The Scrum approach to agile software development marks a dramatic departure from waterfall management. Scrum and other agile methods were inspired by its shortcomings. Scrum emphasizes collaboration, functioning software, team self management, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities.
Scrum has only three roles: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Team. The Scrum Master serves as a facilitator for both the Product Owner and the team. The Scrum Master has no authority within the team (thus couldn’t also be the Product Owner!) and may never commit to work on behalf of the team. Likewise, the Scrum Master also is not a co-ordinator, because (by definition) self-organizing teams should co-ordinate directly with other teams, departments, and other external entities.
The best Scrum Masters are the types of people who feel as much satisfaction from facilitating others’ success as their own. They must also be comfortable surrendering control to the Product Owner and team. Traditional project managers don’t always make great Scrum Masters, especially if they’ve previously managed the same team members. One problem I hear about from recovering project managers is that the teams still look to them for direct instructions rather than stepping up to team self organization. “Self organize, dammit!” But there are exceptions; some amazing Scrum Masters were once project managers. Perhaps it’s best to let the team and Product Owner decide who should be their Scrum Master.
What does a Scrum Master do? The Scrum Master removes any impediments that obstruct a team’s pursuit of its sprint goals. If developers don’t have a good sense of what each other are doing, the Scrum Master sets up a physical taskboard and shows the team how to use it. If developers aren’t colocated, the Scrum Master ensures that they have team room. If outsiders interrupt the team, the Scrum Master must redirect them to the Product Owner. If the team has not learned how to develop a potentially shippable product increment every Sprint, the Scrum Master teaches them Test Driven Development (TDD), or finds people who can teach them. If the existing code is so bad that it slows down new development, the Scrum Master helps the team learn how to pay off technical debt incrementally.
As the team grows into a self-managing entity, the Scrum Master’s role shifts toward the organizational impediments, issues caused by the outer organization. If the company still has a “business side” and an “IT side”, the Scrum Master works to make each team cross-functional. If the team depends on outsiders, the Scrum Master must help transform the organization to use cross-component feature teams. If “Human Resources” policies (e.g. performance appraisals and job titles) interfere with intrinsic motivation and teamwork, the Scrum Master must educate the business about the harm caused by those policies (incidentally, agile advocates don’t refer to humans as “resources”).
Scrum Masters are full-time transformation agents, but they do not push for change. What do people do when you push them? They push back. Instead, effective Scrum Masters promote transformation through illumination and invitation. Conversations with executives don’t work without a background of relatedness. In established organizations, improvements come in fits and starts. Sometimes it seems like nothing is changing, then the organization has a breakthrough right when we were about to give up. This can be emotionally taxing, so I advise Scrum Masters to connect with a community of Agilists. Product development is mostly about knowledge creation and collaboration, but most large organizations would require fundamental changes before they could be called learning organizations. Skilled Scrum Masters read books about facilitation, persuasion, mindfulness, and what Marshall Rosenberg called “Nonviolent Communication.”
To understand the full scope of the Scrum Master role, see the Scrum Master checklist, which is referenced by several bestselling Agile books. The Scrum Master Checklist examines four questions effective Scrum Masters consider each day: How is my Team doing? How is my Product Owner doing? How are our technical practices? How is the larger organization doing?
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Scrum Training Series
- Scrum based funding model – 20 percent May 9, 2013
- The Next Big Idea March 5, 2013
- On Being Available February 17, 2013
- Should Scrum Always Require the Product Owner to Attend the Sprint Retrospective Meeting? February 5, 2013
- Happiness Metrics January 23, 2013