Scrum Rules: As a Team Member I Don't Tell Any Other Team Members What to Work on Next

August 6, 2020
5 minute read

All tasks done by individuals on a Scrum Team must be chosen voluntarily. If one Team Member, in any way, tells another Team Member what task to work on, this breaks the principle of self-organization that is essential to creating a high-performance Scrum team.

Team leads, project managers, functional managers and other people in roles of authority to assign tasks must give up that authority completely when it comes to the people on a Scrum team. This self-organizing behavior allows individual team members to consider their own talents, capacity, interest, motivation etc., when choosing a task. All of those inner conditions are not as well known by other people and so assigning tasks tends to be sub-optimal. When a Team Member considers those inner conditions about him or her self, and also takes into consideration the needs of the team, an optimal task choice can be made. If someone in a position of authority does assign tasks, it creates a habit of deferring to authority which quickly destroys any possibility of a high-performance team developing.

Volunteering for tasks and avoiding task assignment starts on a Scrum Team with the behavior and leadership of the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master must constantly remind people who are outside the Scrum Team context and are in positions of authority not to use that authority to assign tasks to Scrum Team Members. As well, the Scrum Master must fully adopt this behavior. If the Scrum Master has concerns about certain tasks getting done during the Sprint, then certainly, like any other team member, it is acceptable to draw the attention of the team to those tasks, but not to tell any particular Team Member to do them.

In practice, then, implementing this rule starts in Sprint Planning. During the Sprint Planning meeting, the Team discusses what they will build, and how it will be built with the result being the Sprint Backlog and the tasks therein. However, Sprint Planning does not include any discussion of who will be doing which tasks. Immediately following the conclusion of Sprint Planning, each person on the team volunteers for exactly one task from the Sprint Backlog. It is acceptable for two or more Team Members to volunteer for the same task. For example, if a very junior person volunteers for a technically complex and challenging task, it is perfectly acceptable for a more experienced person to also volunteer for the same task in order to help the junior person. As people complete tasks, they may realize that they are facing a dependency in order to move on to other tasks. There is a temptation when faced with these types of dependencies to “assign” the task to the person who would normally do it (based on role outside the Scrum Team). In these situations a Team Member facing a dependency has two options: one, to ask the team in a general way if anyone can help with resolving the dependency and two, to volunteer to work on the task upon which the future work depends even if it is not within the Team Member’s core skill set (e.g. someone who primarily does user interface development to take on a task related to the database schema). A third option, although often less effective, is to raise the dependency as an obstacle to the Scrum Master. More senior Team Members often have concerns about letting junior Team Members take on tasks they are not suited for, but this is best seen as an opportunity to cross-train. One important corollary of this rule is that no Team Member can tell any other Team Member which tasks NOT to work on!

Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team…. No one (not even the Scrum Master) tells the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality. — The Scrum Guide

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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