Monday, May 24, 2010

Strengths of a ScrumMaster

In previous posts, I listed some introductory material on strengths and how to start the process of beginning to build a strengths-based agile team. The next deeper and more powerful step in the process is working with team members one-on-one through the lens of their specific strengths.

When speaking at events, or after facilitating taking the profile test and walking through the results, I am often asked "What strengths do good ScrumMasters have?" I think there could be a good number of different strengths, depending on how the individual leverages them, the make-up of the team and projects needs and the surrounding organization. I'll list several that I think are good or that I've seen leveraged well. I've also listed strengths that "pair well", balance and support, that strength. These could be other strengths that individual has, or strengths that other team members have. In the latter case, those team members need to be interacting and working closely enough together that those strengths come to play directly and collaboratively with the ScrumMaster. I think that a strength not being leveraged specifically when it's needed is like the superhero not responding to the call.

Some Strengths of a Good ScrumMaster
Belief is good for several reasons. One, I think believing in something, truly believing in it, is infectious. It spreads. Other people can't help but catch it, find out about it, get interested in it when they're around people who are staunch believers in it. Also Belief is great for ScrumMasters because people will surely have good questions, raise tough issues and even come against you. Your rock solid Belief will handle these, and often people need to see there is something real beneath what they see as the latest business fad or self-serving or just not well though through (which in all fairness does happen in our workplaces ). And sometimes it's only your belief in something that carries you through the hard times. And we all know that doing Scrum, and adopting agile in the bigger picture, can be quite difficult.

Pairs nicely with Woo so that you're winning people over to what you believe, and also pairs well with Leaner and/or Input so that you are always taking in information that fills out and supports your belief. That way you can engage in informative dialog rather than "because I/they/boss/Santa Claus said so, that's why" belligerent debates. Also, Learner/Input will broaden what you believer in, so that you become just as much a true believer in, say, test-driven development or continuous integration, as having retrospectives.

Another strength that can pull you through the difficult times and challenges is Futuristic - the ability to really see what could be. That vision should, of course, be shaped and defined by Scrum and agile, and related areas, so it also pairs well with Learner and/or Input. But where Belief is contagious because it provides a solid rock, Futuristic is contagious because it pulls people forward, positively, toward the vision. This is effective in good times and bad, because you can always move forward, ahead. To say Futuristic is important for leadership is an understatement because people, and especially teams, want to get behind, support and follow a vision. Paint that picture you see (cast the vision) repeatedly because vision does leak - life gets in the way and distracts people.

Input is great simply because there is so much to learn, and to quote S.H.R., "it's great to learn, 'cause knowledge is power." As the ScrumMaster understands what's happening at a detail level in his team (with the QA tests, with the designers dealing with the outside vendor) or his company (with management decision making process, and new market they are consider) or with agile (the best books, good blogs), all those bits of information are fuel for good decisions at some later, who-knows-what time. Some people are good at listening and collecting information, but only when they know (or think) it's important information or an important time. As humans though, we make mistakes in judgement (such as what we deem 'important') and timing, much less simply missing information. On top of all of this, frequently it is the most specific details that have the truest value - such as the difference between getting an error versus no response on the call, or there's a new open source CI tool, or which server the problem was on, or that the newest version of the Spring framework coming out in five days can consume XHTML natively (I made that up). But the wonderful thing about Input folks is that they can't turn off the collecting machine. And as a ScrumMaster, this strength can be grown to take in all these great details all the time, every day from every team member and then, like a pollinator, carry it around to other teams, stakeholders, and resources to help them: make better decisions, solve problems, collaborate, raise the bar, help YOUR team.

Input pairs well with strengths that give it guidance and/or limits. Otherwise, the Input can be on the web gathering information for hours. And hours. And hours (trust me, I know this…). So, good with Deliberative, Maximizer, Activator, Achiever.
When paired with Relator, it might yield someone who likes to learn about others, which makes everyone on the team feel loved. Not a bad thing. Input also feeds Belief and Futuristic.

Going from good to great, that's the Maximizer. If you don't think you're group is even at "good", then consider that the fact you are there and know what you know means they are already better than they were before. That's good. Striving for excellence will propel you and the team forward through whatever means you have, whether forming allies, relationship, or using the other strengths you have. Watch that you don't get discouraged because the goal is so far away or hard to reach. Don't become frustrated with others who don't "get it" that we should do X, Y and Z (obviously!). Break down your goal into smaller, attainable pieces. Limit your work in progress to perhaps only focus on a couple items, areas or people. Learn to look for, and celebrate each step towards those.

