Have a new Team? Establish Your Working Agreement

Establishing Boundaries via Distributed Control

A solid working agreement between the Scrum Master and the team is the foundation for all improvements. Accountability, courtesy or law-and-order are not the key reasons. Boundaries simply make everyone feel comfortable. Comfort comes from familiarity. Familiarity comes either consciously or sub-consciously by knowing where you stand. The interesting thing about boundaries on an Agile team, is that those boundaries come from those who observe them. It’s called “Distributed Control”. (For more information on this subject, read “Managing for Happiness” by Jurgen Appelo.)

Use fist of five voting!

Fist of five voting gets the job done quickly!

My Default List

I usually run through this list, using the “Fist of Five” voting method. (Each team member raises their hand. One finger – strong opposition. Five fingers – strong acceptance.) Establish this agreement during your first team meeting. If you wait, you’ll probably never get to it. Working without boundaries will be very frustrating for everyone.

For Every Team

  • Meeting Rules (apply to all team meetings)
    • No cell phones.
    • No computers.
    • No work.
    • No side conversations.
  • Time for the Daily Scrum. (Make a recommendation and work from there.)
  • Initial length of the sprint.
    • Keep in mind a less experienced team and product owner, may need more time than an experienced Agile team.
    • I find three weeks is a good start. Then work toward the standard two weeks as their confidence grows.
  • Schedule (day) for the Sprint…
  • Definition of Ready
    • More than one person on the team understands the business need.
    • More than one person can give a high-level explanation of the solution.
    • Confirmation by the team, the solution can be completed within the Sprint.
  • Definition of Done
    • Solution satisfies the business need.
    • Solution satisfies the outline given for the technical solution.
    • Product Owner and business accept the solution.
  • The entire team is responsible to deliver on time. (Swarming may be necessary.)

If Not Already Established by the Organization

  • Decide on estimation method.
    • Time estimation.
    • Comparison estimation. (If yes – decide on values to be used, such as story points, dog breeds, etc.)
  • If comparison estimation is decided, explain the guidelines for Planning Poker (White Band Delphi technique).


Working agreements have not always been easy to establish, as odd as that may sound. How well this works, depends on maturity. If the team is completely new to Agile and/or completely new to each other, you may need to do some on the spot training. If you find a short explanation does not work, complete the list indicated above and note the items the team did not understand. Use that list for a separate meeting where you’ll give the team a basic understanding of what the item in question is and why it is important.

About Larry

Passionate, experienced Agilest with a love for Scrum and Kanban. Huge fan of Lean, Theory of Constraints and of course the Toyota Production System. Avid learner. Deeply influenced by the works of Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber, Eliyahu Goldratt, Jeff Patton and countless others. Active in both the PMI and Agile communities in Southern California.
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