One of the beauties of scrum is the balance between the three defined roles.
- Product owner (PO): Maximize value, ensures that the team builds the right product.
- Scrum master (SM): Maximize productivity, ensures that the team is free of impediments and can use the most of agile tools to build the product
- Development team (Team): Build the product, decide on how they build the product and build it
When a team is mature and evolved this three roles coexists in harmony. But there are situations where the balance is broken and disturbing situations might raise.
Defining the stories is always a complicated task, because they define what are the new functionalities or improvements that your product will incorporate. In many cases the creation of stories will need a good understanding of customers and product. I found in many cases teams struggling to get the stories ready. That affected dramatically to their performance.
I will list below some of the cases that I found in the past and some suggestions to improve the situation.
A PO that is too vague on the details, would provide the team with high level stories not enough defined for the team to work on them. In many cases the team would end up having to work again and again on the same items, as they’re not fitting the expectations of the stakeholders. For this case I would suggest to create a definition of ready between team members and PO, work with the PO to ensure that he can reach ready status on the most important tasks and during sprint planning allow the team to reject stories that doesn’t meet the definition of ready.
A Scrum master that is too deep in the details is also a problem. The scrum master should spend his energy to remove any impediment. When the scrum master is too involved into the product details he will become as a surrogate PO and might end up neglecting his role of facilitator towards team, in some extreme cases you can see the SM and PO bulling the team to reach some goal (this will usually led to frustration and failure for everyone). In this case, when the SM identifies that the PO is not able to provide the stories by himself the best approach is that the SM sits by the side of the PO and teach him to write better user stories.
A team that has to create their own stories from an epic, in that case the team will be expending a considerable amount of time in understanding and creating the stories, that time will not be spent on building working software. The team will not have enough insights from the business side and stakeholders to define the value of the stories, therefore there will not be a correct prioritization. In this situation the SM should work with the PO to ensure that he is the one providing the stories to the team in a ready status.
I believe that all the roles of scrum team should be supportive, involved and committed in order to achieve higher goals, but is important to keep the balance of the roles to avoid entering in situations that drive your team to the anarchy.
The key to the success is… Learn! Use retrospective, daily scrum and review ceremonies to detect your weak spots and to improve them.