Pairs well with some form of getting information in order to know what "best" is. That could be Input, Learner, Relator, Harmony, Empathy, Connectedness.

In the end, it's all about people, and here's where the Relator is powerful and effective. It the personal relationships that the Relator will form that will influence others to come to the meetings on time, try the new method of writing tests, be willing to hear out the person they're frustrated with, get management to agree to pay for the celebration meals, get the Product Owner to show up at the daily stand-up. More than that, though, the Relator is able to see what's in people that is causing them to either impede the agile adoption, or even just personally holding themselves back on the team. When we're running around dealing with people problems (and it's said that all problems in software are people problems), often the "issue" isn't the issue. For example, the problem isn't that testers don't have enough time, it's that the QA Manager hasn't been walked through the new approach slowly enough that he fully understands it and knows that the change isn't really a risk and that nothing bad will happen to his people (making him a bad manager, right?) or upset them with the changes so much that they are all freaking out and giving him more of a headache than it's worth (i.e., it would be easier to stonewall you with "problems" and "risk" and "process"). But imagine the change when he knows you genuinely care about him, how he does, and you understand that he has a team to look after, and that you want him to do a good job at that, and you have his best interests at heart, and will be there if there's any problems, questions or just to help. Wow. He can step forward now, even without all the answers. Even knowing there will surely be some issues.

In every problem and discussion that adopting Scrum brings about, or each new project, or even each new sprint, Relator comes to bear. Being present. Listening. Caring. Connecting. Which is to say, investing in others. And all those investments are money the Relator can borrow when he needs help, an extra effort, grace, trust, the benefit of the doubt, willingness.

Relator pairs well with those strengths that would shape and direct it. Otherwise, it can just sit there being "present" with anybody and everybody, not helping anything move forward. Maximizer, Strategic, Input, Learner, Deliberative, Futuristic, Restorative and perhaps the other feeling strengths Empathy and Harmony.

There are some other strengths that I will add later and update this same post.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Starting Strengths-Based Teams

My most common approach to starting teams on a strengths-based approach is relatively straightforward, but powerful and a big return for a small effort and investment of time.

I order the StrengthsFinder 2.0 books, one per team member, on Amazon. Once the books arrive, I hand them out in the next team meeting (perhaps after the Daily Stand-up). I explain that the book is not so much to read, but for reference and that really it's for the code in the back of the book that lets them each take a strengths profile exam. The book has all the instructions on how to create an account and take the test. I ask that they take the exam within a week and to send me the results of their test.

I then schedule a 1 to 1.5 hour meeting to occur several days after their week deadline. In this meeting I give some background of the test, Gallup and why this is valuable to them. You can find this information on my blog or on the web. The main part of the meeting, though, is that I whiteboard a large grid. One by one, we go around the room with each person saying what their strengths are. I write them up and talk about each each, one by one. It's informative, fun and bonding.

After the meeting, I scribe the results grid and put it somewhere public (SharePoint team site, wiki, email it out, or posted in the war room). Depending on the team, I'll ask them to post their list on the cube wall.

All of this takes maybe 2 hours of effort, planning and meeting time, plus 45 minutes of their time at most to take the test. The logistics of doing this is very easy but has a huge return. But there's much more that can be done to leverage the value here, as well as grow it. I'll cover more of that in a subsequent post.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Introduction to Strengths-Based Teams

Over the last several years, when I work with agile teams, new or old, I have them take the StrengthsFinder assessment. I have found people in the Agile, Scrum, lean and XP camps who feel strongly about different aspects of how the work in our area is done. I feel very strongly about strengths, and would never work with a team without requesting they participate in the assessment and the training and guidance I wrap around that.

I have spoken on this topic from various angles for over three years, have used it with over a dozen teams, overseen over 100 assessments, read three books and parts of three others on the topic. I know it fairly well, believe in it, and want others to hear it.

I'll be sharing more on this topic this month, but for now let me share some introductory links of several videos from different perspectives, reference material and my own previous reference material.

Great video from Marcus Buckingham on strengths, how few of us play to our strengths, and myths that lead us away from our natural strengths.

Overviews and handouts from talks I've given or submitted, and other posts on strengths-based teams and management.

Great interview discussing the business reasons and they share about their own strengths with good practical examples from Tech Ranch in Austin. They provide training for entrepreneurs, and has every person they work with take the profile.

There are also now formal strengths-based programs at Baylor University and Azusa Pacific University's Noel Strengths Academy for Strengths-Based Leadership and Education. There's also a good overview video here -

agile, strengths, management,Scrum