The Scrum Master is a servant leader. She does what’s needed to help the team achieve its goals by giving priority attention to the team’s needs. Often this comes in the form of helping to remove impediments. Perhaps the team needs access to a code repository to which it doesn’t have access, and is unaware whom to ask for access. The Scrum Master would go out into the organization and determine to whom the team should speak. Scrum Masters should be good at crossing organizational divides, discovering stakeholders that might not initially be apparent, and interacting with people ‘above their pay grade’. A good Scrum Master can negotiate all the twists and turns of an organization to expedite getting whatever it is the team needs so that it can do its work.
As a Scrum Master, I have no formal authority over the team. Having a power imbalance, in which I could somehow ‘force’ people on the team to do something I want them to, would hinder the self-organization I want to help cultivate with the team. So without authority or power, how can I help my team improve? Influence. I can influence my team by using the trust I’ve built with them, and my expertise in Scrum and facilitation. This influence, in the long run, can be far more helpful than the power an org chart might claim to give me. The only authority I have over the team is the authority the team grants to me through trust and influence.
Note: depending on how authority was brought up, you can roll “Scrum Referee” into this talk, or save it if you’d like it to surface naturally
The Scrum Master is responsible for making sure everyone understands the rules of Scrum. She helps educate the team, the product owner, and the organization at large, when needed. She uses her experience with Scrum to help ensure the team is set up for success. For example, when spinning up a new team, she may select the length of sprints she thinks would be most advantageous to that particular team.
Protects the Team
Who here is a developer? Raise your hand. Great. Keep your hands up. Now let’s try an experiment. Put your hand down if you’ve ever been committed to deliver work without being asked if that commitment was reasonable, or if you were pulled off something you were working on to work on an ‘emergency’ project.
Most, if not all, hands will now be down. Comment on this.
Scrum puts accountability and authority in the hands of the team so that the people who are doing the work — you guys who just had to put your hands down — are the ones responsible for making commitments, not your manager. However, the rest of the organization may not be familiar with Scrum, and a good Scrum Master will help protect the team by educating the organization about the importance of this difference.
The Scrum Master also helps protect the team from itself. Most of the teams I’ve worked with who’ve transitioned from traditional approaches to Scrum often worry that unless they’re working as hard as they possibly can before the end of a sprint, they’ll get in trouble. After all, we’re used to really busting our butts just prior to a release. But when we’re doing Scrum, that ‘release’ comes every two weeks, and it’s simply not sustainable to keep up a frantic pace. So, as a Scrum Master, it’s my responsibility to help protect the team from themselves by coaching them towards a sustainable pace and suggesting they don’t overcommit in sprint planning.
A good Scrum Master will help protect the team from both internal and external influences so that the team can focus on what’s really important: building working software
Coaching towards agile practices
Scrum is a fantastic framework. It’s lightweight by design, giving you the minimal amount of structure that will allow you to be successful. That said, most coaches agree that without good agile development practices like Test Driven Development, Continuous Integration, and the like, it’s very hard to develop software at a speed or quality we’d attribute to a highly performing team. As a Scrum Master, it’s your job to help introduce your team to these practices. If they’re not doing any of these things yet, it’ll be a long road, but you should get started as soon as they are willing. If you don’t have a background in development, I’d suggest reading up on Extreme Programming, since the engineering practices it requires work very well with Scrum. Then get an ally on the team to help socialize the practices.
Not a Project Manager
You may notice that none of the 3 roles we’re talking about are called ‘Project Manager’. In fact, this might be concerning to a few of you, especially if that’s your current title. Don’t worry… The responsibilities of a PM don’t go away, they just get reassigned and spread out across different roles. If you’re currently a PM, there’s still a place for you in Scrum, your job is just going to look different.
In scrum, we don’t have a Project Manager.
We have a Product Owner who has the responsibility of defining WHAT is to be built, the job of prioritizing the Product Backlog by Business Value so the most valuable things are built first, the responsibility of collecting input from all stake holders, and the task of forecasting releases based on historical data.
We have a Scrum Master who’s responsible for managing the process of Scrum, protecting the team, and helping remove impediments.
Then we have the team. They are the ones responsible for coming up with HOW they plan to do something the POs asked them to do. They’re also the ONLY ones who can come up with estimates as to how long work will take.
So we’ve taken all the important things a PM does, and made sure there are people accountable for those things. We don’t do away with Project Management, we just distribute it across the roles.”
A huge part of being a Scrum Master is facilitation. As a Scrum Master, you’ll act as a mirror for the team, providing them with observations that they may choose to use to improve their work. You’ll be responsible for providing the right structure and process to help the team make high quality decisions. For example, you may introduce the team to a specific retrospective activity you believe would be most useful for them at a given point. As a facilitator, you should remain neutral so that the team is free to make the decisions that is right for it. When facilitating it’s helpful, though sometimes difficult, to remain ‘Unattached to specific outcomes’.