Scrum Rules: As a Team Member I Am a Full-Time Member of That Team

July 16, 2020
6 minute read

Scrum is team-focused. Fixation on optimum (individual people) resource utilization is a major obstacles for effective Scrum implementation. Doing Scrum right and deriving the benefits of team-focus that it has to offer requires full-time dedicated membership of all team members.

A Scrum team should be delivering the highest value product of an organization. Having team members assigned to other projects at the same time means that the focus on delivering the highest value is being disrupted. Furthermore, a Scrum team needs to be able to establish and maintain a constant velocity from Sprint to Sprint. This is impossible to do if team members are being shared with other projects and/or teams. Also, there is tremendous waste associated with task switching that is eliminated by this single rule. The hang-ups of resource utilization need to be left behind if an organization is to mature into one that is Scrum team-focused.

For a team where team members are not currently full-time with that team, the challenge is often organizational. However, there are a number of things that a team can do to improve the amount of time team members are dedicated to the team. First and foremost is simply to ask! Each team member can make a simple request that they are relieved of other duties. This can be a formal written request or an informal verbal request. In either case, the request should cover the following points:

  1. The objective is to improve the function of the team.
  2. Being allocated to duties outside the team diminishes the team function. One or two specific examples of this negative impact related to the team member making the request will be extremely helpful here.
  3. Being relieved of these outside duties (and they should be listed clearly) will allow more time to accomplish individual, team and organizational objectives (and these also should be listed clearly).
  4. The change should be requested on a specific timeline which may be determined by the need to wind down or transition the duties outside the team.

Asking often works wonders! However, there are sometimes deep reasons why people are not focused full-time on team duties. Those deeper reasons may need to be explored and addressed before significant changes can be made. Consider the following possible reasons for partial allocation and approaches to dealing with these root causes:

  1. Some team members may have made a deliberate choice to remain allocated to multiple initiatives. These team members may need to first be motivated to commit to the Scrum team. Often the reasons for this choice are related to learning (diversity of work), influence (diversity of contacts), flexibility (diversity of options), or fear (demonstrating indispensability). Working in a Scrum team can address all of those motivations. The Scrum Master and Product Owner can work with team members to demonstrate how the work of the Scrum Team satisfies those motivations.
  2. Managers may be asked to make cost and time-efficiency decisions in which their staff are “fully-allocated” to get the most value from salaries paid. This approach to efficiency is the “easiest” to measure: simply track how much time staff are working on approved/budgeted activities vs. how much time they are spending on administrative overhead or time idle. Unfortunately, this simple approach to optimizing efficiency is actually one of the worst approaches. Instead, some slack time improves other areas of efficiency in ways that vastly out-perform simple time allocation. Slack time allows for staff to produce higher-quality work, to respond more quickly when their particular skills and knowledge are required (thus reducing wait times for other staff), and to have the mental space to find innovative and creative solutions to business problems. The Product Owner, in particular, must be aware of the trade-offs made with this kind of sub-optimization and be prepared to make a strong business case to managers for allowing team members to be dedicated to the team even if it means that sometimes individuals will have slack time.

Whenever making a case for change, it is critical to have both theory and anecdote to back up the request. Theory addresses the rational aspect for decision-makers, and anecdote addresses the emotional aspect.
The Scrum Master can also bring this topic up in a Sprint Retrospective. In this case, a brainstorming-style discussion with the team will often generate many innovative and creative ideas about how to improve the situation. Then the team can use voting or ranking techniques to choose specific action items.

One final point: making small improvements in how much time team members are focused on the work of the Scrum team brings large benefits. This particular path of improvement might take a long time to perfect, but it is often possible to make incremental changes very quickly.

[Scrum] Development Teams are structured and empowered by the organization to organize and manage their own work. The resulting synergy optimizes the Development Team’s overall efficiency and effectiveness. — The Scrum Guide

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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