Holding space, a Scrum Master guide with links and tips

As a Scrum Master that studies, and constantly tries to improve your craft, you’ve probably heard (and even used) the phrase “hold the space”.
For (some) native English speakers, this phrase may be easy to grasp, but as a non-native speaker, I can vouch for the difficulty of understanding what this means in practice.
As a Scrum Master myself, however, this phrase is too important to dismiss as “insider talk”, so I want to share some links and tips about “holding the space” as a Scrum Master.
First, let me refer to a blog post at Stanford’s site by Linnea Ann Williams called “Holding Space: A Scrum Master Overview”. The blog post is about the role of the Scrum Master, but it is also about what it means to “hold the space”. My key takeaway from this blog post: As a Scrum Master I must help the team and the stakeholders create the conditions the team needs to perform (hold the space).

The basics of the Scrum Master role and the meaning of “holding space” 

But there’s a lot more about the meaning of “holding space”. Many of the aspects of that approach are in the Scrum Guide (PDF version from the year 2020 here), and some are well described in this blog post by Aditya Chourasiya, titled “Scrum Master – Roles and Responsibilities”. Aditya describes “holding space” as a set of responsibilities that include:
  • 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.
That brings me to another resource (WARNING: this is a book, not a blog post!): The Tao of Holding Space, a book by Chris Corrigan. This is a long read, and I don’t expect everyone to read it. So let me review some key takeaways from the book.
Chris is a seasoned Open Space Technology facilitator and often writes about facilitation at all levels and all kinds of organizations. Therefore he has a lot of experience to share on “holding the space” and what that means in practice.
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”

Conclusion

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!
Do you want to grow as a Scrum Master?
Get an invite to the Annual Global Online Scrum Master Summit. Enter your email below to be notified when the Summit registration opens
Do you want to grow as a Scrum Master?
Get an invite to the Annual Global Online Scrum Master Summit. Enter your email below to be notified when the Summit registration opens

BONUS: Incremental Delivery in Business Intelligence (BI) and Data Warehouse projects with Raphael Branger

Raphael has been a guest on our regular show, and in those episodes, we approached the topic of Agile applied to Business Intelligence projects. In this episode, we dive deeper into the concepts and ideas that Raphael mentioned earlier, and we learn how Business Intelligence projects can be delivered incrementally, and in an agile manner. 

Slicing User Stories to enable incremental delivery

We start this episode with a practice that is critical for Agile teams: how to slice User Stories to enable the delivery of incremental value to customers. We discuss several strategies that Raphael uses to be able to deliver valuable functionality even in the first week of a project. 

Taking into account that usually, BI projects are executed by larger, and more traditional firms, his approach brings clarity and ensures that the team and the customer are able to evaluate the product from the first week. This practice is critical in collecting feedback from customers early on and avoiding producing products (dashboards, in this case) that no one will use. 

In this segment, we refer to a blog post by Raphael where he describes his User Story slicing approach in more detail.

#NoEstimates in BI projects

One of the inspirations for Raphael’s work on slicing User Stories was the #NoEstimates book and a few conversations that he and Vasco Duarte had in the early stages of Agile adoption at IT-LOGIX, Raphael’s company.

In Raphael’s perspective, the focus should shift from “sizing” stories to understanding what might be a good experience for the customer: customer delight; and then validating those assumptions directly with customers by delivering possible solutions very early on. 

As a way to apply #NoEstimates, Raphael started to apply the concept of “timebox” (limited time) to each of the User Stories being developed. His own rule is that a User Story should be developed within 1 or 2 days at the most, which pushes the teams to focus on what is critical to provide value to the customer. 

Timeboxing User Stories to validate assumptions

In this episode, we also explore how Raphael came to the realization that User Stories need to be timeboxed, rather than estimated. He shares a story of a project where the team produced a dashboard that did not get used by the customer (they had metrics). That was a transformative point in Raphael’s approach, leading him to focus on early and often delivery. Which led to the #NoEstimates heuristic that a User Story should be given a timebox. 

