Scrum Teams Come Together Like a Banana Split

The Toppings Makes it Complete

Before You Get Started

Take a close look at a banana split. Before you eat it, can you see a Scrum Team? Maybe I’ve indulged in one banana split too many, but I see the banana as the Scrum Framework. And the ice cream? They are team member skills. Teams need to be cross-functional, so vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry seem to take care of that. Ah, but banana and ice cream alone do not make a banana split. This dessert is not complete until we add toppings.

What are the toppings on this Scrum Team banana split? Team character. Scrum has transformed how teams and organizations work, but teams frequently overlook the fact that Scrum is a framework. The Framework is an excellent starting point, but it is the bare minimum, and Scrum is not complete until we add the toppings present in team character.

What is a Scrum Team?

The Scrum Framework defines team structure, but more importantly, it defines team characteristics that lead to success. Consider this paraphrased definition of a Scrum Team:

A small, cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time with no sub-teams or hierarchies.

This fundamental definition is further buoyed by Scrum’s overarching principles of Focus, Openness, Respect, Courage, and Commitment. Teams that follow this definition and embrace these principles are off to a strong start. Then, Scrum adds a little more to the framework by including a few guidelines, which are:

  • Ten or fewer people on a team, including the Product Owner and Scrum Master
  • Shared accountability, so the entire team is responsible for outcomes
  • Cross-functionality, so that it has all the skills necessary to create value in each Sprint
  • Self-organization which gives the team the autonomy to manage its own work

There’s your banana and ice cream, gratifying but incomplete. Team character, or the team’s collective character traits, create toppings. Interestingly, evidence shows that certain character traits directly influence team performance. In fact, studies of successful Scrum teams have increased awareness of these characteristics.

Teams, just like individuals, do differ in character; and certain character traits contribute to better team performance. So the team is right to expect that its Scrum Master will also help to lift their performance. Therefore, Scrum Masters should be aware of beneficial character traits.

Character Traits of Successful Teams and McKinsey & Company collaborated in 2018 to publish “How to Select and Develop Individuals for Successful Agile Teams: A Practical Guide” which found that team members possessing three capabilities were important contributors to team success:

  • Handle ambiguity without losing focus
  • Concentrate on outcomes over processes or outputs
  • Possess a sense of pride in the product

These character traits represent the Scrum banana split toppings. A banana split has essential toppings. I prefer chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and cherries on mine (feel free to substitute your favorites). Similarly, this report acknowledges a Scrum Team’s essential traits. 

Handle Ambiguity without Losing Focus

The Scrum framework addresses adaptive solutions for complex problems. Complex problems naturally include uncertainty, so ambiguity and uncertainty walk hand-in-hand. People who struggle with ambiguity will have more difficulty on a Scrum team, and this difficulty could impede team performance. People who are able to handle ambiguity with an open mind tend to thrive in agile teams.

Managing ambiguity requires team members to focus on goals and to prioritize activities in line with those goals. This combination of open-mindedness, focus on goals, and prioritization will help guide the team toward a practical solution. The solution may not be perfect, but the Product Owner may want to seriously consider whether perfection is a necessity or an enemy. Managing ambiguity covers most features and functions, so it serves as the whipped cream.

Concentrate on Outcomes over Processes or Outputs

Outputs are the things we deliver. Traditional project management encourages processes that emphasize the production of outputs; assuming that more output equals greater productivity. Unfortunately, more output does not equate to more value unless teams produce the right output, which can be hard to define. So Scrum does not promise to increase output; instead, Scrum encourages improved outcomes.

An outcome is a different state of operation, existence, or efficiency. We expect that this different state will be more valuable than the prior state. Therefore, truly effective Scrum teams aim for improved outcomes, not necessarily more output. Therefore, when targeting outcomes, we emphasize quantifiable improvements, typically through Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) which are designed to provide clear evidence of value. Outcomes are prevalent in every action, so they are the chocolate syrup. 

Possess a Sense of Pride in the Product

Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich frequently used a tool he called the “pronoun test”. When visiting a company, he would ask employees some questions about the company and then listen for the pronouns they use in their response. Do they refer to the company as “they” or “we”?

