I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how to turn New Year Resolution rituals to the advantage of both you and your team.  This is a different slant on the same idea.

So: you make a decision to do something regularly –  every day, or every week for example.   It is important to you and you know it will make you better.  You mean to do it.  You want to do it. Doing it will pay you back tenfold in the long run.

Easy, right? (oh, who am I kidding, its horribly difficult and we all know it)

Why are new habits hard to stick with?

It doesn’t matter how good and sensible the idea, (and after all, why would you commit to something that wasn’t).  It’s just that humans are not wired for the long game as a general rule.  We are all about the instant gratification.

Doing something difficult now often feels like sacrificing something now, even if it is for your greater benefit later on.

It’s this human preference for short-termism that causes saving habits to stall, dieters to struggle, and exercise regimens to fizzle out.  Habits are hard to build, and until they are habits, they need debilitating levels of decision-making to stay on track.

On the upside, breaking a habit is just as hard as building one.  Remembering NOT to do something requires equally debilitating levels of decision-making (e.g. smoking is famously hard to quit).

So once you absorb a practice into your life, it can be just as hard to stop.  So to sum up: we want lots of great habits and no bad ones, ok?

Oh, you were hoping for more from me?

Ok, well that last bit was important, so please remember it.  If we can get over the hump of creating good habits, we are on our way to being our better selves.

So, lets look at a good model for forming new habits you should recognise.

When your team need to stick to new principles or practices,  perhaps they have committed to in a recent retrospective, they rely on their scrum master to help them remember.  I like to think of it as helping them to be the best version of themselves, even when it is tough.  The scrum master is the conscience of the team, so this nudge to ‘do the right thing’ is a key part of the scrum master role.  But what if you are a scrum master who wants to improve your habits too?

So how can a Scrum Master make this work for them?

As a scrum master, perhaps I want to better understand which of the story-related principles the team were having trouble with.  I decide to build a habit to look at 2 stories a day, everyday, in depth.  I want to look for ways they could be improved.

So, I start well, but after a week or so life gets in the way.  Although I mean to do it every day, I am too busy on day 6, and on day 8 I simply forget, and….well, you get the picture.  What I need is my very own scrum master!  Just to nudge me gently, remind me why I value this habit, and importantly, not to judge me when I fail.

I also need help to not get phased when I don’t do it.  I tend to overreact and throw the whole idea away as a lost cause.  What I need is a Scrum Master.  Someone to help me acknowledge that although today didn’t go so well, it’s not the end of the world.  Someone to remind me to view it as a learning opportunity to help me do better next time.   Most importantly, someone to make sure I get back on the horse and hit the habit trail again tomorrow.

Enter: the Scrum Buddies practice.

Myself & my Scrum Buddy, Melisa Collett in Poland last year

Myself & my Scrum Buddy, Melisa Collett in Poland last year

At NewVoiceMedia each scrum master chose 2 or 3 practices for which we wanted to be held accountable.  These could be anything.  In my example above I wanted to look at 2 stories in depth every day.  Instead I might have chosen to practice giving feedback every day, or to put aside 15 minutes at the end of every day to maintain a work journal. Anything I want to do regularly is fair game for Scrum Buddies.

These practices are personal to each scrum master, and are all about what goals or habits we personally want to achieve.

How can I be a Scrum Buddy?

Next we pair up with another scrum master.  We are now Scrum Buddies!  As a Scrum Buddy, your role is to


  • meet with you counterpart regularly -maybe daily, maybe 2 or 3 times a week; whatever works for you and your buddy.
  • Listen as your Buddy tells you how they have got on with their 2 or 3 commitments
  • don’t judge your buddy

Be Honest and Be Accountable

Now its your turn.  Talk to your buddy.  Which of your habits did you manage?  Which did you forget?  What have you learned?

In the early days, this will  be very easy.  In fact the hardest thing to do is get in to he habit of meeting with your buddy as often as you have agreed.  In the early days too, you will find it easy to stick to your practices.  The whole thing feels a bit unnecessary frankly –  a 10 or 15 minutes pleasant catch up every day.

And then….you miss one or more of your commitments.

Or your Buddy does.

How to do the hard bit

How I record my own progress with building my 3 new habits

How I record my own progress with building my 3 new habits

It really doesnt matter who misses first, you both will sooner or later (remember the point above about not judging –  I really meant that).

This is where the real value of the Scrum Buddies comes in to play.  And welcome to coaching 101.  If you think you coach team members now, try coaching someone who knows how to do it too!  And how do you feel about being on the receiving end of similar coaching from your Buddy?  Yep, that’ll be an interesting and valuable learning experience for you both.

As your Buddy tells you they missed a practice, or had trouble with a practice to which they had committed

  • watch (non-verbals) and listen for ways in which your Buddy  is explaining what they have done.  Or not done.
  • Listen for what they are not saying
  • ask open questions
  • ask direct questions
  • be respectful, be kind, be forgiving, and don’t judge
  • be focussed – you are failing your buddy if you allow them to avoid accountability

Examples of questions you might like to ask:

  • do you have plans for tackling [that impediment] if it happens again?
  • can you find a way to remember tomorrow?
  • Is there a better way of solving that problem if your current plan seems not to be working?

Meeting often, and talking with your buddy, knowing what they will be listening for is as irritating as a stone in your shoe.  It is also exactly because of that reason that it is so effective.