How do you assess a team? My personal tools

Every Scrum team is different. Even when two teams seem to have similar challenges, similar products, and similar environment, they would not be actually the same. So your approach will change depending on the situation.

I often say that the best answer a Scrum Master can give to an open-ended question is “It depends…”

However, you need to know where to start. Regardless of whether you start working with a completely new team or joining a team that has been running for a while, it always helps to assess their current situation. The easiest approach is to use self-assessment tools or agile maturity assessments.

Start with a template

The first thing I do when I join a new team is to observe. Usually the first days, the first Sprint Events I attend, are just for me to test the waters.

After years of observing teams and organizations at different levels of maturity, I have developed a certain style of assessment. Though, it didn’t come right away. At the beginning I was using various assessment models.

There are so many different way to do it, if you look for “agile assessment” online, you will be greeted with long lists of possibilities: from oversimplified ones that can’t really help you get started, to extremely complicated ones that look too overwhelming.

Now looking back I think that it would help me greatly to have some kind of template at my hands to guide me through the first assessments – before I developed my own approach.

Here I’d like to share some tools with you that you can simply pick-up and use yourself.

Inspect & adapt

As I said in the opening statement – each team is different. While the tools I offer here are quite helpful, don’t feel like you have to stick to them to the ‘T’.

Agility is all about inspection and adaptation, so if something seems irrelevant, or maybe something is missing, just change it. Believe me, there is no “agile assessment police” that is going to arrest you.

I don’t have a perfect answer to every team situation, but what I can guarantee is that you will know where to get started.

Scrum Checklist

Let’s jump right into it. You might have heard me talk about these tools previously, either in an article, email, or during a live event. Here I’d like to share some updated versions and my personal adaptations.

Unofficial Scrum Checklist by Henrik Kniberg. I really like this tool and often refer to it, because it highlights the most important core principles of the Scrum framework. – the bottom line. It also gives you some guidance around what other important rules you should pay attention to.

Not everything in this list is fully aligned with Scrum, so pay attention to details. It also hasn’t been updated in a while.

So naturally, it needs a little update to reduce the confusion, especially, since the release of the new Scrum Guide in 2020. When it comes to the bottom line, here are a few points that I would like to highlight and clarify (without changing the core ideas behind them):

The bottom line

If you check all the boxes, then your team and organization are doing well – don’t fix what’s not broken:

  • Delivering working usable Product Increment that meets the Definition of Done every single Sprint.
  • Delivering what business and customers need most.
  • Processes, the team, and the organization improve continuously.

To add to this list, I’d like to take a few lines from the recent version of the Scrum Guide. These are the key elements your team needs. Without them your Scrum implementation most likely is bringing more harm then good:

  • A Scrum Master fosters a Scrum-friendly environment.
  • A Product Owner has full decision power over the order of the Product Backlog.
  • The Scrum Team can turns a selection of the work into an Increment of value during a Sprint (same as above).
  • The Scrum Team and its stakeholders inspect the results and adjust for the next Sprint.

The bottom line is just the beginning. As you go through the rest of the checklist, if you leave any boxes unchecked, it highlights a problem that you might want to fix. Of course, you won’t be able to fix everything, so choose your battles wisely and focus on what brings the most value.

Agile Values and Principles

Of course, Scrum is the framework that you might (or might not) implement. The real core concepts come from agility overall. If you want to have a more profound understanding of the Agile maturity of your team and organization,you should look at the Agile values and Agile principles.

The easiest way to do it is to look at each value and analyze what you observe: does the team align more to the left side or to the right side?

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Do the processes and tools enable communication or hinder it?
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation. How does your organization measure success: by value delivered to customers or intermediate deliverables?
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. How closely does your team collaborate with the customers to implement their feedback into their work?
  • Responding to change over following a plan. Does your team focus more on meeting the deadlines or achieving goals?

These are just a few questions you can ask yourself when it comes to the four values. You can dig deeper to have an even better understanding of how you can help not only your team, but the whole organization achieve agility.

In my recent guide for Scrum Masters I share a full assessment model that you can easily use to help you ask the right questions and come to the right solutions. It’s not just an assessment, but an actual action plan builder, with clear steps and guidance.

Team Health Check

Another awesome is my personal go-to is the Spotify Squad Health Check model – and easy and extremely useful way not only to assess your team, but also run a retrospective.

The Spotify version gives you some topics to start with. But the real value of this model is when you fully adapt it to your situation, your team and your product (not everything is software, right?).

I use my own version of this model in retrospectives to collect some metrics that we can track and review later on. It’s a great way to involve the team into the assessment and also provide them with clear action plan as a result of their retrospective.

Here below are the topics I cover in my version:

  • Knowledge Availability
  • Product Clarity
  • Issue Resolution
  • Ownership
  • Learning
  • Decisions
  • Dependencies
  • Suitable Process
  • Customer Value
  • Team Happiness
  • Estimations
  • Teamwork
  • Technical Excellence
  • Cross-team Communication

What other themes would you add for your team? What is really important for them and for you as their Scrum Master?

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to follow the assessments you find exactly as they are, but they can be a big stepping stone in your ability to help your team as a Scrum Master.

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About the author

Hi, my name is Daria Bagina. Iā€™m a Professional Scrum Trainer with and a experience Agile leader. I help teams and organizations to get the most out of the Scrum and Agile implementation by sharing my personal stories and practical advice.

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