The goal of a Scrum Master is NOT to make herself unneeded

Posted on fredag, juni 27th, 2014 by

 

Supporter being disappointed at bad Scrum Master coaching

Next week it is time for FIFA World Cup finals! With that, it is probably also time for a number of less successful football coaches to start looking for new jobs…

But as the disappointed countries ditch their old coaches, they will most probably hire a new one right away.

It seems that for elite teams and world class athletes, working with a coach is the default choice. In the software development business this is somewhat different.

Current misunderstandings

I keep hearing things like ”The goal of a Scrum Master/coach is to make herself unneeded”  or ”For a mature team, we can do with a part time Scrum Master/coach”. None of these make any sense to me.

I can understand where it is coming from though. I think it is since we have little historical experience in our business working with team- and organizational coaches.

People, including most newly assigned Scrum Masters, do not know what to expect from such a role. What value does it add?

Commonly this also leads to the Scrum Master role being implemented as some sort of mix between a meeting booking secretary and a command and control rule enforcer.

But that is completely not the point of having such person assisting a team and an organization!

The actual idea with Scrum Masters

What a Scrum Master/coach brings is another focus and another perspective. For example, it is very hard to be focusing on the details and on the big picture at the same time.

That is why pair programming gurus recommend that the ”driver” focuses on the details and the ”co-pilot” focuses on the big picture.

And it is the reason why the Scrum framework has different roles. To give each person fewer things to primarily focus on.

For example, deep in the code, you will also probably not be thinking about how to effectively reworking the organizational structures that are impeding innovation and thus slowly killing your organization.

That is one of the reasons that we have Scrum Master. They facilitate change and improvement. They do this since it is their primary focus.

Mature teams

But how about mature teams? For sure they could work well together without a Scrum Master?

Well, I have never seen anybody, regardless of skill level, successfully facilitating a meeting where they also tried to participate. With that approach, less great decisions will be made and team health will suffer in the long run.

And for the problem solving part? For a mature agile team the low hanging fruits have already been picked. The remaining issues are probably deep entrenched in individual habits and organizational culture. Big problems require even more time and focus. But when progress are being made, payback can be equally large!

And if you think that things are working fine in your team, remember: This does not mean that you have no problems, it just means that you are clueless…

What to do?

Should all organizations invest in a 100% Scrum Master for each team then? Or is it a 75% job, or a 50% job? Well that depends doesn’t it? It depends on how much value the Scrum master adds to the team and to the organization!

If the organization is able to produce significantly more value with some person being a full time Scrum Master for one team compared to with the same person splitting his time between two teams, then keeping that person focused on one team seems like a good idea, doesn’t it?

You will just have to evaluate this. Just as with all changes in the complex species that are our organizations, there are no one-size-fits-all recipes you can follow.

What organizations need to learn is not how to follow some ”agile recipe”. Organizations need to learn how to learn. That is, how to come up with experiments and how to evaluate if those experiments improved things or not.

And if you happen to be a Scrum Master, to make this happen is your job! And it is a pretty challenging one. I’ve been at it for a while and it seems I’m nowhere near being fully trained for the job anytime soon…

If you are like me, and want to pick up the speed of your learning journey, there are lots of things you could do. Like reading some more books. Get yourself a coach. Attend some trainings. Visit a local user group. Do some more experiments at work. Learn in any way you like…and make sure that your role is a value adding position!

How would you do that?

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Image: (c) 2014, A C Moraes, Creative Commons 2.0

 

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6 Responses to “The goal of a Scrum Master is NOT to make herself unneeded”

My VP of Development contends that Scrum Masters should immediately step in and remove all impediments the minute a team identifies them. My training and understanding of the Scrum is that team members should remediate their impediments and use the Scrum Master in the event they are unable to resolve/need assistance. Can you confirm/clarify?

Svara

Hi Char,

One of the goals of a Scrum Master is assisting the team so that they can get more and more capable over time. So, when taking action as a Scrum Master I would consider that aspect of it. I.e. will my actions make the team be more capable over time or might it even make them more passive and in need of outside assistance?

Sometimes coaching or mentoring the team so that they can fix their own problems is the best solution. One factor to consider is if the issue at hand is something that is part of the everyday work of the development team. If so, the long term goal for the Scrum Master should be to teach/coach/mentor the team to be able to handle it themselves. There are dozens of other factors to consider also, such as how your actions will affect team dynamics, how much more learning/change the team can take right now, stress level, urgency, …

Best
Henrik

Svara

I think it is great that you broached the subject on this…I hear this a lot and actually believe it a little myself. The problem is, when people hear this, they take it literally. I as a Scrum Master am suppose to teach the teams and coach them on the Scrum framework. Improving all the time is a full-time job and if I can teach the teams how to do this, they are less reliant on me to solve every single problem they have. Just like we teach the blurring of cross-functional lines, where is it that we can cross-functionalize the team on some components of the Scrum Master role (they are at risk of leaving the team as well, do we not have the team in a position to survive sufficiently until a new one is found / ramped up?).

So to me it is less about a ”Scrum Master” and more about a servant leader. At FedEx, your operational discipline had to be such that a leader / manager in the company was judged more on how the operation performed without them than with them. It means we have addressed most of our large problems, have contingencies in place to make sure decisions happen without a bottleneck, and that the team is bought into their success. Isn’t that the goal of a Scrum Master? To lead the team to a path of self-sufficiency regarding operational and engineering discipline? It is an asymptotic goal for sure, but it is a goal.

That of course doesn’t mean that the rest of the organization doesn’t need education and coaching how to interact with the Scrum Process and team. I actually find that a lot of time can be spent in that space to ensure the Scrum Team’s backlog is fed appropriately with the Product Owner and their duties for understanding the problems our teams are trying to solve for the customer. There is another level of discipline required in that space as well, so I find a Scrum Master really facilitating problem solving across the organization, ultimately serving as a coach on how the organization can ship software when they want to and maintain the level of doneness required to do so. That is a full-time job and requires some focus away from the team itself.

Svara

Hi Lance,

I’m all for working to make the team stronger and more competent in all areas, including problem solving and decision making! All in line with the idea of T-shaped people!

One of my points is that even on team level though I think that using the service of a Scrum Master/facilitator/team dynamics expert/change expert/process expert will keep being valuable over time, no matter how mature the team is.

One of the reasons for this is that nobody can be an expert on everyting. As well as being willing to broaden our skills, we need to focus. For example on the skill set of facilitating change or in assisting teams in making great decisions.

Another reason is that facilitation and coaching in everyday workshops/discussions cannot be done well by someone that is part of the discussion. When thinking about what you will contribute next to the discussion, you will not be able to at the same time focus on the big picture and guide the overall process. That would require huge multifocusing skills.

Also, it is confusing for others when someone participates both as a player and a facilitator at the same time, making it hard to do in practice. People will not know if you are expressing your views or trying to facilitate the discussion process.

Svara

Johan Andersson

Software development has longed suffered from less competent developers (and others) moving ‘upwards’ to become ‘post useful architects’ and ‘bloodstream of the frog designers’. I cannot help seeing a danger in a ‘full time scrum master role’, where proclaimed ‘expert coaches’ are thrown into mature teams without firm insight into how customer value is created.

I can hear all the ‘large organisation / deep hierarchy’ arguments all over again like ‘big picture’, ‘risk management’, ‘career path’ etc. What I fear is the ‘Peter principle’ with people reaching their incompetence level, starting to enforce change based on their hierarchical authority instead of their personal competence, to the detriment of team and customer value.

Svara

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