The “pronoun test” can also be an effective team pride barometer. Listen to team members as they speak. Do they use “we” or “they”? References to “we” reflect a team connection, which indicates team pride. This person will more likely value product pride over work pride. The product itself becomes more meaningful because the product itself represents an outcome.

The report also reveals that product pride brings with it three broad team performance benefits:

  • Product quality becomes natural rather than forced
  • Team members are organically motivated
  • Innovative ideas happen

Pride in product and team truly represents the cherry on top of this banana split.

Each team’s unique character should be recognized and encouraged, for it is this character that influences how the team functions. At the same time, there are character traits that make a team more inclined toward success and cannot be overlooked. These traits, when combined with team skills and framework adherence will influence outcomes, reliability, creativity, and innovation.

Ultimately, Teams best serve the organization consistently delivering value and changing outcomes; so a Scrum Master’s insight should help to encourage or inspire character traits that help teams to excel. This leads to better team performance and growth while forming unique toppings for this banana split. In closing, I do apologize for any cravings caused by this article.

Why Vision Statements Really Do Help Scrum Teams Hit Their Targets

High-Performing Scrum Teams Take Advantage of Vision Statements

Teams hit their targets
Stock Content Provided by Storyblocks

In my work with Scrum, Scrumban, and SAFe teams, I’ve come across some teams that were high-performing and delivered great value from the start. Other teams struggled to get their footing but grew stronger and learned to perform well. So in my coaching practice, I’m frequently asked what makes one team perform better than others. I typically explain that the answer to that question is somewhat challenging.

There is no magic formula to lead a Scrum team to become high-performing. Instead, many small but important factors, each easily overlooked, conspire to make the team significantly greater than the sum of its parts. One such important factor is the vision statement.

A vision statement is an aspirational description of the future. It creates context and purpose for team members. A good vision statement serves to motivate and even excite team members. In spite of that, one can easily underestimate its importance. That’s where we see that some teams don’t bother to create one at all.

Skipping the vision statement leads to a missed opportunity to drive and gauge team motivation. More importantly, skipping the vision statement is to forego a tool that keeps your team focused on the right priorities. Furthermore, the value statement contributes to the team’s collective identity. And that is an important and common characteristic of high-performing teams.

Please stay on the path
Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

Creating the Vision Statement

In Scrum product development, the Product Owner is responsible for creating a product vision statement and the Scrum Master is responsible for guiding the process. The creation process is most effective when team members and stakeholders participate because collaborative approach inspires more creativity and offers as sense of contribution.

You may have participated in exercises designed to create a vision statement. That means you understand its value, so you embark on its creation as part of a group with the best of intentions. Then the worst happens: somehow a statement like one of these emerges:

“To create a shopping experience that pleases our customers; a workplace that creates opportunities and a great working environment for our associates; and a business that achieves financial success” — Albertsons Supermarkets

“To operate the best omni-channel specialty retail business in America, helping both our customers and booksellers reach their aspirations, while being a credit to the communities we serve.” — Barnes & Noble

These statements are noble, but not very effective as vision statements. They are long and not particularly memorable. Also, you ideally want to incorporate emotion to trigger an image or feeling. These are not likely to stay with you, promote an image, or inspire a feeling. So they risk being easily forgotten, and a forgotten vision statement doesn’t help inspire or motivate people.

Nailing It!

When done well, the product vision statement serves to motivate, inspire, and preserve awareness of why this product is important. If the Product Owner wants the advantage of those benefits, then they have to apply their own motivation to create a good one. Without that motivation they may treat it like a task on a checklist. When that happens, they risk producing a phrase that may meet a vision statement’s literal definition, say “Yup, nailed it!” and move on.

But sadly, they did not nail it. A bad vision statement is worse than no vision statement because you’ve spent time producing something that does not add value.

Man did not nail the bike jump
Stock Content Provided by Storyblocks

The Vision Statement Adds Value to a Scrum Team

A good vision statement has certain attributes.

  • Sticks with people
  • Reminds them of their purpose and direction
  • Enables people to form a vivid image of the future
  • Represents a source of self-respect and commitment
  • Allows teams to say “No” to certain requests

Your well-done vision statement reflects that team members deem this effort worthy of pursuit and believe in its meaning and value. That’s how you know you’ve nailed it!

