Shield teams from interruptions to optimize the outcome
Facilitate effective Scrum ceremonies
Help Product Owners develop a positive rapport with their team and accept him/her as a part of the family
Step back and let the team learn from its own experience – successes, and mistakes.
Aditya’s article gets into the very practical aspects of the role, and I find that approach very useful when defining my own approach to “holding space”.
Taking Holding Space all the way up to “11”: Open Space Technology as a school for Scrum Masters
Open Space Technology, is an approach that helps people find solutions to difficult problems by working together, collaborating on possible answers to those problems.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what we expect Scrum Masters to do when it comes to the teams and their search for a solution. We want Scrum Masters to help the team find a solution (or more) for a difficult problem, by collaborating inside the team, and with outside contributors, other teams, or stakeholders.
One of the inspiring phrases from his book is right there in chapter 1, and I think it describes perfectly what the Scrum Master role is about: “Harrison Owen wrote that “holding space” is an act that is at once totally present and totally invisible”.
And the book goes on with inspiring phrases. In chapter 2, Chris writes: “Sitting in stillness invites [other] people to move.” This reminds us that when we don’t take action – as Scrum Masters – we are helping others “find the space” to express their own ability to lead and help the team.
In chapter 10, we are reminded of one of the key aspects of Open Space Technology: “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have”. This encourages us to work with what happens in the team, instead of trying to direct the team towards what we think is “the right thing”. Accepting what happens in the team, at every turn, is also part of “holding the space”
This is a short blog post about what “holding the space” is for Scrum Masters.
It has some very practical blog posts and a resource that inspires us to look at the activity of “holding space” from a different perspective: the Open Space Technology perspective.
“Holding the Space” is not just a phrase, it’s a very practical and pragmatic thing we do as Scrum Masters.
What is your approach to “holding the space”? Share your thoughts below!
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This is a guest blog post by Jacopo Romei. Author of the Italian version of the book #ExtremeContracts, and author of an upcoming book on the same topic in English.
Being part of an underground band is not easy. You are weak in every aspect of your business model. You have no stable audience, you have very thin revenues, you have to accommodate your “real life” needs and, above all, organizing gigs is a nightmare. Trying to negotiate a good deal with the owner of a club you like can be very, very hard. This is the story of how putting yourself in their shoes could make a better negotiation strategy.
Trying to negotiate a good deal with the owner of a club you like can be very, very hard for a rock band. This is how to create a better negotiation strategy.
Despite this success, though, the majority of our concerts were still taking place in clubs. In 2009 alone, we were on stage 44 times and the relationship with the club owners had become critical for the survival of our band. The sustainability of our activity was totally dependent on their decisions: they were the ones who paid us, who gave us a stage, who provided the sound system and the right structure to make our concerts possible and enjoyable for an audience that sometimes reached a thousand people.
The relationship with the club owners had become critical for the survival of our band.
The negotiation with them usually happened along a fixed sequence of steps. We had to find, and introduce ourselves to the owners of the clubs where we wanted to perform.
The club owners—no matter how loyal our growing audience had become over the years—insisted on us providing a guaranteed minimum number of attendees. Worse: reaching those minimum audience numbers usually became a condition to get paid after the show, as the club owner wanted to keep the freedom to cut or suspend our fee in case of a turnout below their expectations.
At that point, after the fee was set, we started trying to schedule the concert, looking for a date that was suitable for the seven band members and the club itself. From then on, it was all about promoting the gig and hoping we could bring a big-enough audience to enjoy the performance, otherwise we would have to perform and wouldn’t get paid!
Their problem is a part of our problem
The negotiation process felt like pushing a rock uphill with the constant threat of having it roll over us. It was the opposite of a lean process!
Finding the right place, taking into account space, the stage, the sound system, and the geographical position according to our goals and how easy it was to get to the venue.
Actually begging to schedule a date, giving the club owners many guarantees and not getting any from them. I often wondered about this: wasn’t having people attend the gig a shared interest between us and the club owner?
