Join Doug Rose for an in-depth discussion in this video Staying agile with the "scrum master", part of Agile at Work: Building Your Agile Team.
- Few roles are as misunderstood as the agile ScrumMaster. Many organizations look to them as their senior managers responsible to the agile team. They see them as a throat to choke if things go wrong with the project. An agile team is self-organized, so thinking of the ScrumMaster as a manager removes the shared responsibility from the team. It's important to remember that the role is responsible for managing the agile framework and not the team. They administer the project, create reports, eliminate obstacles, and remove distractions.
But names matter. And any role with "master" in the title is almost certain to inherit some management responsibility. That means that ScrumMasters are often placed in an awkward position of trying to reduce their own scope of authority. A good ScrumMaster stands behind the team and not in front of them. They have to stay in the background to ensure the team is self-organizing. I once worked for a project where the senior managers simply changed their title to ScrumMasters when they started agile. They assumed that anything with "Master" in the title would be appropriate for a senior manager.
These managers continued as they had their entire career. They drove the project, communicated with stakeholders, and ran the meetings. These overzealous ScrumMasters ended up slowing the agile transformation and confusing the team. To succeed, the ScrumMasters had to unlearn the skills they spent their career developing. Instead of driving the team, they learned to coach the team. Instead of running the meetings, they started to facilitate the meetings. They started to spend less time talking and more time listening.
It was a culture shock at first, but after a few months, most of the ex-managers decided that this was what they always wanted. They could encourage the team without taking responsibility for their work. The ScrumMaster will facilitate most of agile's meetings. It's important to understand the difference between "facilitate" and "manage." If a ScrumMaster starts by asking everyone for status updates, then they're managing and not facilitating the meeting. That's why it's often best for them to sit off to the side in meetings.
They shouldn't communicate management authority. If the team tries to change the agenda of a meeting, then it's the ScrumMaster's responsibility to bring the activity back on track. Again, they're responsible for making sure the activity follows the agile framework. They're not responsible for the team's productivity. The role will also create charts showing features completed in a two-week sprint, or a chart to show whether the estimates were accurate. The reports are not about shame and blame. A ScrumMaster would never put up a chart that says "Team Member of the Month." It's not about the process.
That would be about congratulating individual team members, and it's outside the ScrumMaster's role. Finally, a ScrumMaster should act as the project's obstacle remover. If a team member highlights an obstacle, then the ScrumMaster takes responsibility for that obstacle. This could mean ensuring that the computers arrive on time, or having an awkward conversation with a team member talking too loud on the phone. They will remove barriers that keep the team from reaching peak productivity. This may include finding the team a better workspace, or making sure that the customer's sitting with the team.
It may also include mundane tasks, such as making sure the team has pizza for the pizza party. The ScrumMaster is the team's "servant leader." It's someone who has authority by being knowledgeable. They need to be very knowledgeable of agile and get their authority by showing the team how to correctly follow the framework. There are also several soft skills they should pick up. An obstacle might not just be stale coffee or bad office space. It can also be hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Someone on the team might feel slighted by less experienced team members.
The ScrumMaster needs to be emotionally intelligent about these issues and suggest a resolution.
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- Starting agile in your organization
- Defining team roles and responsibilities
- Letting the team self-organize
- Training the team
- Thinking and delivering like an agile team
- Avoiding pitfalls