When coaching a Scrum team toward becoming high-performing, use the vision statement to form the teams’ common core. Then teams, or teams of teams, have a basis to connect through a set of principles, values, and common objectives. That vision statement becomes the embodiment of team character and direction. The challenge is to create one that people are willing to believe in.

Man performing impressive bike trick
Stock Content Provided by Storyblocks

A Proper Vision Statement

Here is my favorite definition of a vision statement:

“A vision is the actual destination. It’s a vivid description of what success looks and feels like for us — what we are able to achieve, and the effect it has on our staff” — Ari Weinzeig, CEO of Zingerman’s

A vision statement, when done well, provides a point of reference for most decisions. It answers the question: Why are we doing this? So, if a team’s steps are not taken with the vision in mind, then they will drift off course and the value delivered will suffer considerably.

A good vision statement will meet these criteria:

  • It is inspiring and makes sense to those who contribute to the product
  • There is a strategically solid approach to achievement
  • It is in writing
  • It is communicated consistently and enthusiastically

You may notice that vision statements can be abstract. This is fine because it should trigger people to conjure an image. It just shouldn’t be so abstract that it becomes hard to understand or picture. An emotional influence helps to keep it from becoming too rigid or formulaic. Here are examples of a few good organization level vision statements:

Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce” — LinkedIn
Connect with friends and the world around you” — Facebook
Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy” — Tesla
Capture and share the world’s moments” — Instagram

Scrum Team Members Find Imagery Motivating

Did these statements trigger an image for you? Each person will create their own image, and that is intentional. What matters is associating the statement with an image. That makes it easier to remember and reference over time. Additionally, when weighing various product options or features, the option that is most in-line with the vision statement should carry the most weight.

Together we create
Photo by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

Creating the Product Vision Statement

An ideal vision statement is one sentence or shorter in length. There is a practical approach that will guide your team to that point which is called the Envisioning Workshop. In this workshop, we use a template like the one recommended in Geoffrey A. Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” (shown below) to create a product elevator pitch. 

For (target customer)
Who (statement of need or opportunity)
The (product or service name) is a (solution category)
That (key benefit or reason to buy)
Unlike (biggest competitor)
Our product (primary differentiator)

This template is particularly useful in that it focuses the participants’ on the product’s value proposition. Then the participants use the completed template to collaboratively condense that template down to a vision statement.

This template can also be used for an internal product or if there is no competitor. If you are replacing an existing product, you can treat that product as the competitor. 

In the Envisioning Workshop, having completed the template, workshop participants use games to employ abstract thinking to come up with a meaningful and imaginative vision statement. The use of games helps to keep participants actively engaged, and there are many games, so I my favorite source of games that stimulate creativity is the website Gamestorming. At the end of this workshop you will have an elevator pitch, and you will have condensed the pitch into a statement representative of the team’s vision.

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.

Why a Vision Statement Matters to a Scrum Team

A vision statement contributes to team performance in the following ways:

  • Helps you to maintain product direction, consistent with the product’s value proposition
  • Improves strategic decision-making throughout the development process
  • Aligns teams and stakeholders

The Product Owner will take ownership of vision statement creation and communication. So the statement has to be in a form that is easily conveyed to anyone who ever looks in the direction of the product. It should also be embedded in all product communications so that it has a constant presence.

If you have access to artistic talent, you can take it a step further by creating a logo for team use. In a multi-team organization, a team or product logo forms a sense of pride and camaraderie. You can also include the logo on awards and diagrams. Also, members who serve different teams can collect logos that reflect their contributions. The possibilities are endless.

High Performing Teams and the Vision Statement

A high-performing Scrum team embodies unity. It has a common sense of purpose, reinforces mutual respect, and members look out for each other. You can’t teach people to behave this way. They have to feel it. When a team has embraced this concept, the Scrum principle of self-management becomes a natural part of the team culture. And that makes life easier for the entire team and the stakeholders.

You don’t want to overlook this small factor that can make a big difference in team performance. A vision statement alone won’t necessarily revive performance, but a good vision statement will conspire with everything else that you do well to ensure you delight your customers.