Fourth Graders – the Ultimate Challenge in Self Managed Teams!

I’ve posted multiple times about the importance of self managed teams in Scrum, including my last post .  Through a recent non-Scrum experience, I think I’ve discovered the ultimate test in developing self managed skills for a ScrumMaster… please read on.

My ten year old daughter is participating in a program called Destination Imagination (DI).  DI is a pretty cool program.  It gives kids an opportunity to use technical, theatrical, and other skills to problem solve in a team environment.  My daughter’s team chose the Kidz Rulz challenge.  What they have to do is build something that creates the illusion of defying a Law of Motion, integrate it into a story, and perform it at a regional competition. 

Seeing that it was such a great program, I volunteered to help coach her team.  A DI coach’s responsibilities are mostly related to facilitation.  The team members have to come up with all of the ideas, decide on materials, and personally build any of the props.  The coach can teach certain skills and help them learn related topics, but can’t contribute to the end solution.  The coach also organizes and runs practice sessions, organizes snacks and meals, coordinates with parents, etc.

I’ve definitely learned some things about ten year olds through this process.  They are wonderfully creative and come up with some great ideas.  I also know that, in classroom and other situations, they are very capable of following instructions.  But I found that taking their creative ideas and getting to an end goal without step by step directions can be a real challenge for them.  The other thing is that ten year olds are rather. well, …. squirrelly – especially when given the opportunity to get together with their friends after school or on a Saturday.  Keeping them on task can be very frustrating.  

So what do the DI experts recommend for coaches?  Well, they provide some brainstorming and focusing tools to help the kids stay on track.  They suggest that you ask lots of questions during the meetings.  They provide some progress expectations for various meetings and some status checklists to help guide you and the team.  You need to continually reinforce the end goal – something that was difficult for both the coaches and participants since it was our first year of DI participation.

I hope that you recognize that the role of a DI coach sounds a lot like the role of a ScrumMaster for a self-managed team.  The ScrumMaster is not there to give directions or solve the team’s problems.   A good leader facilitates, removes impediments, and focuses on the end goal. 

Thankfully, being a ScrumMaster is an easier job than being a coach for fourth graders in their first year of DI competition!  That’s why I think this would be a great exercise for ScrumMaster training.  For two hours at the end of the class, put each ScrumMaster in a room with a few ten year olds.  Give them a project to complete with the same rules as DI – the kids have to come up with all of the ideas and execution.  If you can get through this, then you surely can be a ScrumMaster.

As for me, I will get more practice to be a better ScrumMaster.  Our DI team competed in the regional competition in early March and finished second in its group – good enough to go to the state competition in late April.  I've really enjoyed doing this with the kids, but wish me and the other coaches patience… we’ll need it!