STARS and Scrum

This article about STARS and Scrum was published in on August 03, 2012.

Teams and team work

Team work is one of the foundations of Scrum.

Scrum includes a number of principles and practices that promote working as a team, including team autonomy, self-organization, no explicit manager role, and everyone being called team members (i.e., no role segregation). In Scrum Master training, the value of teamwork is often emphasized using exercises that promote these principles and practices. Indeed, the Agile Manifesto for software development promotes this in the statement "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools."

In my experience with Scrum teams, the theme of individuals and interactions, and by extension teamwork, often arises in retrospectives because not all Scrum team members are naturally team oriented — some are very strong individualists.

A little history

Over twenty-five years ago, there was a start-up company in Adelaide, Australia, made up of 16 Swedes and one Australian (me). The company, called CelsiusTech at that time, became highly successful in its industry segment, and we created a special company culture that focused on excellence. See the Symphonic collaboration page for more. As the company grew into hundreds of employees, we wanted to make newcomers aware that they, as individuals, were important to achieving customer and product quality excellence goals. Instead of discussing enterprise culture and ISO quality systems to new employees (this tends to cause engineers' eyes to glaze over and other people to run away), we devised a way to introduce them to how they, individually and in teams, could achieve our desired outcomes. This became the genesis of STARS.

STARS and Scrum

Both STARS and Scrum value individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Both STARS and Scrum have principles and practices that promote teamwork.
  • Both STARS and Scrum promote choice by team members through autonomy and self-organization.
  • Both STARS and Scrum have improvement built into the method.
  • Both STARS and Scrum embrace modern management principles (STARS also embraces postmodern management principles).

How can STARS help Scrum teams?

The STARS methodology is based on the People-Process-Product model, which highlights the importance of people and their interactions with process and product.

For example, it is people who define, commit to, and implement processes, and it is people who educate others about a process to be implemented. This not only occurs in training but also when coaching, mentoring, or interacting in daily stand-ups with other team members. It is people who develop products (not processes) and use other products (e.g., software tools) to help them develop more products. And some products can automate a process, such as a configuration management tool.

In STARS, we make this interaction explicit so people can decide, for example, if something should be people-based (say, daily stand-ups), product-based (build integration), or based on a mix of people and process (sprint planning and estimating poker). But STARS goes way beyond the People-Process-Product model.


In STARS there are eight themes. I focus on two of them here, but I want to emphasize that there is no order of importance, even though there is a natural entry point to STARS.

The first STARS theme is the Personal theme. This is the natural entry theme, because in my experience everyone naturally thinks from his or her own perspective first. Expressed another way, this is: "What's in it for me? How does this affect me?" and "What do I have to do to make this happen?"  The STARS Personal theme comprises five stages:

  1. Set goals
  2. Think
  3. Act
  4. Review
  5. Supply improvements

No matter what a person does or wants to achieve, the first four stages are needed to achieve anything. The Think stage is the most important, differentiating humans from other species, because it is our ability to think that helps us solve problems that no animal species can even imagine. In STARS there are 12 thinking modes, ranging from reactive thinking to reflective thinking, from imagination thinking to judgmental thinking. These are part of the drive that motivates people, supported by a knowledge life cycle showing how we acquire and use our knowledge.

In STARS, the Supply improvements (or, simply, Improve) stage makes sure that individuals don't just accept the first result but actually aim to achieve a better result. Welcoming change is therefore built in. In fact, in the STARS method, there is an explicit layer of choice. Individuals and teams can make a choice about how to set goals, think, act, review, and improve.

If Scrum team members learn to use the personal theme and its practices, they will become better team members and be more productive as a result of review and improvement, just as intended in Scrum with the sprint review and retrospective.

Expanding the applicability of STARS to Scrum, the STARS Team theme comprises five stages:

  1. Synergy
  2. Teamwork
  3. Authority
  4. Responsibility and commitment
  5. Support

In STARS, a team is not just a group of people working together. So a project team (as an often used term) is not necessarily a team! A real team, one that achieves hyperproductivity, in Scrum terms, achieves a high level of synergy — in other words, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Teamwork needs what I call vitamin C or the 4Cs for teams: how team members communicate, cooperate, collaborate, and create consensus to achieve superior outcomes.

In the STARS team theme, we look at how to help team members achieve higher levels of synergy. STARS includes a number of techniques to create and enhance synergy and teamwork. It also takes the same perspective as Scrum around allocating authority and autonomy to a team, and it also emphasizes that team members must self-organize and commit to the commensurate level of responsibility. In addition, it describes how leadership works in teams, and how the surrounding enterprise needs to supply support to the team, as well as how the team supports others.

STARS also goes on to look at the wider organizational context in which teams operate within the STARS cultural theme. The themes have multiple interactions with each other and also complement each other in a variety of ways.

The way to apply STARS is to look at what you want to achieve, select a theme — or a stage from a theme, or several stages from various themes — look at the suggestions, and choose the best ones to apply. In this way the team can create an upward spiral toward excellence.

STARS provides a superior approach to improvement and excellence over existing one-dimensional models such as PDCA (plan-do-check-act) or even Lean Six Sigma, because it centers on people, intelligent choice, and motivation. Because it recognizes the value of teams and enhances teamwork, it's a great match for teams embracing Scrum.


Want more? Look at STARS and Complexity science.