In this segment, we refer to the episode about a team that Runtastic that is using #NoEstimates, and how that has helped the team focus, and provide value faster. 

About Raphael Branger

Raphael Branger is a Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner and a pioneer in adapting agile methods in the context of data and analytics projects. He works as a Principal Consultant Data & Analytics at IT-Logix in Switzerland with more than seventeen years of experience in business intelligence and data warehousing.

You can link with Raphael Branger on LinkedIn and connect with Raphael Branger on Twitter

 

What you need to learn about being a Scrum Master, but will never get from a CSM course

No matter how many courses you attend, there are things that, as a Scrum Masters, you only really learn the important lessons on the field. Doing the work.

One of the reasons I don’t think certification courses are enough for Scrum Masters that certifications courses very often focus on the rules and regulations of the job, but not on the problems, the hardships and the obstacles we face, day-in, day-out when we try to do a good work as a Scrum Master.

So, what can we do when courses aren’t enough?

Continue reading What you need to learn about being a Scrum Master, but will never get from a CSM course

BONUS: Diana Getman – How checklists make Agile teams faster and deliver with high quality, without adding more processes

In this episode, we explore the role that checklists can have in helping teams improve their process and their performance without adding more processes. 

It is a normal tendency to “add more processes” to fix a problem a team is experiencing. In this episode, we challenge that view. Checklists, we argue, are a simple, effective tool that helps you reach a similar goal, but does not require the process to grow, and become bloated. 

2 Common types of checklists that help teams improve how they work

There are several types of items we can add to a checklist. In this segment, we discuss 2 common types of checklists, and how they can help teams. We start by discussing the “process checklists”, which may include important tips on how to execute a certain process. 

The key thing to remember is that checklists don’t replace processes, but are rather a set of reminders, or items that help teams execute a process once they’ve already read and understood the process. 

The second type of checklists we discuss are those that summarize a series of requirements or pre-conditions that a team needs to follow-up on. This may include quality requirements or certain tasks that need to be completed before a certain work item is considered complete. 

The most common checklists Scrum teams use

Scrum teams have a common set of checklists that they use. We discuss the commonly used Definition of Done, and also talk about the importance of having a Definition of Ready, and how that may help teams get started on the right foot when a new Sprint is about to kick-off.

Additionally, we talk about a pre-release checklist. With a pre-release checklist, teams are able to keep a memory of what they’ve learned from the past about meeting the release requirements, and can continuously improve that critical aspect of any team’s process.

In this segment, we also tackle the usual objections that people given when asked to consider the use of checklists. Checklists may be seen as “more bureaucracy”, but instead, they are there to help teams summarize a process that already exists, provides transparency about the process execution, and ultimately it should be a time saver for the team.

How about you? How have you used Checklists in your work? Share your experience in the comments below.

About Diana Getman

Diana Getman has more than 25 years of experience as a project manager leading cross-functional teams, in both startup and non-profit organizations. Diana has held the roles of Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Agile Coach and is the current President at Ascendle, a custom software development firm in Portsmouth, NH.

You can link with Diana Getman on LinkedIn, or visit Ascendle’s blog for more on checklists.

How focusing on a single metric improved team performance – Guest post by Marcus Hammarberg

This is a guest post by Marcus Hammarberg, author of Salvation: The Bungsu Story, How Lean and Kanban saved a small hospital in Indonesia. Twice. And can help you reshape work in your company. (available on Amazon)

This is the third post on a series by Marcus Hammarberg about how metrics can help engage, motivate and ultimately push a team towards success! (See other blog posts in this series here)

When we first started to work with the Bungsu hospital they were in a devasting situation.

Fast forward 1,5 years and you would see a hospital that was making money every day.

In the end, we turned the hospital from a situation where only the director and her closest staff cared, to a situation where 100 people in the hospital were actively engaged in everyday improvements.

How is this possible? What kind of magic was applied?

