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March 05, 2019

Embrace the Chaos

3 mins read

You are probably familiar with some form of the following:

  • Should we be using story points, #noestimates, t-shirt sizing or something else for planning our work?
  • How should we handle unplanned work?
  • Who’s ultimately responsible for testing?
  • Should we point bugs?
  • ________ is getting in my way – remove the impediment, Scrum Master!
  • Whose job is it to enforce team commitments?
  • What does “Agile” say to do?

Does that sound like a typical morning? Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches often hear these questions. Since our primary responsibility is to champion continuous improvement, we help teams get outside of their comfort zone; that can feel chaotic and out of control. I say, “Embrace the chaos!”.

It’s a good thing. When teams think about these issues and ask these questions, they care. They’re not complacent. The next step is to foster a culture of accountability for implementing improvements.

My role is to remind the team that Agile has no definitive answers. Agile is a set of principles and values; it’s a philosophy, a way of thinking, a foundation to build upon. As long as we are reflecting on our work and thinking about how to become more effective, we can tune and adjust our behavior. That’s Agile, no matter what specific practices we use.

Back to Basics

The other day a fellow Scrum Master observed that our current client wants to deliver software, not drive an Agile transformation.

In navigating chaotic waters with teams at the edge of their comfort zone, I try not to stray too far from the principles of the Agile Manifesto. Creating opportunities for early and continuous feedback, developing a culture of trust and team empowerment and regularly inspecting and adapting our ways of working are always at the forefront of my mind.

Fortunately, the other Agilists I work with share this perspective. In a recent discussion, we brainstormed how we would advise a new Scrum Master joining our account. Our themes emphasized safety, behavior modeling and team empowerment. I was pleased to see we avoided working long hours, staying busy, having lots of meetings and other things that are often more visible, but far less impactful. Ultimately, we agreed that Agile’s core principles should be paramount.


So…who is responsible for testing? Well, the entire team is responsible for everything, including deciding how to answer that question. Their answer will necessarily take context into account and include external factors outside of the team’s control, like contractual obligations, as well as internal team considerations, like bandwidth and competing priorities.

Self-organization means exactly what it says. I am responsible for championing continuous improvement. The team—of which I am a part—is responsible for the details of implementation. When changes emerge from this dynamic, teams buy in and leverage their creativity and knowledge to get better.


In summary, the team will decide how to address its specific needs. My job as a Scrum Master is to reinforce good practices and help make the consequences of bad ones visible and transparent so that better choices can be made. The next time you feel that chaos beyond your comfort zone, remember that it can be positive. Reflect on Agile’s principles, keep them in focus and embrace the opportunity – your team cares!

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