Sami Prentice: Self-organization and collective ownership in Scrum teams

Looking into how teams organize themselves is often a good indicator that our work is having an impact. In this episode, we talk about the need to help teams self-organize, and find ways to sustain their own progress and improvement. Finally, we discuss the key ingredient for success in Scrum teams: having collective ownership for the work they need to.

Featured Retrospective Format for the Week: Liberating Structures, TRIZ

Sometimes the best way to help teams focus on what they can improve is to talk about what is the worst that could possibly happen. In this Liberating Structure called TRIZ, the goal is to reflect on what can go wrong, so that the team is then ready to focus on how to avoid that negative outcome.

About Sami Prentice

Sami is a Scrum Master in Denver, Colorado. She used to work in the beer industry before making the switch to Scrum Master and she is passionate about facilitating awesome meetings that don’t suck. 

You can link with Sami Prentice on LinkedIn.

Working from home with Kids: Our #Remote work journey continues

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Many of us have started to work from home while our children are also at home, which presents additional challenges. Here’s a collected list of tips from our listeners on Twitter. You are not alone! Many others like you are working from home with kids!

Stay calm, be empathic with your colleagues

One of the most important rules when working from home is to respect each other, we are all in the same situation, we are all getting started in our #Remote work journey. A simple practice that will help you with this is to tell your self: “We are all figuring it out,” she said. “It might get a little messy.” Yes! It will, sometimes, get messy. But it will also improve over time.

Be understanding with your colleagues, give the example and say also to them at the start of your next call: “We are all figuring it out,” she said. “It might get a little messy.”

Use your mute button generously, but accept when the noise comes from the other side! Have a post-it ready to remind your colleagues they are not on mute. Be kind, though 🙂  

Pay attention to your children. You’ve gained time, give it to them

Our previous Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast guest and listener Bola Adesope reminds us that we have gained time by not having to commute. It’s only fair that you dedicate that time to your children. You will all benefit. In Bola’s own words:

Sotiris adds:

Talk to your partner/spouse. Agree on how you will help each other

Many of you are working from home with your spouse or partner. You are probably both in the same situation, so talk early about how to handle the situation.

Daniel suggests ~2 hours shifts, talk about it, and agree on what would work for you.

Another tip is to share your work meetings calendar with your spouse/partner and try to help each other. You may try to book meetings when one of the adults in the house is not having another meeting (if possible).

In any case, don’t forget: be empathic with your spouse/partner too! You are both going through the same experience.

Anna has a slightly different approach, she suggests short bursts (more likely to work with smaller children), it’s a bit like the famous Pomodoro technique (which some already call Mozarella technique because “Pomodoro” apparently have been trademarked 🤷🏻‍♂️)

Adjust your expectations, but know that you are learning and improving as you go

Rene reminds us:

Remember, this is what being empathic towards others and yourself means! However, you are an Agilist! You also know that you will be adapting and improving over time. Stay with it.

Create a routine of reflection, individually and with your partner/spouse. And if your kids are old enough include them in that reflection. They will benefit from your example and will learn to be deliberate about reflecting and adapting to novel situations in their lives.

Help your children learn and practice skills at home, it’s a win/win!

The final tip comes from Paul:


Do your children already want to practice a skill? Maybe playing the piano or guitar? Or learn how to draw? Help them out. Buy them an internet course, and let them practice. Those skills will be beneficial immediately for you, and in the future for them! It’s a win/win!

What other techniques and approaches have worked for you? Share your learnings below in the comments!

Stay healthy, #stayhome and enjoy your children!

Sami Prentice: Helping Scrum teams accept and fix their anti-patterns

As Scrum Masters, focusing on helping teams succeed and collaborate, we will often notice certain negative patterns before the team members realize what is going on. It is then our responsibility to help the team understand what is going on. However, that’s not always an easy process. In this episode, Sami explains how she introduced an anti-pattern to the team, how they reacted, and especially how her own calm persistence (she calls it “gentle pressure”) helped the team realize what was going on, and improve the situation.

About Sami Prentice

Sami is a Scrum Master in Denver, Colorado. She used to work in the beer industry before making the switch to Scrum Master and she is passionate about facilitating awesome meetings that don’t suck. 

You can link with Sami Prentice on LinkedIn.

5 Tips for those starting their #Remote work journey

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I’ve worked remotely since 2014. Sometimes for weeks at a time. Most of that time as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, so I’ve had to learn a few things about working with remote teams. Here are some of those tips that I’ve collected

Get used to booking 15 min sessions with colleagues

When we work remotely, it is quite normal to have more meetings. That’s how we synchronize our timetables. There are fewer opportunities to meet colleagues in the corridor, kitchen, or while walking out to lunch or a coffee break.

So, I started booking 15min session with colleagues, to be able to interact with them, but not completely disrupt their day (or mine).

