How Scrum Masters Can Unite Their Teams Through Cohesion & Collaboration | A Discussion With Agile Coach Steve Vance

For scrum masters, developing teams that work well together and successfully adopt Agile practices is a top priority. By ensuring that teams are equipped with the necessary knowledge to complete their projects, enterprises can enjoy effective and efficient Agile groups that deliver results. 

However, when teams are incomplete or lack specific expertise, their results can suffer. In order to help a Scrum Master to increase their team’s effectiveness, they should know the best strategies for bringing groups together with a variety of skills and talents. For Scrum Masters looking to better align their teams, Pono Labs’s Justin Chapman sat down with software developer Stephen Vance to discuss a new way to consider how a Scrum Master can equip their teams to hire top candidates better.

The T-Shaped Candidate

For Scrum Masters seeking quality candidates to add to Agile teams, a common key characteristic is a “T-Shaped Candidate.” This term, popularized by IDEO CEO Tim Brown, describes a professional who is both broadly skilled and specializes in a particular expertise. 

In the form of a T, the ideal candidate is equipped in a wide range of baseline skills that are expected of any team member – the top of the T. However, the perfect candidate would also have a deep understanding of a particular concept that is of value to the team as a whole – the stem.

An Unbeatable Force: Building A T-Square Team

However, according to Agile Coach Steven Vance, Scrum Masters should seek T-Shaped candidates and seek to bring together these professionals to develop square-shaped teams. 

In an interview with Pono Labs’s Justin Champan, Vance argues that the best Agile teams are structured with four Ts, each bringing their unique specialization to strengthen the whole. Similar to the US Navy Seal team dynamics, a baseline understanding of the Agile framework exists with all members, but the unique abilities of each complement the weaknesses of the rest – creating a square-shaped team structure. 

With this square, Agile teams can grow together through complementary strengths. This requires a Scrum Master to help teams discover the specific skills within each team, as well as how those the company is considering hiring can fit that mold.

Learn More With Pono Labs‘ eBook “Become One Of Today’s Top Agile Leaders”

The task that lay ahead of a Scrum Master to create an awesome team can be daunting. Finding the best addition to your team is an important decision, and shouldn’t be taken lightly if you desire to see your organizations thrive and grow. Luckily, by learning and helping your team implement five steps for hiring and equipping top-tier talent, you can experience success quickly. 

Learn more about the entire Agile team hiring and development process with Become One Of Today’s Top Agile Leaders, the latest release from Justin Chapman and Pono Labs. Packed with helpful tips and strategies for discovering and retaining the best talent on the market, you can learn how to equip your teams to hire for skill, character, competence, and more. Pick up the ebook today, and watch the full interview with Stephen Vance online.

3 Easy Ways to Set Up a Learning Plan

Learning plans are important for teams and for you. As a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, you have the opportunity to learn right alongside your team members. Setting up the right learning plan will allow you to continuously grow your skills while raising up your team at the same time. Below are three easy ways you can set up your learning plan and start learning new skills.

  • Read a book at least every six months

Books provide a wealth of knowledge that anyone can benefit from. You can assign your team reading materials that will benefit their positions, but at the very least you should be reading a book every six months. The inspiration and information you gain from your reading can be shared with your team in a number of ways. For instance, the insights you gain from a book can help you summarize concepts in new ways, and books can also help you see problems from a different perspective. If you’re in need of a few book recommendations, then consider checking out one of the below suggestions. 

  • Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
  • Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Brad Kowitz
  • The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim
  • The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
  • Create a coaching circle

A routine coaching circle is a great activity for your team. This peer-to-peer style gives team members the opportunity to raise questions and seek assistance for any problems they may be facing, whether trying to learn a new skill or understand certain procedures. One of the most beneficial aspects of a coaching circle is that everyone in the group gets to learn from the challenges and breakthroughs discussed.

  • Set quarterly learning goals

Quarterly learning goals give your team members something to work toward and focus on. These goals don’t have to be huge, either. It could be reading a book, learning a new skill, or even attending an event. 

For more actionable ideas, check out my ebook. 

Everyday Carry (EDC) for Scrum Masters/Coaches

When we hear the phrase ‘Everyday Carry (EDC)’ we offend think of the pocket knife, cell phone, and multi-tool.  However, as a Scrum Master/Coach everyday we might find ourselves facilitating a session to achieve an outcome curated for those we’re working with.  Prior to any facilitation (e.g. Retrospective, Planning, Refinement, etc.), we are often asking ourselves if we have everything we need to conduct a successful session.  Depending upon the physical environment of where we will be conducting the facilitation the needs may differ.

