Utilizing thinking styles in Scrum development

January 24th 2011

Should all team members participate in all tasks that the team is doing? Scrum advocates cross-functionality but does that mean that everyone should partake in every task? In short, team culture should encourage for teamwork and everyone should have a possibility to influence decisions but in practice it will be good if some specialization occurs. Why? Read on.

Our ultimate goal is to enable self-organization on a team.  A team should work like a start-up company (read "The new new Product Development Game") that self-organizes around a problem and decides how to solve it. In Thinking styles book, Robert J. Sternberg presents interesting insights about what kinds of tasks actually motivate people. It turns out that people have preferences for specific types of tasks and teams should utilize this information.

What are thinking styles?

A style is a preferred way of thinking. It is not an ability, but rather how we use the abilities we have. We do not have a style, but rather a profile of styles.  People may be practically identical in their abilities and yet have very different

Thinking styles.

People with different thinking styles will, according to Sternberg, prefer working with different kinds of tasks. Also, this difference gives an advantage for a person whose thinking style suits better with a situation at hand. A developer with more "legislative" style will enjoy design work while a developer with a "judical" style finds analytical work more rewarding.

Thinking style profile is constructed from five categories: Function, form, level, scope, and leaning. These categories form a profile for a person that consists, among other things, of  preference for design or executive work, motivation by single or multiple goals, big picture vs. detail orientation, and playing by rules or going beyond rules. For a real description, read the book.

Back to Scrum. I think that in ideal world, everyone should be doing tasks that are best suited for their profile and that they enjoy the most. Of course it does not mean that if nobody likes a task, it will not be made. Also, a team should be cross-functional and members should learn new skills outside their comfort zone.  But if entire team is playing to their strengths it will increase work motivation and increase product quality. This is actually what self-organization is all about, people volunteering for tasks.

Nice subject for a retrospective

If a team is aware of others thinking styles it can self-organize more effectively. Therefore, if you don't know what are the thinking styles in your Scrum team find that out in a retrospective, it will make a nice subject.

What's next?

If you are having thoughts on your Agile implementation we should arrange a meeting. Check out how I can help you.

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