We all face obstacles at work, right? Of course, we do, and we all would like to simply get the job done without too much interference or trouble. This simple fact, seemingly innocuous desire, is more often elusive than you’d think, and no more so in the tech world with Scrum teams. Scrum teams face a variety of challenges and unless these challenges are addressed, the teams face setbacks, missed deadlines, product failures, and more. Let’s take a look at the 8 biggest obstacles Scrum teams face in today’s tech landscape.
A Lack of Leadership
To begin with, leadership or a lack of it, to say in short. Every team needs leadership for cohesiveness within the group, and to deal with any conflict or lack of trust. Without leadership, who can be relied upon to resolve potential conflicts? And conflicts within the team are only the tip of the iceberg.
Teams that suffer from a lack of leadership can be weighed down with a variety of afflictions that will cripple them. For example, a lack of trust, mutual respect and team bonding will always lead to conflicts and general tension between members. This can also result in members working individually and not going in the same direction, focused on opposite targets. Without a shared vision or goal, team members can become listless and indifferent to the true task at hand. Losing morale, motivation and momentum are just a few more drawbacks when the team is not supported by a strong leader.
Therefore, the Scrum master or Iteration manager is key to the Scrum team. This individual can lead and serve the team so that the team members can better achieve their targets. Positive support and enhancement of members’ activities within the team lead to autonomy for said members. Supported team members work together more passionately as they drive to a mutual target, each member knowing their role and owning their responsibilities. Strong Scrum leadership keeps things on course to deliver positive results.
Poorly Enabled Teams
Secondly, let’s consider enablement. Think of the developer team as a football team; naturally without the proper equipment, you can’t play the game. The same goes for the Scrum team. Every team has a wide array of needs and requirements in order to meet the targets assigned to it. Consequently, if there is a shortage of skills and knowledge or for that matter, knowledge transfer from senior to junior developer, the team will often fail to reach its targets.
There needs to be ownership within the team roles so team members can be relied upon to complete the tasks assigned to them. Granted their assigned tasks should either be within their skill set or they should be given a pair programmer who can work with them, sharing knowledge in order to complete the task. Naturally we can only do what we know how to, though our ability is limitless if provided the necessary support, training or other. Team members need to continually update their skills and knowledge set either through some on-the-job training or individual study. Their newly attained skills and knowledge can then be shared within the team for the betterment of the entire group.
For example, a client requests a feature update or other new requirement for their mobile app. The team has limited mobile app programming experience with no one team member possessing the in-depth knowledge necessary to deliver what the client is asking. Naturally this will cause a domino effect of negative occurrences during the sprint. So, make sure your team is more than adequately equipped with the skills and tools to get the job done!
Poor communication & Transparency
Moving on, we come to poor communication and lack of transparency. Communication is inherently important in every aspect of our lives, business and personal. Often the image of a developer is a person working solely glued to their pc screen, not exactly your typical chatterbox. Though this may ring true to some extent, communication within the development team is key, no matter the form. Whether through chat, virtual or in person team meetings, conference calls, or traditional email, team members need to actively communicate in order to work together as a cohesive unit and reach their shared targets.
Often team members can get lost in their own work, thinking they’re soloing the project and forgetting they have a key role to fulfill as an active team player. If this occurs and goes unchecked, team communication will suffer and ultimately break down. A number of issues may set in, including a no active knowledge transfer from senior to junior developers, no pair programming for solving problems and more. If the team leader under-communicates, the project flow will deteriorate.
You may be thinking, well obviously communication is important… Why are you beating this drum? Because it’s something we all could use a friendly reminder about from time to time, no? Let’s consider that proper team communication assists with passing updates, a smooth work status, and even aiding each other in removing various obstacles in the project.
In order for there to be trust between the Scrum team and the client, transparency is a must. The client needs to understand the various obstacles and dependencies the team may face. Transparency will result in increased expectations, which can in turn lead to the maturation of proper team leadership having an overall positive cascade effect throughout the organization.
Seriousness of Impediments
Now for the fourth obstacle Scrum teams face, misunderstanding the gravity of impediments. These can come in a variety of forms but generally let’s just think of them as barriers or hurdles that must be overcome in order for the team to reach its targets. Understanding barriers and knowing how to address them more often than not comes with experience. We all know the concept of trial by fire, though it’s safe to say most may not enjoy it. Remember, the team and its members will learn from the shared experiences and they will shape them into a more formidable team capable of greater tasks and achievements.
In order to get there, the team needs that good communication in order to share and prepare proper solutions when those hurdles are encountered. They must not be ignored or dealt with at a later date only to discover that the mole hill hurdle has become a mountainous barrier that no team member is capable of not only understanding, but genuinely solving without outside help. So understanding the hurdles encountered during development and addressing them post haste leads to the maturing of the team and its skill set. Any productive and efficient Scrum team cannot allow those hurdles to slow their progress, especially during the sprint.
