Scrum Beginnings (Part 6): The Working Agreement

Fist of Five

At this point, you are probably pretty anxious to get the ball rolling and actually begin implementing Scrum with the team. Before you get down to the nitty gritty and start scheduling ceremonies, I would set up a simple “working agreement” meeting with your team to iron out the guidelines and values that will keep each other accountable over the coming release.

Get a Facilitator!

In the past, I have found that getting another Scrum Master or trusted coworker to help facilitate this meeting is a great way to get the most out of this meeting. The reason why is that I never want to feel like I am dictating or demanding certain guidelines be placed in the working agreement. I want to be an equal contributor and feel like the entire team is coming to a consensus when something is decided on. It’s also great to have another point of view and outside opinion to help lead the discussion and ensure that everything is being thought about all the way through. Having a neutral facilitator may not always be possible, but if you are able to have someone lead the discussion, I would highly recommend it!

I love the purpose of the working agreement because you will start to see what each team member values and expects from each other. During this meeting, you may discuss anything from core working hours to meeting expectations. Here is an example of some of the guidelines my team came up with during our recent working agreement meeting.

Working Agreement

1.Utilize team calendar for PTO, WFH & appointments

  • We have a team calendar that we update to let each other know when we will be out of the office or unavailable to the rest of the team. This way we can plan accordingly and never be caught off guard when someone is gone.


2. Communication preference: Face-to-face —> Slack (chat client) —> E-mail

  • Communication is key to a team’s success. We wanted to ensure that we were all on the same page with how we would initiate discussion. We always value face-to-face interactions above all other forms, but if that’s not possible, sending chat messages or email are the next best ways to communicate.


3. Adhere to headphone etiquette

  • There was a period of time in the past when our team was constantly being disrupted by outside questions. We wanted to come up with a simple way of knowing when someone should not be disrupted. We decided that if you put your headphones on, then you are requesting solitude. If something was important, then sending a message via slack or chat would be the first step to initiate conversation. That way, the person could respond when he/she felt ready.


4. Respect the “Code Zone” and quiet time (1-3 pm EST)

  • We wanted to designate a specific time during the day when everyone would be “heads down” and work without any distractions. We decided the two hours after lunch would be the most ideal time since morning meetings and the lunch hour would be over. We actually also put up a white board barricade with an announcement to the other teams that we should not be bothered during this time unless there was a desperate reason.


5. Meetings must have a clear agenda with expected outcomes and be ended once those points are addressed

  • It is easy to fall into the trap of having meetings for the sake of having meetings. This stipulation ensures that all meetings have a defined scope which keeps meetings lean and on track. Any deviation from the plan can be quickly recognized.


6. Best effort given to fully prepare for meetings

  • We’ve all been in meetings that were hastily put together and then had to be rescheduled because not enough research or preparation had been done. This encourages all members to be ready to participate in each meeting that they are invited to.

7. Be attentive in meetings and alert the team if you’ll be distracted

  • The most productive meetings are when the entire team is engaged and giving their input. It doesn’t do anyone any good if everyone is on their computer and responding to email or other messages while important discussions are going on. It’s understandable if you have to take care of something immediately, which is why we encourage everyone to let the team know if they will be distracted during a specific meeting.


8. Meetings should have a 5 minute break offered for every hour

  • In order for people to remain engaged during long meetings, we made a rule that we would have a quick break during each hour to allow people to stretch, get a drink/snack or use the restroom.


9. Update team (via slack) on availability by start of core hours (10:30am EST)

  • We set our core hours of work to be between 10:30am-4:30pm each work day. We expected each other to be available to respond during this time, whether in the office or not. If you were going to be unavailable during core hours, we suggested that you let the team know about your absence.


10. Everyone gets their say but not everyone gets their way

  • This was such an important rule for our team that we wrote it up on the wall in our squad room. There will occasionally be unpopular opinions about design, implementation or execution, but everyone is allowed to express their point of view.


11. Everyone should hold each other accountable to the working agreement in good times and bad

  • As your team develops more trust, you should all feel comfortable admitting when team rules are being stepped on or disregarded.


12. Update Rally/CA Agile Central daily before standup

  • Rally/CA Agile Central is our source of truth for project management. In order to keep everyone up to date in a timely manner, we request that the team updates their tasks and other stories before our morning stand-ups.


13. Be flexible to a constantly evolving process

  • The industry we work in requires constant change and pivoting. Our work may change in an erratic fashion. Rather than complaining about the changes, we collectively accept that our work will always be controlled chaos.

You are Almost Done!

These are just a few of the guidelines that we decided on as a team. It is important to note that some teams will have more bullet points and some will have less. You may decide you want to plan the times for your ceremonies during this meeting. Some team members might like early morning meetings while others may prefer later in the day meetings. Decide for yourself whether this is an appropriate time to bring up that discussion.

After you have finished the guidelines, I suggest printing your working agreement out and having everyone on the team sign it to acknowledge that they accept the agreement. You can then post it in your meeting room or in a centrally located area so that the team is constantly reminded of the rules of engagement. We often revisit the working agreement 2x a year or when we have new members join. This ensures that we are staying true to our promises. Please use this working agreement as a template or a jumping off point for a great discussion with your own teams.