Negotiating a fair fee, that matched the true value generated by our performance, both for the audience and for the club owner.
A cumbersome process to find a good date among us singers and then negotiate that date into the club’s schedule.
Struggling to gather an audience for that date, now become a Damocles Spade hanging over our heads. An important football match could be enough to spoil our party and leave us with an empty club.
(Struggling to) Be paid.
I was then looking for a different negotiation process that may be more streamlined, less prone to failure, more linear, in one word I wanted to negotiate Anonima Armonisti’s gigs in a way that would allow us to delay commitment until we were sure the most important risk was covered, for us, and the club owner. In short, the lean way.
I was looking for a lean negotiation process
I wanted the agreement to guarantee us:
More options about the club, according to many variables, especially size.
A fee correlated to our music and how much our fans liked it, not to the amount of people collected. We are a band, not a PR agency!
A compensation proportional to the audience size, for better or worse, through thick and thin.
The chance to schedule the date with less friction.
Zero risks of singing in front of an empty room.
Certainty to be paid, with no exposure to last-minute surprises and the owner’s attempts to shave the price down a bit.
At that point, I realized that it made no sense to pursue only our needs without acknowledging the club owners’ needs. I thought that maybe I could use their needs as a True North towards my own goals. As someone said before me, I had to find a way to help them to help me. So I started making assumptions on… their assumptions.
Probably these were their needs:
Zero risk of losing money by having us perform to an empty room. A club only has a fixed amount of available dates per year. It is crucial for them to maximize the generated value per single day and the audience is the main driver for them to reach this goal.
Making sure that their revenue—basically selling drinks and maybe food—stayed independent from the quality of our show. They usually want people to be entertained while they spend money eating and drinking so the owners perceive the artist’s fee just as a cost to be capped as low as possible. Given that, our interests were not aligned until we were able to separate their revenue from our revenue.
The opportunity to schedule the gigs on a date that suits the club’s calendar, with enough time notice. Concerts have to be scheduled way ahead of the actual date, to increase the chance to build a substantial audience, and club owners were looking for peace of mind by literally building an inventory of gigs further into the future.
No revenue share for the artist. Their bar-generated money stays theirs, while the artists get a fixed fee agreed upfront or, if the money is linked to the size of the audience, its amount is capped to a maximum. There has to be no open upside for the artists, they are a commodity because running a club is far riskier.
All these needs are legitimate. Dismissing them would not lead to a successful agreement in which they only care about setting up a nice venue and serving good drinks and food, we only focus on music and the performance, and everybody cares about the number of people attending the concert. How could we design and set up an agreement to take care of all this?
A new approach to selling our live performances
At the end of 2014, building on top of my experience with a few start-ups trying to validate their business models and strongly influenced by Steve Blank, I had an idea that returned interesting results.
Without even alerting my fellow bandmates about my intentions, I asked them whether they were all free on some date in the following months. Then, I chose the first date that suited all of us and asked them all to keep it free. At this point, I started assuming we would have a concert in Milan on that day. Milan was perfect for the experiment because it is a big enough city. We had many fans there, having already been primed by two or three concerts in local clubs. And I was also attracted by a few fans who had been requesting us to play in their town for a long time.
I chose a popular ticket platform that I had experience with, from selling tickets to more or less nerd-ish conferences and meetups I had helped to organize. Not even knowing what club we would be performing in, I started pre-selling 100 tickets at a very low price, on the set date. I promised the buyers that in case we had missed a given goal within the first few weeks, I would give the money back, no questions asked.
Not even knowing what club we would be performing in, I started pre-selling 100 tickets at a very low price.
After having sold the first 100 tickets two months ahead of the scheduled date and with a 50-person waiting list, I started scouting for a good club in Milan with the following pitch for the owners of the most interesting clubs: “I’ve got 100 people who already bought the ticket for our show on this date. Fifty more people asked me for tickets and are waiting for us to confirm the event. We still have three months to go and I don’t want a dime from you. If you let us perform on your stage, we bring them all to drink at your bar”.