How focusing on a single metric improved team performance

Now that we had a metric that mattered to everyone and this truly was the “talk of the hospital”, we experienced a wave of change.

Not surprisingly the first groups to engage was the people in charge of bringing more people to the hospital; the marketing team.

It turned out that making the “number of patients served”-metric visible throughout the hospital, was what was needed to get them activated. But when we did, the lid of their passion and creativity jar was blown off! We started to see real ownership in their behavior. As if The Bungsu was their very own hospital.

Before I knew it, I found myself in a workshop where the two ladies of the marketing department blurted out 25 ideas on how to get more patients. And 3 or 4 of them were really low hanging fruit that we could do the very next day. For example:

  • Go to the nearby clinics and advertise our availability for surgery and treatments that the clinics could not handle
  • Offer free transport from the big hospitals to our hospital for treatments that the big hospitals had a waiting list for
  • Suggest that our freelancing doctors would do all their surgery in our hospital

These were very simple changes that had been dragging on in decision-making boards. Now the decisions were quick to make – because the need and impact were clear to see.

Just a few days after we started to track “number of patients served per day” these actions brought the metric up to a whopping 133 patients served per day! Twice the normal number of patients and a level that has not been seen in a long time.

This taught me, in a very impactful way, how a single metric can transform the performance of a team. In this case, the marketing team.

Do you need the one metric that matters to engage your team? This booklet is for you!

In the Bungsu’s Pirate Code for Visualization downloadable booklet I will go into details on how we made this “one metric that matters” engaging, kept it relevant and ultimately saved the hospital by keeping our focus there – using what we referred to as the Bungsu Pirate Code. Click here to download your guide to using the “one metric that matters” in your own team.

This is a very actionable tool that you can you use today in your organisation to make your visualizations matter to everyone all the time.

The Bungsu Story is a fascinating account of a real-life crisis, and how Agile, Lean and Kanban saved the Hospital from bankruptcy! Twice! Get ready for the journey, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

About Marcus Hammarberg

Marcus is the author of Salvation: The Bungsu Story (available on Amazon), an inspiring and actionable story about how simple tools can help transform the productivity and impact of an organization. The real-life stories in The Bungsu can help you transform the productivity of your team. Marcus is also an renowned author and consultant in the Kanban community, he authored the book Kanban in Action with Joakim Sundén.
You can link with Marcus Hammarberg on LinkedIn, and connect with Marcus Hammarberg on twitter.

Get The Booklet!
How to deliver on time and eliminate scope creep By scoping projects around outcomes and impacts, not requirements!
Get the Product Owner Booklet!
Avoid scope creep! And learn to scope projects around impacts and outcomes, not requirements!
Get These Valuable Lessons Today!
Down-to-earth, hard-earned Scrum Masters lessons and the Tips from the Trenches e-book table of contents, delivered by email
Enter e-mail to download a clickable PO Cheat Sheet
This handy Coach Your PO cheat-sheet includes questions to help you define the problem, and links to handy, easy techniques to help you coach your Product Owner
Enter e-mail to download a clickable PO Cheat Sheet
This handy Coach Your PO cheat-sheet includes questions to help you define the problem, and links to handy, easy techniques to help you coach your Product Owner
Enter e-mail to download a checklist to help your PO manage their time
This simple checklist and calendar handout, with a coaching article will help you define the minimum enagement your PO must have with the team
Enter e-mail to download a checklist to help your PO manage their time
This simple checklist and calendar handout, with a coaching article will help you define the minimum enagement your PO must have with the team
Internal Conference
Checklist
Internal Conference
Checklist
Download a detailed How-To to help measure success for your team
Motivate your team with the right metrics, and the right way to visualize and track them. Marcus presents a detailed How-To document based on his experience at The Bungsu Hospital
Download a detailed How-To to help measure success for your team
Read about Visualization and TRANSFORM The way your team works
A moving story of how work at the Bungsu Hospital was transformed by a simple tool that you can use to help your team.
Read about Visualization and TRANSFORM The way your team works