THE SCRUM MASTER - THE MIRACLE CURE FOR YOUR AGILE? YES! BUT... (PART1)
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
"The Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. They do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory and practice, both within the Scrum Team and the organization.
The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team's effectiveness. They do this by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework."
This is how the Scrum guides define the mission of the Scrum Master.
So the Scrum Master is accountable for the team's effectiveness in creating a valuable, useful Increment every Sprint.
Isn't that a heavy burden and huge responsibility?
Why is it then, that I see this role so often being neglected and undervalued?
Sometimes staffed with people not even having a formal education for this role not to mention significant experience in it.
Could it be due to the fact that Scrum Masters are not producing any direct output themselves? Developers produce lines of code, the product owner creates and prioritizes product backlog items. Okay, Scrum Masters might remove impediments. But that is indirect contribution again as it helps others create something and maybe this could equally be done by someone else. The product owner's line manager for example.
If we look a bit closer, though, at the role and the responsibilities of Scrum Master we see that he has tons of them (responsibilities) which require, to be met appropriately, a comprehensive knowledge, lots of soft skills and an attitude that the Scrum Guide describes as that of a servant leader.
A valuable Scrum Master acts as
teacher, teaching Scrum and related well-proven practices
coach & mentor, supporting the team in specific situations of the working process
facilitator, helping the team by providing structures and moderation, e.g. in meetings
mediator, solving conflicts in a respectful way
problem solver, removing impediments,
And his impact on the work of the Scrum Team can be tremendous.
To prove this, let's have a look at his work from two angles that probably resonate with most of those caring for productiveness and numbers, effectiveness and efficiency.
How can the Scrum Masters increase effectiveness of the Scrum Team?
The short and generic answer is, by facilitating the practice of Scrum as intended by the Scrum guide. Scrum is about effectiveness. It targets at reducing wasted efforts by reducing systematically risk of uncertainty, thus focusing on proven value drivers rather than going all in on unvalidated assumptions.
To make this more tangible, let's look at some examples of what the Scrum Masters can do to increase effectiveness of the team:
Ensure time-boxing: This may sound too simple and not sophisticated enough to some out there but the power of it is so invaluably huge that I want to start out with this. By enforcing time-boxing, be it with the sprint itself or with the events during the sprint, the Scrum masters effectively empower the Scrum value of focus. And focus on what you want to achieve is the natural enemy of any waste. Time boxing forces you to achieve a result within a certain time frame and stops the perfectionists among us from endlessly polishing the shoes before stepping out into the rain. I am speaking from real life experience when I say that in most cases the results achieved in the time-boxed events will already be good enough to serve the initial purpose.
Facilitate transpareny: One pillar of Scrum. It's a precondition to make Scrum work as intended. It builds a shared understanding in tangible terms of where we are as a team, what we want to achieve and what we are doing in order to meet these goals. It includes being specific enough about the things we want to achieve so that the team can actually sense the meaning. It equally includes making this actually available to the whole team and the stakeholders so that expectations are set correctly and expensive going back and forth can be avoided. Within the specific team set up and context, the Scrum Master can help the team find the right balance between up-front specificity and room for creativity left to the team.
Enforce consistant inspection & adaptation: The two other pillars of Scrum and at the heart of the agile principle. Still they are neglected too often from my experience. Everything the Scrum team creates, let's call this an output, should be based on the hypothesis that it helps achieve an objective or outcome. Not rarely, though, I observe in my practice that such a value hypothesis is neither created in a transparent way nor are they consistently validated by inspecting the actual outcomes and comparing them to those expected which is the prerequisite for effective adaptation towards ultimate goal achievement. Inspecting & adapting is crucially important if you want your product, be it an internal process or an end-customer facing deliverable, to sustain and not trash all the efforts you have made to get it this far just because you just did not listen to the feedback your customers have actually been giving you all along the way. By insisting on inspection & adaption in every sprint the Scrum Master can help the product owner and the whole team focus on the right, i.e. most valuable things to do next. The option to inspection & adaptation was well phrased by Dr. W Edwards Deming, famous for the PDCA-Cycle. He said "Survival is optional. No one has to change". Thanks to John Bowie, for bringing this quote to my attention.
These examples were supposed to illustrate the significant impact that a good Scrum Master can have on the overall team's effectiveness as determined by the overall and sustainable product success.
And there is even more a good Scrum Master can do to pay off his daily rates.
To be continued....