I still remember how loud the high-five was! In no time, we had a scheduled gig and now we also had a deal with a very nice club with a very nice stage.
I still remember how loud the high-five was! In no time, we had a scheduled gig and now we also had a deal with a very nice club with a very nice stage. We opened the box office again and we ended up selling hundreds of tickets! Win (for us), win (for the club owners), win (for the audience)! This was what my Extreme Contracts approach delivered: a triple win! No pain, no upfront risks (for anyone!), and a scheduled date for a top club in Milan.
By changing the order of the steps in the process we had changed the result. Our new process for setting up a concert in a top club looked like this:
An exhausting internal negotiation to find a suitable date was not needed anymore. Picking up the first free date at the intersection of our calendars was enough.
The search for an audience was not on the critical path anymore. Damocles was freed from his spade and not finding an audience just started meaning canceling a tentative date and refunding the initial buyers.
We were earning money without begging. Those buying a ticket from us in advance were doing so because they really wanted to attend our show and, not a small thing, they were sure they would get their money back in case of a cancellation.
We were getting paid in advance (the tickets were pre-sold), with no loss exposure for us even for expenses and rehearsals, and we were no longer afraid of being paid less or nothing in the end.
We were performing in the right clubs, from all points of view, no room wasted nor the risk to invite too many people. Finally, we were able to introduce ourselves to the club owners having the upper hand in the negotiation: “hey man, I’ve got some value in the vault and it’s my vault. Do you want a share?”
Once we found the club, we were left with the pleasure of performing in front of an audience that was there for us and deserved to be entertained.
What about the owners’ needs? Were we taking care of them this way? Or not?
Our solution is their solution
This process puts the owners’ needs at the center of the solution. Each of their needs was addressed because we tried to think how they thought and we tried to feel what they felt: we walked in their shoes.
This process puts the owners’ needs at the center of the solution. Each of their needs was addressed because we tried to think how they thought and we tried to feel what they felt: we walked in their shoes.
Let’s see this in detail:
They took no risks of an empty club. A club only had to commit for a date which all the audience—or at least a minimum number of people—had already shown commitment for. This was much better than hoping to see people attending a concert.
They could decouple their drinks-and-food business from the quality of our show. We might even have proved to be unable to perform live and the maximum impact for the club owner would be the decision not to let us perform again. But the single date, that single first date was secured. No exposure for them, an audience that would drink and eat no matter the quality of the show, and the free option to renew the partnership with us or let us go.
The gigs were scheduled on a set date, with no ambiguity and no need to wait for its confirmation: it was all set! The show was only scheduled when there was already a “minimum viable audience” for it. We had the audience that had committed to attend by paying in advance, and we had a clear date in the calendar. No room was left for fluctuations. The owners could rely on a filled slot in their schedule.
No interference with their revenues. We were not asking for shared revenues, we were not linking our finance to theirs. We had our money, coming from our fans’ love for our music, they had theirs, coming from the quality of their service, drinks, and food.
All of a sudden, everything had turned for the better, the negotiation had become frictionless. This is the keyword: frictionless. You don’t want to feel like pushing a rock uphill every time you meet a new customer or a new supplier. You don’t want to spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and enthusiasm for every single negotiation. You want it to flow naturally, easily. As Ury and Fisher state in their bestseller “Getting to Yes”, the best negotiation process is the one that takes care of the substance of the agreement, sure, but still preserving efficiency and a good relationship between the parties. In one word, keeping it frictionless.
One of the best ways to get there is to focus on the negotiation process on the needs of the other party so that we design and make them accept an effective solution while we serve our needs. Extreme Contracts practitioners call this principle In Their Shoes.
