What does a successful sprint look like? I hope that everyone on your team can answer that question; if they can’t, that is something to talk about right now. Assuming that the team understands what success looks like, why are you, a manager, attending their sprint meetings?
It’s an open and honest question. What are you bringing to the table in these meetings? How are you influencing the team, and are all of those influences positive? What if your presence alone is creating a barrier to improvement?
You’re probably thinking, “I’m accountable for this stuff, how can I be a barrier, I want the same thing the team wants!” And you’re right, you’re accountable for the outcomes that the team achieves, but the fact is, you wield an uncontrollable force.
Have you heard of the “invisible gun effect?” It’s the idea that the presence of an authority changes an individual’s willingness to be completely open and honest, or to take some action they fear could be judged by the authority (even if it’s the right one!)
As a manager, you carry an invisible gun all the time. Your opinion, your feedback, carries tremendous weight. When you are observing, your judgment is assumed.
So, if you believe you need to be in some sprint meeting because you are the sole member of the team who can offer some specific technical perspective or crucial context, solve that problem separately. Delegate, mentor, and write. And stop going to (most) sprint meetings.
Delegate to create opportunity
If you are the manager of a team and also its effective “scrum master” or “sprint captain,” give that responsibility to someone else. There is no reason that the person who orchestrates the sprint needs any positional authority or hierarchically enforced tie-breaking ability.
If you feel that some architectural decision or implementation will suffer without your input, you have two choices:
Ignore it, because when you delegate, you accept that people do things differently than you, and if you’ve made the expected outcome clear, implementation doesn’t matter. To ensure that the outcome meets all requirements, get really crisp with those requirements. Then don’t attend the sprint meetings.
Separate the key architectural or implementation decisions from the sprint process; create discovery or design stories and meet separately to align on how things need to be built. Bake those decisions into the acceptance criteria, and don’t go to the sprint meetings.
Mentorship and coaching are performance multipliers
When you participate in a conversation where you are sharing specific technical information, as a manager, you are doing two things:
Robbing someone on your team of the opportunity to share that information, or
Robbing someone on your team of the opportunity to learn and then share that information.
Instead of being the old, wise technical manager (which admittedly feels really good, which is why we do it), bite your tongue in that moment and ask a question.
Quite often, you’re asking a question that you know the answer to. But by asking, you are empowering the team to find the answer. Be open to the possibility that their answer will differ from yours. Create the space for your team to grow, and to fail.
By asking, you are coaching, you are empowering, and you are creating a new unit of persistent value within the team: the ability to find answers independently. This value pays for itself over and over. If you just answer the question yourself, you’ve created one discrete unit of value that is already obsolete, and your answer may not even be correct. You just wanted to hear yourself say it.
So when questions come up, and you know the answer, consider asking refining questions to ensure that everyone understands the requirements, and then bite your tongue and stop going to sprint meetings.
There is no greater power that we have than to take an idea within our mind and embed it fully into the mind of someone else. We have no greater tool to achieve that power than writing.
It is not that writing, itself, as a superior medium to speech. Rather, it is that the prerequisite of clear writing is clear thought, and that takes effort and time that speech will not afford you. In this increasingly asynchronous and geographically distributed world, reading and writing become thought superhighways.
Even the best spoken idea is at best a two-lane highway. A well-composed one-page document can be like 100 high-speed trains.
When you observe that the team makes decisions that lack some crucial context that you, as their manager, can bring in from leadership circles or your experience, write them down and stop going to sprint meetings.