Scrum Values: the value of focus

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“Everyone focuses on the work of the Sprint and the goals of the Scrum Team.”
– The Scrum Guide

Scrum Teams can quickly feel overloaded. Or they can lose sight of what each member is doing. To figure out what to tackle first and to minimize waste, the whole team needs to think as one and figure out how each activity helps the Sprint forward. Complexity and uncertainty are two main components in the software development landscape. It is important for Scrum Teams to maintain a clear product vision to stay sharply focused, as users’ needs and priorities shift. Enter the Scrum Value of focus.

Think of it this way: if there are a hundred things to do, would you rather do ten well, or do all hundred reasonably?

With clearly defined goals, team members can focus on their tasks, knowing that each of the other team members does as well. Because the Scrum is iterative, team members only focus on a few very specific goals at a time.

Scrum Values: the value of focus

One of the hallmarks of Scrum is the Sprint, a time-boxed span of time (up to four weeks long) in which the Scrum Team focuses on a specific set of objectives. In a Scrum Team, focus means that during a Sprint, each individual puts their pet projects aside and resists the temptation to work ahead (or go ‘back’ to update finished functionality). To get the most out of each sprint, each team member must stay focused on the task at hand and how it affects the Sprint Goal.

To focus on these tasks, the Scrum Team needs to eliminate distractions and avoid multitasking as much as possible. Distraction can cause setbacks that increase the time it takes to complete tasks. The end result is excessive overtime, which defeats the purpose of using an agile methodology.

Focus in practice

  • Make sure that a Sprint has a clear Sprint Goal and that the Sprint Goal is constantly visible to the team.
  • Daily Scrums are a great opportunity to recall the Sprint Goal and plan what will be completed within the time frame. To help team members focus, Scrum Masters should talk openly about individual workloads to ensure they only assign a feasible number of tasks (and limit WIP). Include too many tasks and everyone will feel overwhelmed.
  • The Developers must divide the work so that each individual can focus their energies on the most appropriate tasks and know exactly how their puzzle piece fits into that of others.
  • The Product Owner must ensure that the Product Backlog focuses on the features that provide the most value to end users. Make sure the Product Owner has a roadmap that supports focus. A roadmap should contain large chunks of functionality (customer value) so that the Scrum Team knows what it is working on. If you put all different user stories together in the Product- or Sprint Backlog without a common thread, then the team will be forced to go in different directions in their Sprints and the have no clue about what they are working on in the bigger picture.
  • To help team members stay focused, Scrum Masters can help in limiting the number of tasks or priorities assigned to each team member during the Sprint. In addition, encouraging full team participation in the Daily Scrum meeting can help team members stay focused on their specified tasks.
  • Make sure the team is always busy finishing something (or: getting it done). By concentrating on constantly finishing things, only that specific PBI is being worked on. Also mention this in the Daily Scrum.
  • Make it clear what the Scrum Team is not working on. If stakeholders know that some PBI’s are not yet being worked on, this provides a more complete picture than if you only indicate what the Scrum Team is working on.

Out of focus?

In my experience as a Scrum Master, I have encountered these three symptoms of a lack of focus:

External influences / The ‘usual suspect’
Someone has been with a company for a long time and (almost) everyone knows that person as the go-to person to get their problems solved. This person is therefore unnoticed a lot during his work and can therefore not concentrate well on the tasks that have to be done. During the Daily Scrum, many tasks outside the Sprint are often mentioned by this person (and many other tasks are not mentioned). They must then be well protected against as many outside influences as possible.

A fragmented schedule
Ah, the ‘layered cake planning’. A team has (too) many different projects, and attention must be divided between all of them. This can happen in teams where different products are built, or that a product uses small auxiliary products.

Focus on the wrong things
The entire team is focused on the things that do not matter. There are days when nothing happens that truly contributes to achieving the Sprint Goal, except everything else. It can be noticed during the Daily Scrum that nothing is said about the Sprint and the Sprint Goal, but only peripheral matters are discussed.

Helping the Scrum Teams focus, means getting actively rid of a lot of impediments. The role of a Scrum Master in this is essential. However, the Scrum Team must be aware and open of the distractions they are facing.

Concluding, the Scrum Value of focus is one of the best skills Scrum Teams can develop. Focus means whatever tasks Scrum Teams start. they can finish. Scrum Teams must be relentless in limiting the amount of work in progress.

Oh, and be a good sport, and never, ever promote something like multitasking. It’s the bane of focus and should be avoided like the plague!

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