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3 Things for Scrum Masters to do First When Starting in a New Agile Team

Updated: Nov 4, 2021



What should be the focus of a new Scrum Master when joining an organization or new agile team during the first weeks?


So, you just joined a new team as a Scrum Master, let’s go over what should you focus on for the first couple weeks in order to be effective:


First, your focus should be on observing your team, the current processes and your new environment. Second, start getting a high-level understanding and learn about the existing products in the organization and the products your team is working on. Third, learn the current workflow of how work comes in your team and any existing challenges.


All these 3 things should happen in parallel over the first weeks before things start picking up for you.


Observe


“The most important part of this phase is for you to focus on active listening during all your observations and keep your recommendations or any changes you would like to make to a minimum.

Observe your new team, their existing ceremonies and process. Take notes on the things they do that might not align with the Scrum Guide general process and try to get background during one-on-ones on why they do the things they do.


During this time, start getting familiar with people from your team, their roles and skills. If your team doesn’t have this already documented, take initiative and document it for them.


Make sure you take the time to ask team members what are their challenges? How can you help them? Prioritize genuinely listening during this time over trying to provide any solutions. This will help you start building trust.


Document your observations - this will help you later on when you try to build a plan of improvements and recommendations to the team and management.

The most important part of this phase is for you to focus on active listening during all your observations and keep to a minimum your recommendations or any changes you would like to make. The goal here is to make sure you understand the background of your team, all their challenges and the end-to-end process before you start making changes or improvements.


Learn About The Products And The Organization


Start meeting with product people and management from your organization and ask them about the main products

  • Find any existing material within the organization that can help you get a high-level understanding of the main products

  • Try to identify the external vs. internal products and who are the teams working on them

  • Sometimes, seeing a full organizational chart can help you identify and map the teams structured around those products

  • Finally start narrowing down on your team and the products they are supporting

Learn The Workflow Of Your Team


Before you can answer the workflow question of your own team, find out 3 things:
  • “Where is the work coming from?”

  • “Is your team dependent on any other team?”

  • "What type of work is your team working on?"


"Where is the work coming from?"


Find out who are all the stakeholders that are requesting work from your team. What is the difference between each team requesting work from you?


Make sure you have a high-level understanding of the different ways each team is requesting work from you team. Also, ask about any existing expectations or service-level agreement (SLA) that your team needs to fulfill.


Once you get an understanding of the intake process for your team, then we can move and find out more about any dependencies


"Is your team dependent on any other team?"


As an Agile Scrum Master, this is a core responsibility of your role. Find out the answer to this question as soon as you can.

Make sure you get introduced to all these teams and get the opportunity to connect with them and start building a relationship. At a minimum, you should have a point of contact for each other team.


Clarify with the other teams what the hand-off process is between them and your team and all the methods of communication. By learning this, you are better positioned as a Scrum Master to help your team when they run into any blocker or dependencies in the future or when your team members have any questions for the other teams.


Be sure to figure out your dependencies.


"What type of work is your team working on?"


Start categorizing the type of work your team does. Hopefully based on all the other prior discussions, you have some information to answer this question. If not, make sure you ask this when you have your one-on-ones with each team member.


As a Scrum Master, categorizing this work and understanding what type of buckets the work falls under,, will allow you later on to:

  • To visualize the work categorized in different ways in tools like Jira or Rally

  • Once the work is categorized and tagged in those types of tools, you can run metrics that are highly beneficial for your team and management


Once you have those questions answered, you can focus on the internal team workflow.

A team workflow should visualize the active work moving from left to right on a project management board.

For reference, a simplified internal team workflow should includes a handful of columns like To Do, In Progress, In Review/QA, and Done. Some teams might have a more complex version of this depending on their own process.


As a scrum master, you need to define and clarify the following for you team's internal workflow:

  • Define when work is ready for your development team to actually start working. This is also called "Definition of Ready." If your team does not have this defined yet, you need to take initiative and help your team document it.

  • Clarify with your internal team members the expectations for work that is in a Review or QA status?

  • Define the criteria that your team needs to meet when the work is considered complete. This is also called “Definition of Done.” Start by asking your team members. when the work is done and see if you are getting mixed answers based on who you ask. This is a sign it should probably be documented and clarified across the team..

Now, determine if there are other teams who are waiting or dependent on your team's work. Similar to the teams you depend on, you need to find out the teams that are dependent on your own team. Figure out who are the point of contacts for those teams and what is the existing process for hand-off and communication between the teams.


By the end of all your observations and investigation, you should probably have enough information to create a visualization of the entire workflow. As a new Scrum Master, being able to create a visualization of the entire workflow will set you aside from everyone else, since most teams don’t have a proper documented flow.


Get Agile.

By following these top 3 things, you can speed up your learning and start proving value right away. Following the steps will allow you to have an overall view of the environment and identify any potential opportunities of improvement for your team. Having a well-documented list of observations with Agile improvements and solutions will differentiate you from any other Scrum Master.



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