Every Scrum Team Member should be working on tasks in the Sprint Backlog. Generally speaking, this should be one task at a time with little or no work done on work that is not on the Sprint Backlog.
The visibility of the Sprint Backlog is an important part of Transparency within the Scrum Team. As well, doing one task at a time helps with Focus, another of Scrum’s values. If team members follow this rule, then the work of the Sprint is done in a reliable way. When team members take on multiple tasks simultaneously or when they take long breaks to do non-Sprint Backlog work, then the team’s focus is substantially diminished and overall productivity suffers.
The Scrum Master holds the primary responsibility for ensuring that team members are volunteering for new tasks in a timely manner. This means that the Scrum Master should be highly aware of the work that each team member is doing. When a team member is idle for any significant amount of time, the Scrum Master can call attention to this and encourage the individual to take on a new task. (Of course, the Scrum Master absolutely must not assign or suggest a specific task for the team member.) This level of involvement can feel like micro management to some people so two other techniques can also help. The team can set up a task board in the room to help make team members’ task selections more visible. Each team member is given a small, marked-out space on the wall that is just large enough for a single task card from the Sprint Backlog. When a team member starts working on a task, it is placed in this space. When the task is complete, it is moved out of the space. An empty space will be visible to everyone. The team member with this blank space will often feel motivated to do work in order to avoid appearing lazy. Another approach is to use the Daily Scrum to help individuals choose their next tasks. Although problem-solving discussions must be avoided in this meeting, team members who are having a hard time choosing a task can take the time right in that meeting to discuss their possible choices with other team members. This hopefully results in that team member choosing a task in the Daily Scrum meeting. However, sometimes this discussion reveals an obstacle that is preventing the team member from taking on a new task. Of course, in this case, the Scrum Master must get involved and help the team member.
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