Here are the rules I follow:

  1. Book the 15min session just before or after a meeting they already have in the calendar (to avoid breaking up their un-interrupted time)
  2. If I need a decision, I send an email ahead with the topic and a few possible decisions (3 is a good number)
  3. Keep discussions short, if no solution can be found, book another call while talking to my colleagues

My goal with these 15min sessions is to keep in touch and get work done in short bursts. Turns out (based on my experience) that most 1h meetings can be avoided by having short 15min sessions to make decisions. However, sometimes that’s not enough, and we book another session for later that day or the day after.

Have breaks!

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn though, was the need to have breaks. When working remotely, all my colleagues are literally a few keystrokes away. There’s no physical barrier (thought there might be a mental one, more on that later). This means you end up having back-to-back meetings, and not getting up from your seat, which may make you feel productive, but will negatively impact your health and creativity.

In my experience, having a 10-15min break every 2 hours is a good rule of thumb, although sometimes I do get up and walk around more often than that. To keep me active in those breaks I either play a game (I’m a big FIFA fan) or do exercise (I bought rubber bands to do strength when traveling or at home).

I’ve learned that a 10-15 min break will help me be more creative when I get back to the “zone”.

Create a routine

I’ve developed my own routine over time, and I expect you will too. Over time, I learned that sitting down right after breakfast is my best strategy. I have breakfast and get right down to the most important tasks (I keep all my tasks in Evernote. Although I’ve tried other tools, I feel text files are my best tool).

After the first work burst, I’ll walk around, play a game and think of the next tasks.

I usually have meetings only in the afternoon (I’m a morning) person, and in the evening. Between the morning and afternoon slots, I have a longer break, maybe an hour or so.

Because I usually have evening meetings, I break up the afternoon with a walk outside to go shopping or go running.

That’s my routine, but you should think about what works for you. Are you a morning person? Or are you more productive in the afternoon?

Set up a workplace you are proud of (you will be on video often!)

When I started to work remotely, I used whatever space was available at home. That’s great for when you get started, but over time you will feel a bit out of place, or get tired of setting up and tearing down your workspace. Recently I’ve bought a green screen and a good camera to be able to create a space that I’m proud of. In the picture to the right is my “morning” workspace. I feel like I’m in a real office, and so do my colleagues!

If you have a sufficiently powerful computer, ZOOM will handle the lack of green screen, so there’s no need to invest in that. And if you use Skype you can blur the background so that your presence pops-up on video. Pro tip: surprise your colleagues with the “coolest” office you can find online! PS: I use PIXABAY and Google image search to scout the net for office spaces.

Track your work, keep yourself accountable

Over time, I’ve had to learn to be even more organized when working from home than when I had an office to go to. Working from home means that you have less of the implicit signs from people coming to talk to you, or having coffee break chats. #Remote workers are both in charge of their work, but also have less information available to make the right priority calls. Because of that, I’ve started to write down what I want to achieve when I start working. I have a “today’s tasks” note on Evernote, and keep all my work there. I write down everything I need to achieve for that day and will jot down future ideas on a future date.

I start my day by writing down the date and listing the tasks/achievements for the day (see image). During the day that list will change, and I’ll also write down tasks/achievements under future dates.

My system is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. If you don’t have a task management system, start now. Start with pen and paper, and slowly try out and adopt a digital tool.

I might write a longer post about my time-management and work-management system. I’ve developed it over quite a few years and learned what works for me (and what does not).

These were 5 simple tips that I’ve learned work for me. What works for you? What questions do you have? Share your experiences and lessons learned below.

Sami Prentice: When consensus destroys Scrum teams

Sometimes teams need to focus on consensus building, but at other points in their journey, their need to seek consensus is a sign that the team is avoiding conflict. In this episode, we talk about the case of a team that was undermining itself by trying to always establish consensus before taking action.

In this segment, we refer to the book: The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Featured Book for the Week: Radical Candor, Kim Scott

In Radical Candor by Kim Scott, Sami learned about the importance of building relationships and being in compassionate mode with fellow co-workers. She also found invaluable tips on how to get and give feedback to her co-workers. 

In this segment, we also refer to The Scrum Field Guide by Mitch Lacey, which includes a lot of ideas on how to handle the challenges that Scrum Masters typically face.

About Sami Prentice

Sami is a Scrum Master in Denver, Colorado. She used to work in the beer industry before making the switch to Scrum Master and she is passionate about facilitating awesome meetings that don’t suck. 

You can link with Sami Prentice on LinkedIn.

Facilitating #Remote Retrospectives for recently distributed teams

At the time I write this blog post, there’s the #covid19 epidemic going on. What this means in practice is that many of you will have changed recently to work with a #Remote team, so we are putting together a set of resources for all of our listeners jumping, head first, into working with #Remote teams.
In this post, I’m putting together a few ideas and lessons learned on remote retrospectives, and how to get started in your #Remote work journey.

How to facilitate remote #Retrospeectives

We have an episode with Aino Corry on how to facilitate #Remote retrospectives. When it comes to facilitating a remote retrospective, Aino shares these 4 guidelines:
  1. get people to participate actively
  2. get everybody on video (if at all possible)
  3. pace them forward all the time (e.g. using strict timeboxes)
  4. use round-robin (or some other technique) to get everybody to talk
In that podcast episode, we also discuss some anti-patterns to be aware of. Listen to Aino shares her experience on hosting #Remote retrospectives.

