Scrum master for 25 people

This is part of a 3 post series chronicling my real world Scrum Master experiences on the HMCTS Reform programme at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in the United Kingdom.
1. Scrum master for 25 people (this)
2.
Scrum master for 25 people – What happened next
3.
The DM who couldn’t let go

I started 8 weeks ago as a Scrum Master in my current team to find out they were conducting one massive daily standup covering 25 people. The various JIRA boards and physical boards were not used in the ceremony, so it was a verbal round robin of what people were up to.

On a daily basis, the delivery manager would verbally make adjustments and change to what the team were working on (effectively one sentence stories), resulting in tasks often being stopped in an incomplete state. The team had come together through an amalgamation of several teams previously, and had two main products under development, in a dual track agile setup ie. user researchers and BAs work with a product owner to develop a high-fidelity prototype, the developers build pixel perfect to this “spec” after certain major versions of the prototype are signed off (meaning that development does not get started on a feature until about 3 – 6 months after it first was worked into the prototype).

Basically for the last 8 weeks, I have been retiring their stale physical boards and cleaning up their single, shard JIRA repository which had about 550 tickets, 98% of them either sat in blocked or backlog with a last updated date about 6 months ago. Once I managed to get 4x new Scrum boards (2x products, each with a UX team and a development team) clean enough to be used at a standup, we ran one 2 week sprint with retrospective and planning and the team morale was really high.

When the sprint drew to an end and the To Do and In Progress columns became empty, the team deferred and then cancelled backlog refinements and planning sessions as the impending release was deemed “more important”. Just before Christmas, I asked both the delivery manager and the tech lead if they really wanted a Scrum Master, as their behaviour didn’t seem to indicate so, and if they did, they needed to back me in running the ceremonies.

The answer was “we still need a Scrum Master, but not in the way you understand it – see how you can help out with the current team”. I sometimes call myself an Agile Coach not because I coach enterprises in transformational change, but often I need to coach and train teams in embedding Scrum. However, in this case I’m stumped what the best course of action is. eg. stay and help out in achieving some kind of measurable, continuous improvement, in any way possible? Focus on one of the small development teams at the exclusion of the other people, and get Scrum up and working their properly as a show case? Become a pure team coach agnostic of anything and participate in the better facilitation of their current way of working?. 

Any thoughts at all as to possible ways forward would be greatly appreciated.


Frank Ray

Ask any project manager about the key to their success, and they will say that delivering a project is often more like a "dark art" or by chance, than a predictable science.

They may also say that a project going 'off the rails' was one of the most stressful things they have professionally experienced. And unfortunately, it’s all too common.

Risk assessent tool for IT and software development projects. Try it now for free

Leave a Reply