Here’s Jacopo and the band with the amazing a capella cover for Disturbia
Many Scrum Masters are familiar with the anti-pattern where managers want to “own” the team and are very directive. To the point of telling team members what they can, or should not work on. In this episode, we talk about how those managers can also find value in Agile approaches. Saritha shares a story about personal transformation in a waterfall organization that wanted to go Agile.
About Saritha Rai
Saritha has been working in the IT industry for 13+ years and is an adaptable and constant learner. She has over a decade of experience in software development and is passionate about training, guiding and coaching people to have a good working environment which will result in high-quality deliverables.
Scrum Masters often have to face cultural anti-patterns when working with teams, and the organizations they are part of.Those cultural anti-patterns are being amplified by the move to #Remote work due to the #covid19 situation.
What can we do? How can we get ready?
Here are some tips to get you started or to help you further adapt to this new reality.
Lack of transparency is even worse when #Remote
There are many Scrum Masters that come on the Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast and share stories that relate to a culturally-engrained lack of transparency. This lack of transparency takes many forms:
Team members don’t share their struggles in the Daily Standup because they perceive that as a sign of weakness (for example)
Product Owners don’t share the reasons why certain changes are brought into the Sprint, perhaps because they themselves don’t know
Other teams we collaborate with don’t share changes to a dependency we have on them
Whatever symptoms of lack of transparency you experienced when working in the same office, those symptoms will only get worse when our organization moves to #Remote work. Some of the reasons are:
Individuals are less engaged and motivated due to the stress, or being distracted by the presence of children while they work, or because they don’t see (and therefore don’t take into account) their colleagues during the day
Sudden tasks or priority shifts are communicated to individuals, and the rest of the team isn’t physically present to witness that change
Now that we’re distributed we miss out on all the spontaneous collaboration that used to happen.
Tips for Scrum Masters to increase transparency and foster collaboration
As Scrum Masters, we must be deliberate about improving transparency and collaboration in #Remote teams. Our domain of expertise is collaboration, and we must keep adapting to enable collaboration at all times. Here are some tips, that may help you improve transparency, information sharing, and collaboration between team members and with other teams:
Have a collective retrospective with the teams on which your team has regular dependencies
Discuss with the Product Owner how to share changes to the Sprint so that all team members are aware and can share their possible impact on the work they have to finish
Move to a shorter Sprint. Agile is about creating more, and faster, feedback loops. As we go #Remote those feedback loops are even more important. Shorter sprints provide more transparency (problems are found faster), makes the amount of work smaller which helps with clarity (shorter stories), and with identifying and solving process problems in the team, and across teams
Have 2 daily check-ins
Quick tip for #Remote#Scrum Masters: Have 2 check-ins / day. One at the start of shared work hours, and one closer to the end of shared work hours. Make the second an “informal” check-in (e.g.: ask each team member to bring their favourite drink and enable video).
Integrate more often. If you are integrating with dependant teams at the end of the Sprint, consider bringing their work into your daily build pipeline, or assign specific team members on both teams to work on integration from the start of the sprint
Track dependencies on other teams just like you would a User Story. Understanding of dependencies will grow during the Sprint. Make sure you are covering that dependency on the Daily Standup if nothing else to learn that “everything is proceeding according to plan”
Create an URGENT Slack/Teams channel, so that team members can always explicitly ask for help to solve a problem they are facing. When #Remote, even waiting one more day can make the problem harder to find.
When we are #Remote, collaboration and cooperation are harder to achieve, and transparency can be a critical trigger for that collaboration to flourish. Consider what you can do as a Scrum Master to improve collaboration. Every day. Stay Safe, #StayHome
More tips, and more insights from the Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast
From that survey, the early results are conclusive, one of the biggest challenges you are facing right now is to help your teams coordinate their work, and collaborate effectively after transitioning to #Remote work.
So, to help you adapt to this new #Remote work reality, we collected the following strategies and tools for helping #Remote teams coordinate and collaborate effectively.