Scrum coaching and training usually focuses on strengthening your Dev Teams’ collaboration, empowering Scrum Mastering and Product Ownership. These ingredients are all required for Scrum Teams to achieve high-quality results.[1] But a key ingredient is missing in creating the conditions for success: what 3Back calls Mission Protection.[2]

ProtectectionDefinition: Mission Protection is Executive Leadership’s ongoing, public commitment to safeguarding the Scrum Team’s ability to achieve their mission.[3]

Examples of leadership providing Mission Protection:

  • Protecting the Team against “backchanneling”[4]by preventing influential Stakeholders[5] from pulling Team Member’s energy off the mission and weakening the Team’s focus
  • Ensuring the Team gets help from SME’s[6] to achieve their mission

What’s Backchanneling?

“This should only take you a few minutes….” We’ve all heard that before! It’s the usual preamble when a Stakeholder is “asking” you to add extra, unplanned work into the current Sprint…work that was never prioritized in refinement[7], hasn’t been written into a clear Story, assumes an effort[8] that hasn’t been properly sized, and doesn’t take account of any hidden dependencies or implications by the so-called “quick fix!”

Definition: A backchannel is a covert route for passing information. Backchanneling in a business happens when a Stakeholder leverages his or her influence behind the scenes with a Team member in order to shortcut the Team’s work queue to advance their own priorities.

It’s normal for leaders in a business to use their influence to move their own priorities forward. However, Scrum can’t work if the agreements between Business Owners, Product Owners, Dev Team members, and Scrum Masters are regularly broken by Stakeholders’ end-runs. When rule-breaking is the norm, you’ll quickly end up with Scrum In Name Only. In other words, the business has taught Team Members to be cynical about Scrum ceremonies and Team Agreements[9], because what really drives the Team’s workstream is not the Backlog[10]or Sprint Planning[11], but the demands of powerful Stakeholders.

Well-Formed Teams And Backchanneling

Backchanneling can be even more toxic if your Scrum Team’s maturing toward self-organizing behaviors that we call a Well-Formed Team™.  If the Dev Team’s working well together, their Scrum Master is helping them identify and resolve impediments, and the Product Owner is actively engaged in providing inputs to the Backlog and feedback on the Team’s work, BUT Team members are constantly interrupted by high-level stakeholder requests…then the Team will continually be pulled off its core mission and will eventually discard WFT principles as unworkable in your business environment.

Why Does The Mission Need Protection?

Even when a Scrum Team has clear Agreements about how stories get into the Backlog and from the Backlog into Sprint Planning, if a senior Executive shows up at a developer’s cube with a personal request for work–the famous “quick fix”–the developer may feel it’s impossible to say “no” or “later.” But bending to these social pressures quickly becomes a norm and saps the Team’s focus and energy for the Mission.

Businesses are human networks, and their lifeblood is relationships. No one likes to disappoint, particularly if the requester is the 900-pound gorilla! Sure, formally we have ground rules for how stories get submitted. But informally, everybody knows it’s not healthy for your career to say “no” or “later” to the big Kahuna (who might even be your CEO).

Missions need protection because, if they’re unprotected from the heavyweights in the business, the Team’s attention will be eaten alive by “urgent” requests coming from those heavyweights. Including your Founder and CEO!

Checklist: Is your Mission protected?

If Missions are Protected…

  1. Each Mission has an identified Business Owner at the VP or EVP level and has charged a single identified Business Owner with Product Ownership for the Backlog.
  2. The Mission’s Business Owner is available for frequent-enough Reviews with the Team to have a good sense of the Team’s progress.
  3. The Business Owner supports the Team by communicating the importance of the Mission to other Executive peers and encourages SME’s to support the Mission as needed.
  4. C-level, EVP, and VP stakeholders feed urgent requests into the Teams’ Inbox, empowering Product Owners and the Team to prioritize–rather than jumping the queue with fire drills.
  5. The Business Owner actively intervenes to hold Stakeholders accountable if they try to shortcut Backlog Refinement by backchanneling, and bring them into the process.

Learn How 3Back’s 1-day, Onsite Discovery Workshops Help Your Team Protect The Mission.

  • Objective assessment of your Scrum Team’s health, maturity, and empowerment
  • Detailed, real-time feedback that guides your Team
  • Customized tools to align your business to maximize results

Request a Discovery Workshop Now.

As Always. Stay Agile.

Notes and Sources

1-11 ”Results,” “Mission Protection,” “Mission,” “Backchanneling,” “Stakeholders,” “SME’s.” “Refinement,” “Effort,” “Team Agreements,” “Backlog,” “Sprint Planning.” Accessed October 12, 2018. https://scrumdictionary.com.

 

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