An ideal vision of a Scrum team is one where every skill needed is represented, along with appropriate levels of expertise, within a single cross-functional group.

This would allow the Scrum team to be completely contained and self-sufficient, never needing to rely on outside resources to complete their production sprints. While this mightbe feasible for smaller projects with tightly limited scopes, in my experience…ideal situations like this rarely, if ever, occur.

I’ve worked with some amazingly talented and versatile people over the years, but one thing’s consistently clear: there’s always a need for outside help somewhere along the way.

This is not a “breakdown” of the Scrum process, but rather an inherent part of it. Knowing how – and when – to enlist outside help for your Scrum team is of critical importance.

Identify Your Needs Early

When leveraging resources outside of your Scrum team, it’s important to plan ahead. If you don’t give their organizations enough warning, you’ll rarely get the resources you need in the timeframes you want them.

As soon as you’ve completed the planning process for a particular sprint, you should review other upcoming stories on the product backlog. Start thinking ahead about which additional resources you’ll need.

First, compare the skills available on your development team with the skills you’ll need to complete those upcoming stories. Second, identify exactly who might be able to provide those skills now, rather than waiting until right before the sprint when you need them. And third, reach out to their organizations now to prepare them and streamline the procurement of those skills.

Doing this will allow you to monitor the availability of external resources, keep relevant individuals abreast of the progress the team is making, and locate replacements in the event they become unavailable down the road.

Enlisting Expert Help

Sometimes you’ll need an expert to come in and help you solve a problem or design a particular solution. These cases often involve very specific technologies that your Scrum team isn’t familiar with or simply doesn’t have the right level of experience with.

For example, you might need to bring in your company’s chief database expert to help design a database structure for the first few stories, ensuring it conforms to company compliance standards. Once designed, however, the team is perfectly capable of implementing additional stories based on that foundation without tying up the expert resource.

Common Roles Where You Might Look for External Resources

Here’s a list of some of the more common roles you might leverage from resources outside your Scrum team:

  • UX architects
  • Visual designers
  • DevOps personnel
  • Technical writers
  • Other specialists required for specific tasks but not the majority of the project

Maintaining Accountability

One of the most difficult challenges when bringing in outside help is in the area of accountability.

The traditional view is that the person defining the work and/or the person doing the work should be the ones accountable for the work. But in Scrum, the team is accountable for all of the work.

This creates two important points to consider when leveraging outside help:

  1. Outside help is not accountable for the progress or results of the team
  2. The team is responsible for making all decisions about how to implement stories, regardless of whose advice they follow

What this means is that, while outside help might be accountable for their own productivity and performance through the corporate hierarchy, they are not responsible for the Scrum team’s success. Only the Scrum team is accountable for that.

This is why all decisions must be made (or agreed to) by the Scrum team, even if they are not the experts themselves. If they don’t like the advice or solution an expert gives them, it’s their responsibility to either come up with a different solution or seek a different opinion.

In other words, the Scrum team can’t show up to a sprint review and say, “We didn’t finish because Sally in DevOps didn’t do x, y or z.” Because it’s not Sally’s responsibility… it’s theirs.

The team needs to coordinate their efforts with DevOps, giving them enough advance notice to procure what they need. The team also needs to follow up with those external resources to ensure they know what’s needed… and when. And after the work is done, the team needs to check that work to make sure it meets their requirements.

The Scrum team needs to do all this because they – and only they – are the ones responsible for the results.

Adding Temporary Members to the Scrum Team

I’ve found that using external team members, without involving them in all the Scrum team’s ceremonies, is usually the most efficient – when it makes sense to do so. For example, if their involvement consists of a single 5 hour job during a sprint, it probably doesn’t make sense for them to spend additional hours in Scrum meetings.

But sometimes it does make sense to add external resources as full members of the team – often when it’s a period extending through one or more sprints. In this case, they attend all the Scrum ceremonies for however long they’re involved. And because they’re considered part of the overall team, they’re also responsible – along with the rest of the team – for producing results.

So if the amount of work required makes it more efficient for them to attend the Scrum ceremonies and participate as full members, then by all means add them as such.

Remember, however, that your Scrum team should stay within the ideal size of 7 +/- 2. That means that while the ideal team size is seven, the team can grow to as many as nine and still work efficiently. Once you start working with more than nine people, studies show that coordination starts to break down and efficiency will suffer.

Managing External Resources and Your Scrum Team

Obviously, dealing with accountabilities across Scrum teams and external resources can be a challenge. I’ve provided some thoughts on the differences between leadership on a Scrum team and management outside of a Scrum team to help you navigate those challenges.

If you have questions or need a Scrum team to get started right away, please contact us at Ascendle today.

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