Scrum Teams Need a Mama Bear

As the original scrum guide points out, there are a few key components to “doing scrum right” – sprints, backlogs, and product owners. Teams work collaboratively on tasks from the product backlog, which is a list of everything that needs to get done. Each sprint, the team reviews the backlog and the progress they’ve made. Once teams get cranking on a backlog, they can show off their productivity or velocity stats.

Each part of these activities needs someone on the team who is fiercely protective but also a nurturing guide for the team members themselves. In scrum, this role is the product owner. I like to think of it as a scrum Mama Bear.

Vital to a scrum team’s success is their ability to focus and commit time to work on backlog items. Organizations new to scrum might struggle with the idea of “losing” staff to a scrum team and the thought of other work getting pushed aside. Part-time scrum team members are not nearly as effective – context switching is real! A Mama Bear product owner fights to keep the team dedicated to the backlog while shielding the team from unplanned work or interruptions.

Mama Bears must also protect the team by managing interactions with external stakeholders and managing the team reports. Stakeholders are usually well-meaning but might want to see results or velocity reports right away. Here is where Mama Bear must protect the scrum team from attending meetings and taking time away from the product to fill out reports. Mama Bear product owners must hold back eager stakeholders who want to track hours, productivity, or other metrics the scrum team is not focused on. Team members are free to keep plugging away on backlog items while the Mama Bear attacks meetings and reporting duties.

Product owners do need a sensitive side for their team members. Just like a Mama Bear with her cubs, product owners must listen to their scrum team to empower, coach, and boost each member. As the sprint moves forward, the product owner keeps tabs on each backlog item. If a team member volunteers to take on an item but is struggling, the product owner is the one who must step in and offer help directly, bring in another team member to help, or refine the backlog item to better fit the task. At sprint events such as retrospectives, it might also fall to the product owner to ensure feedback is productive and blameless to not hurt the team members. As the scrum team matures, the Mama Bear allows team members to learn through pairing and develop cross-functional skills.

An effective scrum product owner should both protect their team from outsiders and also be caring toward their scrum team. This Mama Bear mindset must help teams get focused while the product owner fights off external demands and unrelated tasks. At the same time, the Mama Bear product owner should deeply care about the progress of the backlog and the development of their team. Scrum masters run the daily meetings and promote scrum, but a strong product owner will foster growth in a protected environment.

Originally posted on the BreakFree Solutions blog on Aug 15 2018


Writing a code of conduct for a technology community event

There are so many excellent posts on how and why to have codes of conduct already out there. Like here, here, here and here. Some excellent examples of codes of conduct for technology events are from Geek Feminist, Ada InitiativeGoogle events, MIT (via their game lab), and Apache.

codeofconduct imageI started looking for codes of conduct after reading some of the many articles about the current lack of women in technology and reading about many women’s stories of being harassed at work or at work events. I want the events I help organize to be as inclusive as possible, and a safe place for everyone to come, learn, and interact – women as well as minorities, students, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, and more.

I had a lady come up to me after one of the more interactive events this year and thanked me for the way we ran the event and encouraged participation for both questions and answers from the group. But, after the same event I had a guy ask me if he could get the emails of all the attendees to “follow up” afterwards. Womp womp.

So, I created my own code of conduct to put in writing how I feel that everyone should act at every event (and in normal life!) for anti-harassment, inclusivity, photo/video recording etiquette, and a place to say we refuse to share members’ information.

Here’s my bulked up code of conduct:

The [group] is audience fueled and vendor-neutral. The group is dedicated to being open, welcoming, thought-provoking, and free of anyone trying to sell something or recruit members. The group is an open community to learn and share knowledge – attendees are encouraged to share thoughts, questions, and experiences in loosely structured discussions.

Because of our interactive and open environment, we will not not tolerate harassment in any form, will not share attendee personal data, and will not distribute or sell attendee information to anyone.
Anti-harassment Policy
[group] is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of participants in any form. Conference participants violating these rules may be asked to leave or blocked from future events at the discretion of the organizers.

Harassment includes verbal comments that reinforce social structures of domination related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion; sexual images in public spaces; deliberate intimidation; stalking; following; harassing photography or recording; sustained disruption of talks or other events; inappropriate physical contact; and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

If a participant engages in harassing behavior, the organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from the event. If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact an organizer immediately for help.

Privacy Policy:
We do not, under any circumstances, share personal data about our attendees. Registration is open to all and limited to what attendees enter when registering.  We absolutely will not sell or distribute attendee lists for sales purposes. We will not share emails, phone numbers, company affiliation, employment status, or any other personal information with other attendees, companies or third parties. If you would prefer to register without providing some of the information on the signup form, please contact an organizer.

Inclusion Policy:
[group] is a straightforward after work meetup group, and sponsors only cover the costs of hosting, drinks and pizzas (and usually the organizers have to pitch in). While we do not have have standard arrangements for those who are hearing impaired, visually impaired, gender-neutral, or disabled, we can however make arrangements to accommodate and include all. If you have any concerns or special considerations, please contact the organizers before the next event.

Recording/Social Media Policy:
[group] is a place to share information, not only with other participants, but also with those who may not be able to attend. Sessions are, by default, considered open and can be written about on social media and photographed. Please assume all speakers and participants are sharing their own thoughts and opinions, not those of their employers. If you do not want your picture taken, your words to be recorded or for either photographs or words to be attributed to you, please let other attendees know. As a courtesy, please always ask prior to creating sound or video recordings of any event. Please be thoughtful and respectful with your photographs, recording, and sharing.

Each event can decide to adopt different rules at the beginning of the session (e.g., completely private, or no attribution without asking first) as long as all attendees are informed.

Contact Details:

Organizer Email and Phone
Building Director of Security information
Local taxi information

We expect participants to follow these rules at all conference venues and conference-related social events. Be excellent to each other.

This policy is based on the Geek Feminism Conference anti-harassment/Policy.


Rule of thumb for crying at work

A while ago a friend of mine repeated a pretty good rule of thumb for crying at work.

We were talking about the book Lean In and how women work together, or some times don’t work together. In her old company, a big consulting and accounting firm you’ve probably hear of, she talked about a certain boss that intimidated everyone. She said everyone wasn’t sure if it was the boss being intimidating or their peer ( a woman) who was emotional.

Her rule, she said, was “cry at work the first time and everyone gives you a break. Who knows, you might be going through a stressful week or something personal. But if you cry a second time, then you’re the emotional wreck who can’t deal with the pressure.”

image credit: zazzle

image credit: zazzle

Apparently when the employee in her story cried once, everyone gave her a break. The test came when someone else cried, proving that the boss was the one causing the anxiety rather than a group of weak women.

I’d say it’s a good rule of thumb, especially as a relatively young woman and new employee. If you can keep it together most of the time, people will respect you. Loose you cool too much – men and women! – and you lose that respect.