What the best managers for SCRUM teams do

As agile testing methodologies become a larger priority for organizations, pursuing SCRUM may be one approach for teams to take to improve project capabilities. SCRUM has proven itself as an agile framework for completing complex projects while keeping it simple for teams to support.

SCRUM teams create a prioritized list of a product backlog and plan how to implement the most important pieces during each sprint. At the end of the sprint, there should be work that's potentially shippable, then the process starts again until enough items have been completed or a deadline arrives. Across this process, SCRUM managers have an important job and will be a factor in the team's success.

Be a leader, not a boss
SCRUM managers must understand that the ideology entails the principle of self-organization, which requires a coach and supporter, rather than a boss. SCRUM Alliance contributor Utpal Vaishnav noted that while managers are expected to make a difference in their team, they should not make decisions on behalf of other members, assign work or hold status meetings. However, they can actively remove impediments, organize mentoring sessions, plan career development activities and provide input to improve projects.

"Anyone trying to be the boss of other team members is behaving in an anti-SCRUM manner," Vaishnav wrote. "Unlike managers, the SCRUM  Master is to be a 'servant leader.' The SCRUM  Master is a coach for the team, not the boss. She facilitates the project work in a way that delivers according to the definition of 'done.'"

However, this is often easier said than done, especially if a manager has been in his or her position for a number of years. In a separate piece for SCRUM Alliance, contributor Pete Deemer noted that previous habits are often difficult to break, and transplanting these practices into SCRUM can lead to missed benefits and opportunities. By following self-organization techniques and encouraging staff to find their own solutions, QA teams can foster ownership, drive, focus, better productivity, improved morale and pride in quality.

Define sprint length
With deadlines becoming tighter than ever, it's important that stakeholders understand how long a work period will be and what types of items will be completed during that time. AIM Consulting's Kathy Loveless noted that many development teams work well in two or three-week sprint durations. This ensures that they don't move too fast through the tasks and that they are actively kept on track with project goals.

"When I've worked on project teams where code will not be moved to production at the end of the sprint, a two week sprint duration works well; however, my production teams seem to prefer three week sprints because they can develop new features in the first two weeks and use the last week to do production preparation work," Loveless wrote. "Whatever length is chosen, it needs to work with your product environment."

Once the team has defined the sprint length that will work, they must educate stakeholders on how it will work. Creating a sprint calendar and providing clear communication through the product owner will help prioritize requests accordingly and ensure that the most important adjustments are being made during every work period.

Assume role as transformation agent
As the QA staff become more self-reliant with using a robust test management solution, this allows the SCRUM manager to help transform the organization by helping to make each team cross-functional. SCRUM Methodology noted that SCRUM managers must be full-time transformation agents, however, these improvements will often come in fits and starts. By connecting with a community of agilists, SCRUM managers can collaborate and create fundamental changes that will help guide teams to innovation and boost agile values.

"SCRUM Masters are full-time transformation agents, but they do not push for change," SCRUM Methodology stated. "What do people do when you push them? They push back. Instead, effective SCRUM Masters promote transformation through illumination and invitation."

The best SCRUM managers must provide their teams with essential resources like software testing metrics to ensure that items are prioritized, but should still enable their staff to make critical decisions. Doing this will encourage teams to become more active in projects and can significantly improve performance as well as software quality.