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I have recently joined a new scrum team as the scrum master.

They are high performing and stakeholders are happy with their value delivery. Their decisions are swift and their ceremonies are optimal.

I have had catch-ups with each individual on the team and there is no obvious issue or challenge. There are no major issues coming out of retrospectives.

BUT

They don’t really work as a typical Scrum Team. Their PO is essentially like a well respected team leader. He speaks almost all the time and they rarely disagree with him. They seem to prefer him to lead on all topics. They are mostly silent and in agreement with everything he says. He always asks if people agree and they either remain quiet or confirm agreement. When he is not around they are not able to make decisions but they are able to continue delivering.

It’s such a confusing prospect for me as a scrum master because since they deliver at pace, they have not vocalised any issues, stakeholders are happy there appears to be no problem but on the other hand it’s not really what I would call a scrum team.

My question here is, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it or what should I do?

Update: My gut feeling on why they are silent is that the work they tend to get is very much like “bits and bops”. They are like the devops/software support team. So I think they all work separately on little tiny projects so don’t really feel the need to collaborate much. The PO has a solid hold on the big picture.

They also said that Scrum doesn’t really work for them and they want to use Kanban.

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    Seems like they're doing great, which is a very rare phenomenon. While a Scrum team doing bad is a common theme in modern software projects. The math seems obvious :) Maybe you can re-align with the team and take on a different role? Nov 5 '20 at 18:07
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    If the team are productive and happy then great, but if they are consistently identifying no room for improvement at retros then I would have to wonder whether the retros are actually encouraging people to open up, air their views and make suggestions.
    – nvogel
    Nov 5 '20 at 18:46
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    They are mostly silent and in agreement with everything he says. There may be something there but we cannot tell. If it is because they are a well oiled team that has agreed on procedures/metrics and the agreement is only a confirmation of how they work - fine (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it). It they are silent because of authority/power issues, you have a job to do ;-)
    – Jan Doggen
    Nov 6 '20 at 9:20
  • Can you edit the question and clarify why (you think) they are mostly silent and in agreement?
    – Jan Doggen
    Nov 6 '20 at 9:22
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    If they're high-performing, everything's great, and "[t]hey don’t really work as a typical Scrum Team", then why do they need or want a Scrum Master? What's the X in this X/Y problem?
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Nov 6 '20 at 16:36
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This is a really good question.

The first thing I would say is that all teams, even the highest performing ones, have room for improvement.

The Scrum Master has the advantage of being able to focus on the team while the team members are focusing more on their work. This gives you a great opportunity to carefully study their ways of working and see if there are areas that may be improved. A good approach to take is to find metrics or indicators that will provide the team with more information that in turn will allow them to self-improve.

My second point is that there is no rush. Take your time with settling in to the team. You can provide value immediately by facilitating ceremonies/meetings and in the medium to long-term you can help them with insights into their ways of working.

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  • "all teams, even the highest performing ones, have room for improvement" - but.. the better the team the higher the chances that a change will worsen the situation - not improve it. Nov 6 '20 at 9:46
  • If change is driven from outside the team then this is a definite risk. If, however, a high performing team manages its own change then I think it will usually be done well. Nov 6 '20 at 13:04
  • Or if not well - they'll re-evaluate it and will roll back the decision. That's probably an even more important trait of high performing teams (throughout the life of a project you're bound to make at least some bad decisions even if you're good). But I'd consider OP an "outsider" in this scenario. Nov 6 '20 at 14:58
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    Thanks for this answer. I am just a bit worried I am not contributing enough to the team. Given the covid situation I don't think the company would accept people who are spending a long time in observation/facilitation phase but I hear you. I am definitely doing that, just wish I was having a bigger impact.
    – user32613
    Nov 9 '20 at 14:12
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    I do understand. Some other things you can consider doing to add value: Coaching people outside of the team about agile (such as stakeholders and the people the team works with); Looking to share the process and working practices of the team with other teams (i.e. spreading knowledge of what they are doing well). Nov 9 '20 at 18:08
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There are a couple of points to consider here:

First, does the team want help following the Scrum framework. Granted, it can be confusing if they are calling you a Scrum Master and they don't want to follow Scrum, but it isn't uncommon. Scrum isn't the silver bullet. Also, many teams grow past Scrum - leaving behind by-the-book practices for refined techniques specifically optimized for their product and work.

