How much should the scrum teams commit for in sprint

Sprints are driven by commitments that a scrum team provides for the stories that it will deliver by end of sprint. This is where most of discussion is about about how efficient a scrum team is in delivery. Although I beg to differ with this practice of linking efficiency and stories committed for - I always do empower my teams to set minimal expectations and deliver maximum. I will blog on this topic in future, but for now how much time is available to plan for?

Following are the main categories of time in a sprint from planning perspective:
1. Vacation / holidays
2. Time for scrum mandatory formalities
3. Time for so called the over head activities
4. Time for unplanned
5. Net planable time

Vacation / holidays : The time when team members aren't available for work due to vacation / leaves / holidays. Some teams do maintain a calendar of leave plans and place it near standup corner.

Time for scrum mandatory formalities : The time for planning, retrospective, sprint demo and preparation time, daily stand up. 
Time for over head : The ones mandated by organization like all hands,  trainings,  meetings, any special projects from organization perspective,  recruitment, email checking  etc.  Scrum master will have to identify how much of over head is there and negotiate with stake holders to minimise them or to better organise them so as to eliminate disturbance to team's commitment. 

Time for unplanned : These activities are the ones that cannot be planned like impact of impediments,  unplanned but unavoidable meetings etc.  As the name suggests is not planable and hence reserve a effort bucket in alignment with your management and team which will not be planned. 

Net planable time : This is the capacity left over after taking away the above mentioned ones. Teams should only plan for this and provide commitment.

Art of setting impossible targets

A smart goal is something which is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. When the goals are being set, whether its personal / professional, these are some of the important characteristics. However, I have been witnessing then and there some of the most unrealistic goals in the recent past and this makes me wondering if the quality of project management is witnessing a degradation these days.

Some of the interesting ones which I did come across in past few months:
1. In one of teams, the target for the number of support tickets was increased 300% without any additional increase in capacity allocation. To make it more interesting, there were very few challengers who actually questioned this logic.
2. One of my managers set goals which were SMART in his perspective. However, they went against some of the fundamental principles of lean - be scrum master for multiple teams amounting to about 40 members, in parallel manage the product quality along with actually spend 50% of time doing actual test execution.
3. One of us had a really interesting goal - to be a product owner and be a scrum master.
4. Very interesting one was - Fixed price project was using scrum!! (its never a nice combination). To make it interesting, the target was to deliver stories worth 100% of available capacity.

If stretch becomes the baseline, will there be any motivation left to challenge oneself? If a goal is not meeting SMART conditions, its more likely to fail than succeed.

Please dont execute T&M projects like fixed price

Time and material projects are the ones in which the buyer pays contractor based on the work the contractor team does and based on the material resources used.  The work is normally not fixed or rigid in scope as its the spirit in time and materials model.  Although not a preferred mode of execution for customer as it's normally considered expensive,  organization chooses it when the clear scope baseline is difficult to be established due to reasons like lack of expertise on similar projects or technology etc.

We negotiated a model where the T&M had been capped. This implies that our profitability will be impacted if not managed well.  However this had more negative impacts on our execution as we discovered.

Our onshore management team, who were incharge of customer communication,  always succumbed to unreasonable demands and ended up committing something which was a huge burden on project team.  In T&M,  you have certain agreed capacity and if a work has so much estimates,  it will be executed with constraints in capacity. Having said this,  project team will have to communicate the risks and dependencies appropriately and can facilitate things to certain extent.  However,  the risk of not planning  the release date inline with available capacity owned by outsourcing organization.

There were certain agreed assumptions and dependencies based on which the estimates were arrived at.  However,  if these assumptions and dependencies fail,  capacity constraints should be addressed during execution. This extra cost should be validated and risk owned by parent organization. Some how our communication team was very reluctant to ask for additional budget and this hit the project profitability hard.

T&M is about constant interactions, expectation setting and negotiation. Its a pity that its taken for granted by all parties at times. More pathetic is the scenario if you end up executing it like fixed price project and end up screwing your profitability and peace of mind.

Who is best suited to become a scrum master?

It’s a basic question – who can become a scrum master? Is it going to be a developer, a tester, a project manager, a documentation person or a line manager? To be honest, it’s a topic normally influenced by who the deciding person is and why type of a leader is he / she. In a test service providing organization, my vice president was overtly political and will put his close group contacts in key position and this effectively overrides the fact that he / she could have any proficiency J. In another development organization, there was a trend of developers and that too high performing ones becomes a scrum master. In one particular team, a project manager from previous organization had become a scrum master as she wasn’t interested in people line and she will not fit into a product management line. One of my managers was a high risk taker (to the extent of being called a gambler) that he chose to make a PM as a scrum master of multiple teams and also overloaded the colleague with multiple other responsibilities.

Inspite of the preferences and the logic hijacks, who is best suited to be scrum master? There are some specifics like the ones mentioned below which is normally seen.
1.    Skills required for scrum master has no mandatory connection with what the technical proficiency of person but certain skills are good to have for some teams. Foe g. if a product development team has a team of developers using some proprietary technology and the deadlines are very close by, a rampup time in technology will be additional risk. So in such cases, it preferable that scrum master has a bit of background on the technology. However, its not required to be proficient in the technology.
2.    Scrum team is cross functional team and the scrum master should be comfortable to handle concerns / issues of all team members and should be able to comfortably drive the individual streams.
3.    Non dominant attitude : I am often insistent that scrum master is a slave leader. So, any misunderstanding / passion towards leadership is a risk. Its often desired that project management experience is there but should in principle be able to adher to the principle of scrum.
4.    Passion for lean and scrum and its various practices.
5.    Should be able to improvise and sustain the value coming out of system, and should be recognize, visualize and remove the waste.

However, to summarize, its really not required that only a PM can be scrummaster. Any one could be a scrum master.