As part of the Building a Centre of Excellence blog post series, I’ve covered

This time I want to talk about team training.  Specifically, training the appropriate skills at the appropriate time.  Learning takes time.  If it was as easy as just telling people what they needed to know so they could go ahead and implement it, we would all be fit, healthy, thin, well-read, great cooks….you get the picture!

Team training needs to adapt depending on where they are in their maturity, both as a team and in the skills they need to acquire.  Let me illustrate what I mean.

One of the training mechanisms I introduced at NVM is Scrum Master Days.

What is Scrum Master Days?

I have written about Scrum Master days before.  It is one of 4 or 5 things we do together as Scrum Masters that help us build and maintain our Scrum Master Team identity.  We run them around every 9 months, which is a weird cadence, I grant you, but it seems to fit with what we need very well.  It is far enough apart that we get excited to be doing another one, yet close enough together we feel we do them regularly.

There are 2 purposes for Scrum Master Days, although it delivers much more.

The first is to bring the Scrum Masters together to help build a team identity.

The second is to deliver concentrated Scrum Master-focussed team training.

There is a third, but it is a lucky happenstance rather than a purpose:  They are also a great induction for a new Scrum Master when they join the company.  We adjust the date where reasonable to accommodate the arrival of a new starter.

Team Training for the Right Skills

The ‘right skills’ are constantly changing for any given team at any point in time.  Scrum Master Days makes a good example of training for the needs you currently have.

Over the course of the 2 days, we set out to get 5 key messages across to the team:

  1. Everyone has skills, and they are valued
  2. We can learn from each other – we each have a specialist interest
  3. You can’t know everything – you may not have heard about #NoEstimates for example, but someone else has.
  4. This is a safe place to try new things
  5. We are a team, fighting the same dragons – lets learn how others have done it and pick the best things to add to our own arsenal for the future.

A Look At The First Ever Scrum Master Days

The first ever Scrum Master Days was a lot of work for myself and my partner in crime @MelisaCollett.  Between us we wrote most of the content for the 2 day event.  (Why yes, it did nearly kill us, thank you for noticing 😉 ).  We were lucky to have people in the business who could also come and run ‘guest sessions’ .  These were workshops or talks about key agile or lean ideas. Here is a look at what was on the agenda.

Melisa and I designed the event to have a mixture of talks, workshops and games to help everyone feel at ease.   We had a couple of key talks we wanted to do, and there was a lot of things we could get other people to facilitate.

For many of the workshops we outsourced the facilitation to the attendees – making full use of the skills we had available to us.  One example was the session to reflect on all the scrum master meet ups that were current at the time.  We had enough for 1 per person, so we time boxed to 10 minutes for each.  We asked each person to facilitate a 10 minute retro for one of the meet ups to find out if they were useful, and to gather any ideas for improving them.

Partly, this co-opting of the attendees was so that we wouldn’t have to deliver an entire mini conference worth of content single handedly!  Much more importantly it gave us a mechanism for helping the Scrum Masters start to view ad hoc facilitation as nothing special.  It also firmly showed that the entire event was ‘theirs’.

Isn’t Scrum Mastery Mostly about Facilitation of Ceremonies?

Key skills for Scrum Masters are more than you read in many books.  There are the ceremonies of course that we all know about (Stand ups, retrospectives, planning sessions, show & tells).

For many people it can be hard to imagine what else you would need to do.  This is something that often comes up when I am mentoring newer Scrum Masters.

So a skill set for a Scrum Master might initially be:

  • facilitation skills
  • non-verbal skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Ability to start friendly conversations

But what about some of these:

  • Ability to train the team on agile topics (TDD, Story Writing, Feature Mapping, Story Mapping etc)
  • Ability to have difficult conversations
  • Empathy
  • Coaching skills
  • Training skills
  • Course-writing skills

Different Scrum Masters acquire these skills at different times and over many years.  Often these skills are disguised as ‘experience’.

At the time we did our first Scrum Master Days event, many of our Scrum Masters needed basic skills for presenting, thinking on their feet. We also wanted them to know a set of additional practices we wanted to be common for all Scrum Masters (such as running 5-why sessions for example).

Compare This to The Latest Scrum Master Days

We held our 4th Scrum Master Days a couple of weeks ago.  It had been delayed so as to include our newest colleague, who joined at the start of April.

This time around, Melisa and I did not design the content,  and I only facilitated 1 of the sessions.  We also didn’t invite any guest speakers.  This time, we did a sort of ‘Call for Papers’ like an external agile conference.  We asked each attendee to submit one or more topics that they would like to present at the event.

This time, the training that the team needed most was confidence and practice to build a training vehicle from scratch.  We had some amazing talks and workshops.  Many of which I have heartily encouraged the Scrum Master responsible to submit to an external agile conference.  Look out for them if you are attending any conferences in 2017!

Why So Different?

3 years ago, a conference-style Scrum Master Days would simply not have been possible.  As I commented at the time, it is very tiring trying to get a group of scrum masters to do anything together when everyone is trying to facilitate everyone else!

This has been an iterative journey with us growing all along the way.  Most of the individuals in the team now were not in the team 3 years ago.  Yet the competency of the team has continued to grow, even made up of different people – like a separate entity.

It is almost like the team was absorbing knowledge into the collective, giving new starters the benefit of the learnings and experience from the alumni who went before.

I guess, that’s kind of the point I am wanted to make!