Scrum and the self-organizing team

Scrum seems to have become the world's most popular Agile development methodology. We find Scrum practices codified in team roles, iterative schedules, and project-management software.

One of the essential features of Scrum is often forgotten -- the self-organizing team. Without it, Scrum is just structure and process, without any agility or productivity gains.

The authors of Scrum have made it clear in all their books that self-organization is fundamental to their design. Below, they emphasize this point in their definition of a Scrum Team.

From the "Scrum Guide -- the official rulebook" (1991-2011) at , by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland:

§    The Scrum Team

The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, the Development Team, and a Scrum Master. Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team. Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team. The team model in Scrum is designed to optimize flexibility, creativity, and productivity.

§    The Product Owner

The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog... The Product Owner is one person, not a committee. The Product Owner may represent the desires of a committee in the Product Backlog, but those wanting to change a backlog item's priority must convince the Product Owner.

§    The Development Team

The Development Team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable Increment of "Done" product at the end of each Sprint. Only members of the Development Team create the Increment.

Development Teams are structured and empowered by the organization to organize and manage their own work. The resulting synergy optimizes the Development Team's overall efficiency and effectiveness. Development Teams have the following characteristics:

  • They are self-organizing. No one (not even the Scrum Master) tells the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality;
  • Development Teams are cross-functional, with all of the skills as a team necessary to create a product Increment;
  • Scrum recognizes no titles for Development Team members other than Developer, regardless of the work being performed by the person; there are no exceptions to this rule;
  • Individual Development Team members may have specialized skills and areas of focus, but accountability belongs to the Development Team as a whole; and,
  • Development Teams do not contain sub-teams dedicated to particular domains like testing or business analysis.

§    Development Team Size

Optimal Development Team size is small enough to remain nimble and large enough to complete significant work. Fewer than three Development Team members decreases interaction and results in smaller productivity gains... Having more than nine members requires too much coordination.

§    The Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted...

The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren't. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

The Scrum Master serves the [Scrum Team] in several ways, including:

  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Clearly communicating vision, goals, and Product Backlog items to the Development Team;
  • Teaching the Scrum Team to create clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • ...
  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team's progress;

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