Doug Rose explains why the scrum master plays a vital role in LeSS.
- The product owner isn't the only one who has been up sized to fit the Less framework. The scrum masters also picked up a bunch of new enterprise-level responsibilities. In regular scrum, the scrum master is both a coach and an administrator. One of the founders of the scrum alliance describes them as both a bulldozer and a shield. They protect the team from being overwhelmed and then push through organizational obstacles. If you're printing out the material from the Less website, then you might want to look at the PDF of scrum master focus over time.
In Less, the scrum masters dial up and down these two sides of their role. At the beginning, they start out as a coach. They train the team on how to use Scrum. Then as time goes by, they start to take on more of an administrative role. When the teams are just starting out, the scrum master will work closely with the product owner in the team. Then as time goes by, they think more about the organization's challenges. They take a systems level view and start to look for overall inefficiencies.
They also chime in about how to improve development practices. This might sound simple but in reality, it's a very difficult role to play. For one, you have two different sets of abilities coming from the same person. This one person has to manage the team while at the same time encouraging them to self-manage. They also have to train the product owner and then later figure out how to improve the overall organization. It assumes that a good scrum master can pivot and seamlessly take on these new areas of responsibility.
In some respects, Less assumes that scrum masters are a bit like computers. You can just erase their memory and reprogram them on the fly. They don't address the reality that someone who is great at managing might not be the best coach for self-management. A scrum master who knows a lot about training might not be the same person who chimes in about organizational inefficiencies. I once worked for an organization that faced this challenge. They struggled to find scrum masters that fit with their Less teams.
In most organizations, their scrum masters are very good at one or the other. It's very difficult to find a person who is good at both. It's a bit like finding a lifelong vegetarian who could also cook barbecue ribs. If the scrum master was previously a manager, they might be great at managing the team, but then struggled later on when it was time for the team to self-manage. They often struggle because they didn't have much experience in training or development practices. It's because of these challenges that Less creators warn against moving other people into this role.
Yet even if you have someone who has only been a scrum master, you're still asking them to have a very broad skillset. A coach who is also a developer, a manager who is also an administrator. That's why when you're looking for someone for this role, you shouldn't really think of them as one person. Instead, try to create a community of scrum masters with different skills. Later on, you'll see how to do this with large scale scrums communities of practice. Be sure to fill your community with scrum masters from different backgrounds.
You'll need scrum masters from a training or coaching background to help balance out those who may have been managers. You also want some expertise in systems thinking and development practices. That will help each scrum master re-train themselves as the role changes. If you don't expect too much from any one scrum master, then you'll probably get more value from the combined experience of your scrum master community.
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- Descaling enterprise agile
- Defining Larman's Laws and LeSS principles
- LeSS product owner and scrum master
- Growing Scrum
- Defining "done"
- Organizing a sprint review
- Organizing an overall retrospective
- Approaching key challenges