Second, you don't only gain benefit from fixing problems. You can also capitalize on strengths and discover new ways of working that are better than the current ones. These might be established practices from outside of Scrum, like pairing or continuous deployment, or they could even be completely new - invented by the team.

Lastly, don't let compliance to the Scrum guide be your only measuring stick. Consider what circumstances lead to more or less stress in the team. Which Agile principles do team feel they are strongest or weakest on? What concrete things make them strong or could help them with the ones they find challenging? In the past 5 sprints which delivered the most value? What was different about them and what could the team learn from that? There are a ton of other angles to approach this from.

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  • can you clarify your point about which delivered the most value?
    – user32613
    Nov 9 '20 at 14:10
  • Sure, I was a little vague because I don't know how value is measured in your organization. I usually encourage teams (and organizations) to measure value creation from work. For example, if a team maintains an internal tool that that agents use to quote deals, perhaps you have value measures like time saved, mistakes made in the quotes, time to deliver a quote, etc. Other teams I've worked with just use something simple like value points given to features by stakeholders.
    – Daniel
    Nov 9 '20 at 16:06
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I'm still a bit junior on Scrum but I would like to point out something that I didn't find in the other replies.

As much as the PO has the role to lead the product in terms on "what" is it we are going to do next to get the highest possible value, it is also true that the Scrum Team needs to develop in a way that they get to be as self managed as possible. That would not remove the need of having the PO and SM around, but rather that they will be able to feel comfortable enough about taking some day-to-day decisions about the product, as long as they reach the sprint's goal.

In the way you described it, is hard to tell if they listen to the PO in silence only when the "what" is being discussed, or if they also do that when the PO gets into the "how", which in my opinion may not be a good path to follow.

In our team, I tend to make certain questions or propose certain situations to encourage the team to participate and actively give their point of view, as I believe allowing them to develop that self-motivated self-guided thinking will help not only the product but their careers as well.

So, in my point of view, you have a good opportunity to help them improve on that aspect.

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  • Yes this exactly right. They follow the PO like sheep and when he isn’t around they still get stuff done but have nothing to say. I would ordinarily consider this a problem BUT they are delivering better then most other teams. This is the core of my dilemma.
    – user32613
    Nov 7 '20 at 6:08
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    Then I think the team has an opportunity to grow past the PO, because the day that person is no longer there and a new PO that doesn't know everything comes in, the whole organization is going to wish they had a critical-thinking self-guided team rather than people that say "OK" to everything they are told. I personally don't like the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" thing, I prefer "If it's broken, let's fix it. If it works, let's improve it". There is no such thing as the ultimate team!
    – BlastDV
    Nov 7 '20 at 11:28
  • @BlastDV, while there's no "ultimate team" there are good and bad teams. This one appears to be a good one. And the changes you introduce could spoil it. Sure, they may end up in a bad place if current PO leaves. But if you start poking around - you may break it even sooner. So I'd be careful suggesting radical changes. These guys have proven to be an effective team in practice, while all the "changes for the good" that you'll come up with are theoretical. Nov 8 '20 at 9:24
  • @StanislavBashkyrtsev I think that's a fair point. So what you suggest is being conscious about what is to be changed and why, so that the risk of breaking things up on the way is lessened. I agree with that, flipping the table over every single time will do no help. What I suggest though, is not to sleep on the job just because it works, but rather not losing perspective that they can do better, that there is an underlying dependency on the PO that can blow up anytime, and as a SM this person needs to remember that.
    – BlastDV
    Nov 8 '20 at 11:15
  • @BlastDV yeah I totally hear you. I think for me the only area that I can see that I believe needs to evolve is communication. In order for me to do this though, I would essentially need to tell the PO to step back and be more of a traditional PO who is pulled by members instead of him pushing them and driving everything. Like Stanislav says though, it could make it worse for the team in the long run. Such a difficult decision.
    – user32613
    Nov 9 '20 at 14:16

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