When I get to stage to talk about anything related to Scrum, you can expect me to do a few things. Sometimes I prove that most Agile companies are actually working waterfall style. In other cases, I ridicule the concept of becoming proficient at anything during a two-day course. And quite often, I prey upon Scrum Masters, in the most annoying way possible. All it takes is a simple question, flavored with a touch of surprise.
I ask them what they do.
And as I do that for a few years now, I’m still waiting for any single soul to provide me with some reasonable question. So far, it didn’t happen, which is odd. I mean, the Holy Book of Scrum has a whole section dedicated to the role. How hard can it be to remember any of that?
It might’ve been easier if any of Scrum Masters did what’s stated in The Book.
Let’s see what’s in there.
The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.
The simplicity of this description is truly misleading. Unless you’re familiar with the Guide to the letter, you’ll have no idea what it means. As top brass in companies cannot be bothered with such minute details, Scrum Masters create what they understand as more clear descriptions.
Which makes all the executives to wonder why their well-oiled machineries would need anyone to remove impediments. The practice of propagating these alternative role descriptions is quite harmful. Nobody in the organization will be compelled to find out what Scrum really is. But, back to the Guide.
The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.
Servant leadership is one of the most ridiculously absurd concept I know. I mean, do you know any other approach that is known for decades, helps companies achieve great success, and is so counter-intuitive that almost nobody really attempts to do it?
Simply put, despite all the benefits, servant leadership strains managerial egos beyond what they teach you at business school.
Guarding interactions, on the other hand, is the most notorious thing that Scrum Masters claim to do. That’s something. But here’s where the Guide gets more specific.
The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:
- Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
- Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
- Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
- Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
- Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
- Understanding and practicing agility; and,
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.
This is where the fun begins. The last point on the list is the most visible to external stakeholders. All the meetings, silly retrospective games, millions of post-its to recycle. Product planning can also score high on visibility scale, though only in organizations that are a bit more aware of what they do. It’s no wonder that this is what most trainers, coaches, and participants focus exclusively on these two.
The rest is to be honed on the battlefield, even though our Scrum Master is now professionally certified. In two days.
The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:
- Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
- Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
- Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
- Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.
This part is clearly visible to the team, which has interesting consequences. With good intentions on all sides, Scrum Master is likely to drift towards the third and the fourth way. Often, they simply lack understanding and experience in leadership, coaching, and business to do anything more.
If they stray into this territory too far, they might pass the tipping point – which pushes them into abyss called Scrum Team Secretary. All in plain sight of their teams, which may – and ultimately will – question the point of the role. Scarily enough, if things get to this point – they will be right.
The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:
- Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
- Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
- Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
- Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
- Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.
Now, this is the sad part. Unless we’re speaking of a very small organization, nobody will want that to happen. It’sa little surprise, to be honest. Would you like someone who has just finished two-day course to plan Scrum implementation in your company? Maybe, you would like them to lead and coach the organization during the adoption?
Some Scrum Masters catch that quickly. Many never do, believing – in good intentions! – that what they learned during these two days is enough. And not every trainer corrects that mistake.
After all, why would they rock their own boat?
How to become a good Scrum Master? It’s obvious, easy to figure out, difficult to actually do. It just takes years of humility, experiments, and hard grind. Regardless of certificate.
(And while we’re at it – do get to know the Agile Manifesto in the process. I know dozens of Scrum Masters who hardly ever heard of it. Now, that’s failure of training at its finest.)