Scrum Rules: Your Scrum Master Shields the Team From Interruptions

August 25, 2020
5 minute read

A Scrum Master is an individual who both guides and protects the Scrum Team. One of the ways that the Scrum Master protects the Scrum Team is by shielding it from interruptions.

The interruptions that the Scrum Master cares about stopping are those that are from outside the team when they are in a Sprint. Most interruptions are not related to the team’s current work and need to be blocked by the Scrum Master so that the team will be able to focus on its current goal: the Sprint and its Product Backlog Items. All of the stakeholders of the team need to be aware that the Scrum Master is responsible for blocking these interruptions. This awareness creates a freedom for the Scrum Master to do this very difficult part of the job in a way that is transparent and effective. If the stakeholders are not aware of this part of the job, then they may become upset when interruptions are blocked or find ways around the Scrum Master to get interruptions to specific team members. If the team is not aware that this is the Scrum Master’s job, they may feel trapped, may lose hope in the Scrum process, may take on the work themselves (which will be too much for them since they are responsible for the execution of the Sprint goal), feel unsafe which could lead to hiding obstacles (which causes waste and delays), and it may even cause Team Members to accept interruptions as normal which will create an environment where interruptions and unrelated requests become widespread. All of these negatives effects and many more can be solved by the organization knowing that the Scrum Master’s job is to shield the team from interruptions.

The most important part of ensuring this rule is possible is to also ensure that there is a clear, easy mechanism for stakeholders to make requests to the team but in a way that does not break this rule. Normally, this is done by making communication with the Product Owner easy and regular, and making the status of the Product Backlog constantly visible. In some cases, there are other techniques that can work to handle interruptions that can allow a team to make progress to fully adopting this rule. The two most common techniques that are partial implementations of this rule are to allow a very limited amount of time for handling interruptions every Sprint and to use prominent, brightly colored note cards and to make interruptions highly visible then have a public whole-team discussion about trade-offs for the interruption versus the planned work of the Sprint. More details on these two techniques (as well as some other techniques for handling interruptions) can be found in the article “Seven Options for Handling Interruptions in Scrum and Other Agile Methods”. If the Scrum Master feels confident in the need to block interruptions, the best technique is often to have very direct face-to-face conversations with the people trying to interrupt the team about the consequences of interruptions.

For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions. The Product Owner’s decisions are visible in the content and ordering of the Product Backlog. No one is allowed to tell the Development Team to work from a different set of requirements, and the Development Team isn’t allowed to act on what anyone else says…. — The Scrum Guide

The Product Backlog is an ordered list of everything that might be needed in the product and is the single source of requirements for any changes to be made to the product. — The Scrum Guide

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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