Let’s All Agree on Some Things

Working Agreements are important.  One of the earliest things we can do to come together as a Scrum Team is to discuss what our working agreements are as a team.  This is our contract with ourselves on how we are going to work – and succeed – together. It’s not vital that every team establish working agreements, but I certainly recommend it.  For new teams in particular, it helps to get everyone on the same page. Esther Derby wrote at length about the importance of Working Agreements, and she’s exactly right.

If the idea of a working agreement sounds daunting, you’re already overthinking it.  In its most basic form, the working agreement is simply a series of statements that the team has agreed is important to how they work as a whole, and what their team values are.  Forming one couldn’t be more simple. I will often do this in the very first Sprint Retrospective I have with a team. If it’s an existing team, it helps me to understand what the team’s norms are, and if it’s a brand new team, it becomes an instant team-building exercise.

You only need a couple of things to get started and create a working agreement:

  • Sticky Notes
  • Pens
  • The Scrum Team

Okay, you will need something else too, but that’s all you need to get started.

  • Pass out sticky notes to everyone (and have a couple of spare pens for those people who invariably forget to bring one).
  • Have everyone brainstorm on things that they think are important to them and write those ideas on sticky notes.  One item per sticky note! Ideally, everyone comes up with 2-3 solid ideas.
  • Timebox this to no more than 5 minutes.  I’ve had luck with three minutes, but you know your team better than I do.
  • All ideas go up on the wall.  We don’t care about duplicates yet.
  • Have each person review what he/she wrote with the team and why that’s important.  Start grouping duplicates together on the wall as they emerge at this point.
  • Once everyone has had a chance to review their ideas with the team, use dot voting to come up with what the team feels are the most important items.  Give everyone at least 3 votes to be distributed as they see fit.
  • Pick the top items the team voted on.  This is your working agreement.

Now take those items and write them out nice and big somewhere in the team room!  I prefer to use a sticky note easel pad and write them all out and put the sheet up where everyone can see it during the day.  Using an easel pad lets me also move the sheet with our working agreement into a separate meeting room if needed, to keep everyone mindful of what our team expects of ourselves.

Some sample items I have seen in working agreements:

  • We will only have one conversation at a time, and will listen to what is being said without interrupting the speaker.
  • We will only commit to items that have enough of a Description to allow us to begin work as we continue a conversation around that work, and Acceptance Criteria enough to allow for testing.
  • We will not mark any work as Done that does not meet our DoD.
  • We will be on time for the Daily Scrum Meeting and will adhere to the 15 minute timebox.

Your teams will come up with their own items, values, and group norms that they feel are important.  Don’t guide them down a particular path, but listen to the team and facilitate discussion. Your teams might surprise you with what they come up with.  It’s important to revisit the working agreement from time to time. There may be things on the agreement that the team feels are no longer important to emphasize, or new things they would like to have agreed upon as a team.  This is very much a living document that should mature with the team and reflect who they are.

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About Heath

Scrum Master. Software Engineer. Writer. Musician. Craft Beer Aficionado. Jeopardy! contestant. Not necessarily in that order.