If you are looking for a tool to facilitate #Remote retrospectives, you may be interested in checking out these tools, which all have a free plan:

Working with, and facilitating #Remote teams

Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby share their experience with #Remote teams. The research work they did is available on their recently published book, and we go into the key lessons in this Scrum Master Toolbox episode on #Remote teams.
One of the key differences to co-located teams they highlight is how distributed team members need to develop their “affiliation” to each other and form a team even when they are not meeting each other in the corridor.
Mark shares a few ideas, like setting up a #water-cooler channel in your favorite chat application. My self, I love to have coffee sessions with my colleagues. Set up a calendar invite, make everyone optional, prepare a coffee cup and chat with your colleagues. 

First things first, team agreements

Whatever you do regarding #Remote retrospectives, don’t forget that your situation has just changed. It is time to set up a working agreement for the team that takes into account the fact that you are now distributed (even if you had one before, the situation has changed).
In this blog post on the Management 3.0 website, Lisette Sutherland from Collaboration Superpowers, shares her own approach, and the benefits from a #Remote team working agreement session. The main takeaway is to divide work into 3 areas:
  • Information: What kind of information do you need when working with your team? What needs to be actively shared? What can be passively shared?
  • Communication: What kinds of communication do you need to setup now that you are #Remote?
  • Collaboration: How do you share progress information and offer/request help when needed?
Remember, the team is as much in a new situation as you are. Help them find their new way of working.
Stay healthy, #stayhome (if you can).

Sami Prentice: Scrum Masters are also responsible for process development in their organizations

When leadership in an organization changes, they bring their own practices and habits with them. In this episode, we explore what happened in an organization when new leadership stopped some of the practices that were working for that organization. A good reminder that the role of the Scrum Master also includes developing the process for the organization. Listen in to learn how Sami took responsibility and helped the organization improve.

In this episode, we also talk about how we can improve as Scrum Masters by participating in our local communities. We refer to meetup.com as a place to find your local community and start taking part in their events.

About Sami Prentice

Sami is a Scrum Master in Denver, Colorado. She used to work in the beer industry before making the switch to Scrum Master and she is passionate about facilitating awesome meetings that don’t suck. 

You can link with Sami Prentice on LinkedIn.

BONUS: What CEO’s need to know about Design with Audrey Crane

In this episode, we explore what is design, and why you should be deliberate about helping teams, and organizations invest in the design of their products and services.

Every product is designed. Design is an integral part of the product development process. Your customers perceive it when they interact with your product, so the question is: how deliberate are you at creating the experience your customers have when they interact with your product and/or service?

Read more to learn what were the key takeaways from this episode, while you listen to the show.

Critical design questions your team should be asking

Continue reading BONUS: What CEO’s need to know about Design with Audrey Crane

Tom Suter: The Caretaker Product Owner

From saying “no”, to not saying “no”. Two contrasting patterns by Product Owners and their impact on the team’s and product’s success.

In this episode, we talk about People OS, a product that Tom is involved in

The Great Product Owner: Saying “no” with a smile

One of the most impactful activities a Product Owner can perform is to decide what NOT to develop. In this segment, we talk about a PO pattern that helps them, and their team succeed: knowing how to say “no”, and still keep the support from stakeholders!

The Bad Product Owner: The Caretaker Product Owner

When Product Owners don’t have a clear goal for their products, they run the risk of becoming simply “caretakers” for their product. In this segment, we explore the “caretaker” PO anti-pattern and what that means for their teams and products.

Are you having trouble helping the team working well with their Product Owner? We’ve put together a course to help you work on the collaboration team-product owner. You can find it at: bit.ly/coachyourpo. 18 modules, 8+ hours of modules with tools and techniques that you can use to help teams and PO’s collaborate.

About Tom Suter

As our workforce changes rapidly, Tom suggests it is going to be more and more challenging to attract and keep talent and knowledge, and that’s why we need a healthy and sustainable working environment. Tom is passionate about improving the industry for his children and their generations. 

You can link with Tom Suter on LinkedIn and connect with Tom Suter on Twitter.

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Tom Suter: 5 Requirements for great Agile Retrospectives

When it comes to having a positive impact on the teams, and companies we work with, the way we help teams focus on value delivery is critical. 

In this episode, we talk about how Scrum Masters can enable teams to focus on business value creation with different techniques.

Featured Retrospective Format for the Week: 5 Requirements for great Agile Retrospectives

Tom’s approach to the Retrospectives is informed by 5 requirements he tries to fulfill for every retrospective. In this episode, we explore what those are, and how to prepare and host impactful retrospectives.

In this segment, we refer to Retromat, and Fun Retrospectives, two websites that help you get more exercises for your retrospectives.

About Tom Suter

As our workforce changes rapidly, Tom suggests it is going to be more and more challenging to attract and keep talent and knowledge, and that’s why we need a healthy and sustainable working environment. Tom is passionate about improving the industry for his children and their generations. 

You can link with Tom Suter on LinkedIn and connect with Tom Suter on Twitter.