The Scrum methodology of agile software development marks a dramatic departure from waterfall management. In fact, Scrum and other agile processes were inspired by its shortcomings. The Scrum methodology emphasizes communication and collaboration, functioning software, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities — all attributes that suffer in the rigidly ordered waterfall paradigm.
One of the biggest reasons the Scrum framework works so well is through the role of the ScrumMaster, an individual whose time is dedicated to ensuring a team’s ability to deliver on its sprint promises remains unobstructed. The ScrumMaster achieves this in a number of ways, such as by reminding the team to adhere to the Scrum process and keeping the Product Owner informed about how development is going. But, above all, the ScrumMaster is charged with removing impediments that prevent a team from completing the work it has negotiated for a given sprint. This can literally be anything from replacing a broken PC to mediating a disagreement between two developers. If it’s keeping the team from moving forward, it’s the ScrumMaster’s job to eliminate the impediment.
But what about situations when the ScrumMaster is the impediment? As Vikas Hazrati of InfoQ observes, it’s a scenario faced by many Scrum and agile teams, especially offshore installations where cultural hierarchy and traditional communication strategies complicate the process even further. But, as many CSTs have countered, when the ScrumMaster is creating an additional impediment for the team, there’s likely a greater degree of dysfunction lurking elsewhere that is manifesting itself in the ScrumMaster role. Usually, it means that traditional, command-and-control management techniques are still dominating the organization, even if the outward effort is to become more agile or abide by the rules of Scrum. For instance, if the ScrumMaster is committing to work on behalf of the team, acting as a proxy for the Product Owner, or actively managing the team (instead of respecting the ScrumMaster role’s lack of authority), Scrum’s distribution of authority and responsibilities are being broken. And when that happens, Scrum’s potential to deliver value is undermined, as well.
Do you encounter ScrumMasters at your organization who seem to do the opposite of what their role demands? If so, what are the reasons you suspect these ScrumMasters are failing to remove impediments, etc.? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
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