In my last blog I made a case on the power of focus. In my opinion one of the most underestimated values when looking at team performance. The Scrum Guide states that: “When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone.” So one the one hand these values are a prerequisite for effective use of Scrum. On the other hand the elements in the Scrum Framework can help enable that focus. In this blog I would like to address how using the Scrum elements correctly can be a boost to the focus of the team.
The Sprint Goal
My favorite is the Sprint Goal, an overarching purpose for the Sprint. It helps the team during their work with clarity about what they need to achieve. The Sprint Backlog is a forecast to reach that goal, but the goal itself is what the team is committed to achieve. “Finishing Product Backlog Items A, B, C and D” is not a proper Sprint Goal, “enable user X to handle a request in application Y for product type Z” is. To reach that goal we make a forecast of the Backlog Items we need, but this gives the team freedom to self-organize around that goal. A proper Sprint Goal will foster better collaboration and better results. It helps the team navigate through uncertainty and guide decision making. It promotes self-organization and autonomy because it is clear what the desired outcome of the Sprint is. Hence the Sprint Goal enables focus on the right objective and right tasks.
The Product Owner
Another element that provides focus is the Product Owner (a single person, not a committee) that sets the course for the product. A person with a vision on how awesome the product is going to be for the customers and how it will change the world. This vision provides inspiration and direction. By aligning the product vision with the company strategy, it provides clarity on the bigger picture. This alignment provides true purpose for the team.
Translating a product vision to a product strategy and a roadmap, gives the team guidance in the complex environment of today’s business. Proper backlog management bridges the gap between the forecasted path towards the product vision (the uncertain future) and the work at hand (2-3 Sprints ahead).
Moreover, the Product Owner also serves as a gatekeeper for intrusive stakeholders and micromanagers (although we do really value daily contact with the business). He/she is the face of the team towards the business and the other way around. Using the proper channels for interacting with the team enables a team to keep their attention on important stuff. For example go to the Product Owner for new requests, ask him questions about progress and not directly to a team member. In more than one way, the Product Owner is the key role that enables focus for the team.
The Sprint Backlog
Also the Sprint Backlog, be it in a different manner, is an element that helps the team focus. It is only for the team to manage. No one else decides how much work will be selected for the Sprint, no one pushes work to the team. Nobody outside the team will alter the Sprint Backlog and no one manages it. To be clear, also the Product Owner has no say in what happens on the Sprint Backlog. It is all the team needs to worry about and it is completely under their control as a self-organizing unit. For management this means letting the team do their work in the Sprint. Do not micromanage and distract them, use the proper channels when you have a request.
One of the most underrated elements of focus are timeboxes. Timeboxing ensures that events do not go on endlessly. The Sprint has a timebox of maximum 4 weeks, they deal with the work at hand and collaborate to meet the intended outcome. The Daily Scrum has a timebox of 15 minutes, it ensures that the conversation stays focused on what matters to work towards the intended outcome. The Retrospective has a timebox of 3 hours, so that the team works towards actionable improvements and does not linger in everything that could be improved and might be better. Sticking to timeboxes enables a team to stay in flow. Everybody knows when the events take place and how much time the events will maximally take. In that sense timeboxes minimize overhead and allow people to minimize task- and context switching. Timeboxes also provide clarity. Ensure that everybody understands the purpose of the events, and the timebox will help the team focus on the desired result.
The Daily Scrum
Lastly I want to point out the Daily Scrum, an inspect and adapt event for daily planning. A short meeting of 15 minutes where the development team can synchronize their activities towards the Sprint Goal, see if they are on the right track and maybe decide to adjust course. It is not a status report to the Product Owner or Scrum Master. It should not be about justifying what you did and are going to do. It is not about answering the three questions. It is about collaborating to regain focus for the next day in order to reach the intended outcome of the Sprint.
I addressed the power of focus and hope to have shown you how you can use Scrum properly to give a team focus. The list of elements I highlighted is not an exhaustive list, since there are more elements that enable focus (think for yourself how the Sprint Review and Sprint Planning enable focus). Use these elements for focus! You will be amazed how powerful this can be and how this will help the team on their path to greatness.