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How I unexpectedly got my team inspired and involved


…with a bicycle bell

As Scrum master of a Scrumteam I try to arrange the Standup at the most suitable (and early) possible time of every workday to get a good start on everything.

And as we all know, at a Standup you deal with three questions: What did you do yesterday? What are you going to do today? Did you have trouble or do you expect trouble with your tasks?

Also when having introduced something ‘new’ to the team, I’d always ask them to try it at least two sprints. One sprint to get used to the change, and the second sprint to really give it a try. This way people could make an informed choice whether this change was actually an improvement, or if it should be stopped.

A few months into our current team setting we were running into a problem. At every Standup, people were late. Others failed to join at all, it was a struggle. During the Standup people were not paying attention, most failed to handle the three questions at hand and half the team just generally was lacking focus. The ‘slacking’ Standup was a result of energy and communication missing in the team.

The Scrum-process was my first aim. I wasn’t going to fix all the difficulties with the team with onesmall and practical change, so: the Standup. Start small. In an attempt to spice up the Standup, I purchased a bicycle-bell and hung it at the edge of the Scrumboard. I thought: if we’d all at least be here on time, that’s something. So ringing the bell was introduced by me as the start-signal of the Standup. This bell was, to be honest, very loud and unpleasant. But, hard to ignore or overhear, which was essentially the goal. I thought it was a brilliant plan and took it to the team to give it a try.

In addition to the bell I also made a few more adjustments to the Standup like: pick someone who’s next, but not next to you. At first with use of a ‘Talking stick’, which was later not necessary anymore. And every day I put someone else in charge of starting up the Standup. At the end of the Standup that person would point out a new person for the next day. These changes were adopted and more-or-less are still being used at this moment in time.

The bell quickly turned into the most hated object on the floor. People would flinch even before I would ring it. So during the first sprint I agreed with the team that I wouldn’t ring the bell if everyone was at the board, on time. 60% of the time this worked perfectly, but some people kept being late. They didn’t see the bell was a problem, or they didn’t care, I don’t know. During the retrospective we briefly touched the subject but we didn’t go into it in dept. We had another sprint ahead of us.

During the second print still the same people kept being late, and kept being inconsiderate about it to the team. During the retrospective of the second sprint, the team quickly came to the conclusion that the bell needed to go. But there was the starting of the Standup at hand. What about that? A discussion got going, and after some time, I noticed people were starting to give honest and frank feedback to each other in the lines of: ‘I see that you keep being late at the standup, it makes me feel like you don’t care. Why are you late?’ and more of the same phrases. They were no longer addressing the bell, they were openly discussing behavior! The bell turned into the means to discuss the team, the group process.

After a very good and heartfelt Retrospective the conclusion was drawn. The same people who kept being late really didn’t do that on purpose, they did care. They just didn’t know others were hung up about it and promised to do better. Then the team turned to me and I happily removed *the bell*. Ever since the Standup has started on time, with everyone present.

To me this is a wonderful tale of how one improvement, meant well, can lead to a genuine and thorough team development process. The team addressed their ‘problem’, fixed it and most wonderful of all: they did it most of it themselves.