What should be in our coaching EDC?

It’s great to know that if you need to quickly set up a room, support a colleague, or just conduct a regularly scheduled session, it’s great to know that you have a kit ready to facilitate.  These are some of the things I maintain in my EDC and why:

Item Description:Why this is useful?
Expo Click Dry Erase MarkersWhen writing it’s nice to have the ‘clickable’ version so that the marker doesn’t dry out as quickly and you don’t have to chase the cap.
Post-it Notes (3×3 & 3×5) in color yellow3×3 for regular ideas, 3×5 for larger ideas and different facilitations.
Post-it Notes (3×5) in colors not yellowNon-Yellow so that if you’re story mapping you can have a few contrasting colors
Index Cards 3×5 in color whiteRegular paper 3×5 cards are great for card sorts and when you don’t have a wall where Post-it Notes stick well + Index cards are a great size for paper prototyping mobile experiences.
Time Timer (small clock timer)This is a great little clock that you can get to visually indicate remaining time.  It’s so handy because the visual cue reinforces time boxes 
Sharpie Retractable Permanent Marker (Med)Using Medium point helps to keep what is written nice and big and readable from far away and when you take picture it’s easier to read
Painter’s TapeBecause you sometimes need to tape things to walls and or other around a room
Planning Poker CardsNice to have for Planning or other interactive facilitations
HDMI Adapter for Mac/PCDepending upon your company/environment I have a couple of video out adapters because AV gear is something that gets used frequently
USB Thumb drives (2 or 3) 32GB+A few low-cost thumb drives just in case, they’ve come in handy more times than I can count

The Virtual Version of EDC

With the shift in how many of us are working the EDC has changed. Now I look to have at a  link to Mural – for teams to use quickly, there are templates for retrospective, business model canvas, and other very useful virtual collaborative frameworks.

You can learn more about how to be a great coach through my eBook: Become One of Today’s Top Agile Leaders

How to Hire for Character, Not Skill

Skills are important, but they can always be taught. When building a team, you want people who will fit the culture of the organization as well as someone who will get along with your team. You have to train new team members whether they’ve done similar work in the past. In fact, in some cases, ground-up training can be ideal because the new hire will be coming in with fresh eyes and no bad habits developed at other companies. Success isn’t about having every skill in place before starting a position, so figure out how to hire for a person’s character instead.

Find the right person through your network

Corporate recruiting is helpful but it can be difficult and time-consuming to wade through the list of applicants. Instead of relying on recruiters to find viable candidates, reach out to your network, and make sure your team is involved in the software development community. By relying on your network, you’re more likely to recognize up and coming professionals as well as learn about a person’s character before you’ve even had an interview.  

Treat your candidates like a draft pick

You want to show the candidates you’re interviewing that you value them and what they have to offer. You can do this a number of ways, such as properly preparing for interviews by making sure your team knows what to look for in a candidate. This way, they’ll be able to ask useful questions that will bring you closer to the right hire. Being organized and prepared will show a potential team member the professionalism of the team and make the person feel like their time is valued. 

Create the right job description

The job description should separate your team and company from other organizations and highlight what you’re looking for not only in skills but also in character. An example of a great job description that highlights a candidate’s character can be found in my Agile E-book. This E-book also provides beneficial information about Agile Coaching and how to create the right software development team. Check out the E-book “Become One of Today’s Top Agile Leaders” now to learn more about hiring for a person’s character as well as how to set your team up for success. 

Team Canvas: Artifact for high-performing teams

A team canvas is a method for teams to gain understanding about their peers. The Team Canvas derives its inspiration from the Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, and Opportunity Canvas. These other tools focus on the business idea, product, and or the user experience. The Team Canvas focuses inwardly on the team that works together to accomplish a goal.

What guidance do you have for use?

  1. Time-box the exercise, 1 hour to 90-minutes, max!
  2. Do it by hand. This is a tool for sharing not art
  3. You can start with a new team, a team that is rebooting (e.g. new team members), setting aside assumptions
  4. Try and be specific so it’s clear to others – candor is demonstrable evidence of respecting your team members
  5. This canvas yields the best results when facilitated by an outsider
  6. Morphing the team’s input into one canvas and making it visible is a good daily reminder for the team

Example in action:
The following is a quick video describing how the Team Canvas works

Alternate guidance that may be helpful

  • Have team members post their individual canvas on a wall, so that they can read review what their team members think.
  • Use fine/medium Sharpies so that team members can easily read what was written at distance
  • Ideal size for running is less then 9 team members
Team Canvas to facilitate open conversation about the needs from team members in support of customers and the product that will resonate with them.