Consider that these hurdles and barriers if left undealt with can lead to a slowed workflow, low morale, additional problems down the line, increased development time and cost, an unhappy client and more. For that reason, we must understand them, make them visible to all team members via a chart or trend so the team can work together to solve it. If investigation is needed to know what we did wrong then it should be done expediently. Never wait until the barriers become urgent or even unsurmountable.
Too Much Workload
Okay, this brings us to the fifth obstacle faced by Scrum teams, that is planning too much in the sprint. Let me quickly define sprint in case you’re wondering what on earth I’m referring to here. In the Agile software development methodology, the sprint refers to a set period of time in which specific work must be completed and presented for review. So consider a development team being given a set of specific targets to complete within a set period of time, but for example the team is under enabled, lacking the skills and/or resources to complete the targets. No one is going to come out satisfied.
Be mindful not to be overly optimistic about your team’s task load ability. Properly knowing a Scrum team’s work pace and capacity will aid in not mistakenly committing them to too much within a typical two week sprint. When planning the sprint, contemplate the knowledge, abilities and speed at which the team operates most effectively. So whose responsibility is it to do this? If you’re already thinking, the two key roles all good development teams need, Scrum master and product owner, you couldn’t be more correct.
The Scrum master and product owner can help protect the developers from the pressure of an overloaded sprint, and simultaneously work with those individuals outside the team who are creating said pressure. Their requests may be valid, but the team’s current workload and capability must first be considered before piling on more. The Scrum adapts as development moves forward so creating arbitrary deadlines and inflexibility hinders rather than supports the developers.
Thus one must appreciate the previous point of understanding impediments and making them visible to all within the team so they can be dealt with and the sprint can be suitably planned. The product owner should be well aware of the team’s capability and therefore, together with the Scrum master, be able to devise the ideal sprint. Lastly remember that during the sprint review, when the largest number of stakeholders are present, is the best time to raise any issues faced as the stakeholders may be able to assist but only if they are in the know.
Member Absence or Unavailability
As we near the end of our list, let’s turn to the sixth obstacle of team member absence or unavailability. This one is quite straight-forward as I’m sure you’re thinking so. Obviously work which is assigned to the team to complete cannot be completed when all members are not present. Present in a variety of fashions, but present still. If your work is dependent on another member in order to move forward and said member is unavailable, this will cause the work flow to slow or even halt altogether. Project delays can easily add up to a costly amount that is not acceptable for good business practices and for building trust and transparency with a client.
Other issues can arise like having the team out of sync, less knowledge transfer as there is less opportunity for such activity, and a general lack of commitment sets in with team members exacerbated by eroding communication all leads to disastrous results for the team project. Making yourself available, communicating clearly of any upcoming absences will help the team perform better and be prepared for things to come.
Unresponsive Stakeholders or Management
Penultimate we have the trouble of unresponsive stakeholders or management. Stakeholders to be clear are the company executives and the client. When there is a need to add functions to say Amazon Web Services (AWS), approval is needed and if the necessary people don’t respond to said approval request this inherently slows development. There are also times when simple confirmation is needed, or even some legal actions. These various obstructions, though not exactly major, often require immediate attention so the team can move forward.
Other problems requiring management can include removing misbehaving or underperforming team members, requesting for resourcing which needs the approval of onboarding additional team members, discussing the budget and beyond. It’s not difficult to understand that the team needs support from specific executives within the company and the client in order for the sprint and entire project to run smoothly. There are always unforeseen problems that will pop up and require approval so swift response from stakeholders is necessary.
Poor Work Environment
Finally we come to it, the nail in the coffin of Scrum team obstacles, a poor work environment. Everyone wants to work in a nice office and work environment. Of course, there are a variety of outside forces that can affect any company’s ability to provide this, and we also have to consider the rise of remote working. All that said, the development team needs a specific place to meet. This can be in person or online, but still a specific place should be decided upon.
Members should agree on a set of virtual tools to use for communication at the onset of the team. This way everyone knows what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to communicating and the work environment. For example, team members should understand and agree that coffee shops are not an appropriate meeting place, regardless of how cool they may think they look while taking a Zoom call sitting outside at the coffee shop. If other team members struggle to hear due to background noise, this is clearly unacceptable as it hinders the communication and workflow.
Additionally, members need to select other virtual tools for file sharing, and project & task monitoring so the team can work consistently in an organized manner to accomplish its goals. Without this, the team will run into additional hindrances that will hamper progress and cause a waterfall of further issues.
All in all, knowing these obstacles faced by Scrum teams will allow you to better plan and execute your projects smoothly with the best possible results. Ignore these at your own peril for they will eventually set in to even the seemingly most well-oiled teams. Better business practices results in a healthier business for both employees and customers; the same goes for a Scrum team. Good team practices, knowing what to look out for, will help you lead ace development teams!
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