July 27, 2015

Giving Constructive Feedback in a Scrum Team

Since open communication is critical for a Scrum team to function smoothly, it is vital that you set up effective systems for when and how you give constructive feedback to the team members.

This is especially important when dealing with an immature team, which may have not yet settled into their roles. Having your own system to give feedback helps make the process more obvious, and less awkward or embarrassing for all those involved.

Why is it so difficult to give feedback to an immature team? 

Answer: It’s more difficult to distinguish between you-as-a-team-member and you-as-a-person when you’re insecure with their own role in a team, and in relation to the other members, so there’s a tendency to take every criticism personally.

Remember to distinguish between the team and the individual, and to distinguish between process and person. Be fair. Find solutions together.

Constructive feedback involves criticizing the process, not the person who executes it. So don’t say: “your writing is vague.” Instead go with: “This document needs to be developed further.”

Let the person himself come up with proposals on the solution.

Giving feedback using the NVC technique

Non-violent Communication (NVC) facilitates communicating in a respectful way with team members on the work place:

According to NVC, delivering good feedback consists of four parts:

  1. Observation – When I see/hear…
  2. Feelings – I feel…
  3. Buyers – because I need…
  4. Request – you could…

Learning to distinguish between observation and feelings (parts 1 and 2) is probably the toughest skill to develop. You have to avoid aggression and making people feeling guilty.

And always, always ask the recipient to reflect.

Product Owner’s role is effectively that of a bystander

Daily Scrum is a daily meeting which lasts a maximum of 15 minutes, preferably shorter. In my experience, five minutes should be enough.

It is important to hold the Daily Scrum at the same time and place each day. Daily Scrum is a team meeting, and the Scrum Master ensures that it is takes place. The team reports to each other, not the leader.

The Product Owner should attend as often as possible, but his role is primarily that of a spectator. Listen with interest. Show that you understand, for example, by nodding your head. Ask if you do not understand. Jot down any problems and address them with the people affected during the stand-up meeting.

The agile board helps to visualize your work easily

The agile board is the central place for communicating about work in progress. It is the focus point of the entire team when they gather together to hold the daily stand-up.

You could use a physical whiteboard which gives your team a physical place to gather around. Physically moving around sticky notes with the requirements written on them can contribute to everyone’s active participation and increased creativity.

A physical board contributes to increased clarity. It also becomes clear to all when overlaps happen, because there are sticky note that are actually blocking you from putting up further work on the board.

However, it is a bit cumbersome to have a physical board when much needs to be changed. It is troublesome to update burn-down chart by hand. Moreover, when the team is distributed, it is difficult to manage using just a physical board.

Some take a photo of the painting and email to the concerned, but this is not so feasible. Even if you do not think you have a distributed project, you certainly have stakeholders who are on a different floor or perhaps a customer or other projects that need to be kept informed.

A digital agile board can be accessed by all, even in distributed teams

It’s easy to get an updated picture of the ongoing work anytime, anywhere. A stakeholder can check in at any time, and the board is always updated.

A digital board contributes to greater transparency, everything is visible on it. It is easy to communicate on a digital board, e.g. by email or chat. Thus fixes can always be read, regardless of one’s handwriting.

Also, the adhesive does not dry, so the patches will never fall down on the floor!

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