Running Agile

A Practitioner's View To Lean & Agile

Leading a new scrum team? Limit self-organization!

Posted by Christophe on January 6, 2008

Managers new to scrum often ask what their role is leading self-organized teams.

The scrum model doesn’t ask for managers. 1 product owner, 1 scrum master, a cross functional delivery team. That’s it.
On the other side of the spectrum, lean thinking praises for strong functional manager (rather than process leaders). A lot has been written on the subject; I won’t go into it here. Check out Mary Poppendieck’s books for more on the subject.

Here’s a radical new idea about why new scrum teams need managers: to limit their self-organization.

In his book “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less Barry Schwartz provides a stunning vision that increasing choices flood our brains, increase stress and ultimately restrict our ability to make decisions.

Inexperienced scrum teams are often overwhelmed by the new “freedom” provided to them the self-organizing aspect of agility. I am formulating the idea from Schwartz research that managers could enable such teams succeed faster by actively reducing the huge number of things to do to a small number of good ones. Any choice would be successful and rewarding. In such an environment, it would be easier for the manager to teaching the team how to make more difficult decisions (introducing less desirable choices).

Is letting a newbie scrum team totally self-organize itself really the best way to show respect and creating the best environment for its success? Or is reducing choices a strong coaching technique with the fastest path to high performance? Worth trying, isn’t it?

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Video: the paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz.

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One Response to “Leading a new scrum team? Limit self-organization!”

  1. Richard Perrin said

    Or maybe… the team needs to eat its own dogfood.

    Since agility requires the business to prioritize features, a process owned by the Product Owner, the ‘overwhelmed with freedom’ development team must also review and prioritize the possibilities now presented to them.

    They must address the elements on their own priority list, learn from their mistakes, and ultimately adapt in order to become successful

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