Becoming agile

Agile, through the storms

Scrum Master is Not Merely a Facilitator

For some reason, for many the essence of the Scrum Master role boils down to: “remove impediments for the team” or “is responsible for the Scrum process”.

Others declare that “the Scrum Master is a kind of a PMO”, or “a facilitator for the team”. Not that it is not part of the Scrum Master role – but it certainly is not the essence.

Furthermore, such statements are demeaning, in my view. Strong word, and yet, making statements such as the above, to me, indicates that the speaker may not yet understand what agility really means.

And please don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I think that facilitation is something to look down at. On the contrary – facilitators can save a conference from failing miserably. Similar arguments can be made on PMOs. These roles and professions are important and significant in their own right. But this is not the essence of the Scrum Master. Moreover, it takes courage to step out of these simplistic views of the Scrum Master, and delve into the complexity of becoming one. What follows is highlighting the other, more important, aspects of being a Scrum Master

Let’s begin with the plain definition. The Scrum Guide (pages 6-7) explains the role of the Scrum Master. Here’s the relevant text from the guide – I have highlighted few parts in bold-italics.

I am pointing these parts out to emphasize that Scrum Master is about leadership, understanding human interactions, and making interventions to promote a certain set of values and principles (referring to the Agile Manifesto).

<Extract from the Scrum Guide Begins>

The Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team.

The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

Scrum Master Service to the Product Owner

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Clearly communicating vision, goals, and Product Backlog items to the Development Team;
  • Teaching the Scrum Team to create clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • Understanding long-term product planning in an empirical environment;
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and,
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.

Scrum Master Service to the Development Team

The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Teaching and leading the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

Scrum Master Service to the Organization

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

<End of extract from the Scrum Guide>

This passage talks about teaching, coaching, understanding, servant-leadership, all in the context of profound knowledge in the domain of agility. In the terminology before Agile we would call this a domain-expert and an experience manager.

Well, what is the difference between the Scrum Master and a traditional team leader or development manager?

I am adding here two video clips that suggest what that difference is, as I see it. Both videos have nothing to do with software development. Neither do they directly relate to leadership.

The first video is David Foster Wallace’ commencement speech at Keyon University in 2005. It is a beautiful description of the attribution bias as it affects us in our daily life, and how our unconscious default settings get in our way of seeing other options of our reality.

The second video is Hedy Schleifer’s The Power of Connection talk in TEDx Tel Aviv, 2010. It is about space, bridge and encounter between people. It should be noted that Hedy Schleifer also has a training program for organizations.

The context of these videos is that if you wish to be coaching, teaching, leading and planning using empirical data, it is crucial to understand that what you see as truth may be just your default settings – and that you have a choice to see another’s truth; that by violating the truth of the other you are contaminating the space between you, making it impossible to have a dialog until that space is cleared; and that as a Scrum Master you should appreciate this space, to make a bridge in order to have an encounter with other members of the team and of the organization.

Not that facilitation is unimportant. Or that removing impediments is not something worthy investing time and effort in. Just that a Scrum Master is much, much more than that.

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