Agile Advice: Extending Your Sphere of Influence

Are your sprint retrospectives getting stale? Do the same issues get discussed week after week without any progress being made?

As a Scrum Master in this situation, a useful model to consider is that of your Sphere Of Influence. You have three levels of influence:

1. The sphere within your control. 
2. The sphere outside your immediate control, but which you can influence. 
3. Everything else, which is outside of your influence.

Problems which continue to reoccur in retrospectives are likely to be because they are outside your team’s sphere of control or influence. In those cases, you need to get creative and extend your sphere of influence to make the improvements you want.

Example: Usability Testing Funding

Imagine your team wants to do more usability testing with your customers, but senior management do not see the benefit and will not fund it.

First, consider what’s within your control. Rather than paying an agency, you can just go to your nearest coffee shop and do some guerrilla usability testing yourself. It may not be as good as the funded testing, but it is better than nothing. So just do it!

Second, consider how you can extend your influence to get the funding you need. If the purse holders don’t see the benefits of the testing, consider including their managers in the discussions (but be tactful!). You can also include other stakeholders who are positive to your cause — use your network to extend your influence.

Finally, consider other sources of funding. Are there other areas of the business, where you have more influence or control, that have budgets you can tap into? Buy them cake!

Your aim is to move the issues down through the spheres until you can influence or control them.

Key Takeaways

  1. If there’s anything within your control which will yield even a small improvement: just do it!
  2. Do everything you can to bring the resolution of an issue within your influence and control: network, escalate to managers, buy cakes!
  3. If an item is genuinely outside of your influence and you’ve exhausted all options for trying to solve it, then archive it. Bin it! You have a finite amount of energy. There are only so many hours in a day. Don’t clog up your retrospectives complaining about issues you will never be able to fix and instead focus your time and energy on the problems you can solve.