration of the upcoming Sprint (a pre-determined, consistent time box of 2-4 weeks typically). You can use software like Jira or Trello to create a SCRUM Board to keep track of your team’s progress. This allows the team to coordinate with the key stakeholders, Product Owner, and SCRUM Master to ensure everyone has a common understanding of what will be produced, how it will look/perform when the Sprint is over, and the value that will be provided. Returning to this meeting every Sprint helps ensure everyone has a common understanding of what to expect.

The Daily SCRUM

The Daily SCRUM not only reports on daily progress but has each team member commit to the work they will do each day. This increases the sense of ownership as each person chooses what they will work on each day. It also gives a definitive focus as everyone knows exactly what they and their fellow team members are responsible for each day. Finally, we identify any impediments daily to keep a constant focus on removing distractions or blockers to the team’s work.

The Sprint Review serves as a show-and-tell at the end of the Sprint where the team demonstrates the work completed in the Sprint and how it matches what was agreed to in the Sprint Planning meeting. This allows regular checks by the key stakeholders to verify they are getting the value they asked for and the completed work performs as expected. Recurring demonstrations help the stakeholders to recognize the value being achieved early and often rather than waiting until the deployment to see what their investment has purchased. Getting regular confirmations of successful value achieved also assists the team to know they are meeting the customer’s needs each step of the way.

Finally, the Sprint Retrospective embeds the concept of continuous improvement into the DNA of the team. By reviewing the just completed Sprint each time and looking for just a few items that the team can apply in the very next Sprint, incremental improvement occurs throughout the life of the project. Unlike the way many Lessons Learned exercises are done at the end of each project where whoever’s left attempts to remember something that might be useful to a future project team, the Sprint Retrospective focuses on real-time learning and application by the team continuously through the project the lessons are being learned on.

By following a consistent, cyclical approach, adapting to change a SCRUM team will still benefit from the repeatable, predictable nature of systems thinking while still staying highly responsive to the speed of business change in the digital age.

Do you want to learn more about Agile values as they relate to your role on a SCRUM team? Project Management Academy’s course, Agile Fundamentals is a great one-day training to solidify your understanding of these principles and how to put them into action.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO