Scrum Master and Scoutmaster: Similar Servant Leadership Roles

1 May 2011

Alston Hodge
Farm Credit Mid-America

 When my son joined Troop 19 in Normal, Illinois, I also joined as an Assistant Scoutmaster.  The Scoutmaster, Fred, has over 40 years of teaching and coaching Boy Scouts - - and mentoring new assistant scoutmasters like me.


When the scouts first asked me what I do for a living, I had to stop and think about how to describe my job. Of course, I got strange looks at first when I mentioned that I was a “Scrum Master”. One boy asked, “Is that like being a Scoutmaster?”  It was then that I realized that, indeed, being a Scrum Master and Assistant Scoutmaster are quite similar roles. In fact, the Scrum framework and Boy Scout Patrol Method are quite similar in intent and structure.


I truly love serving as an Assistant Scoutmaster and as a Scrum Master. Both are servant leadership positions where I can teach and mentor others. Helping teams, whether they are scout patrols or Scrum teams, to recognize and maximize their potential is so rewarding for me. 


It's interesting that many of the techniques and methods I learned in Scouting have been helpful to me as a Scrum Master as well. Consider the following comparison. The primary job of the Scoutmaster and his assistants is to help boys understand and follow the Boy Scout “Patrol Method”; that is, small teams or patrols of boys being led by the boys themselves (and not by the adults).


Now, remember that Scrum promotes team concepts such as:

  1. Self-directed teams

  2. Small teams of 5-10 people

  3. Each release and sprint completed by a team has a goal or theme

  4. Cross-functional teams whose members share responsibilities and teach each other skills to succeed

Well, the Boy Scouts Patrol Method promotes similar team concepts:

  1. Self-directed patrols

  2. Small patrols of no more than 12 scouts

  3. Each campout has a goal or theme

  4. Cross-functional patrols whose members share responsibilities and teach each other skills to succeed

So let’s look at the each of these team concepts a little deeper, and see how they compare between a Scrum Team and a Boy Scout Patrol. 

 

     1. Self-Directed Teams 

For new Scrum teams, the idea of being “self-directed” can be scary.  When you’re accustomed to the typical Waterfall approaches with well-defined project development methods that basically tell you everything you need to do, why would you want to give up that security and take on the risks of making mistakes as a self-directed team? Why, because of the adventure and excitement of being your own boss.

 

Once most people try Scrum, they love it, and won’t go back to the prescriptive ways of Waterfall. Now how many teenage boys do you know that wouldn’t want to be self-directed?  That’s a major appeal of Boy Scouts, having that feeling of being in charge of your own destiny.  

As Scoutmasters and assistant Scoutmasters, we serve in a coaching and advisory manner. The founder of the Boy Scout movement, Lord Baden Powell, was quoted as saying that the role of the Scoutmaster is to "train them, trust them, and let them lead." I would argue that this approach works great for Scrum Masters as well.  To be an effective Scrum Master to a team, we should teach them the foundations and demonstrate techniques of Scrum, trust the Scrum team to apply the techniques and skills, and let them lead themselves. 


Of course, within a Boy Scout troop being "boy-led" doesn't mean "adult-abandoned". Boys simply don't have the same experiences and lessons learned that we adults can bring to Scouting, and may not be aware of some of the pitfalls to watch for when leading others. The same is true for Scrum teams - - they will need the occasional course re-direction and encouragement from a Scrum Master or Coach. But discovering the power of being a self-directed team is very rewarding for Scrum Team members and Boy Scouts. 

 

     2. Small Teams

Scrum Teams generally function best as small units of 5-10 members.  Smaller teams mean: there are fewer communication paths to manage, skill learning is faster, and collaboration is more effective. Scrum team members often become very close and form long term friendships.

Boy Scout patrols are small as well (no more than 12) and realize the same benefits. In addition, boys develop closer friendships and are more likely to stay in Scouts, if they are within small patrols. As with a Scrum Master and the Scrum Team, the Scoutmaster monitors the patrol’s health and helps them to identify impediments to their success as a patrol.

  

     3. Goals and Themes

Within Scrum, each sprint or release has a theme or goal to help keep the Scrum Team focused.  The same is true for Boy Scout outings.  The Boy Scouts of America has a monthly theme (such as backpacking, fire-building, or orienteering) and each patrol is challenged to have an outing based on that month’s theme. So if Orienteering is the theme for the month, each Boy Scout patrol would conduct map and compass exercises to demonstrate their skills. Those who have mastered the skill teach others. Which leads us to the next similarity between Scout patrols and Scrum teams. 

 

     4.Cross-Functional Teams

The ideal Scrum Team has members who collectively have all the skills necessary to complete a project, and the same is true for a Boy Scout patrol.  The “project” for a Boy Scout patrol is a campout, where to be successful, the patrol needs to have members with critical scouting skills, such as setting up a campsite, cooking, and fire-building.  In each patrol there is usually one scout who excels at setting up campsites, another who prefers to cook, and another who is the resident pyromaniac.  Part of the Boy Scout Method includes boys teaching each other the critical Scout skills to be successful on a Scout outing.


Are there other elements of Boy Scouts that could be used in Scrum?

Given these similarities between Scouting and Scrum, could there be more? The Boy Scouts of America have been around for 100 years, and Scrum methods have been around for only 30+ years, so perhaps there is something we can learn from Scouts that could be applied to Scrum.

The Scouts are well known for the Scout Oath and Scout Law.  The Project Management Institute has an Oath for certified professionals. Should there be a Scrum Master Oath and Law?  Hmmm, maybe something like:

The Scrum Oath:

On my honor I will do my best,

To do my duty to my scrum team and product owner.

To help Scrum Team members at all times and to obey the Scrum Law.

To keep my Scrum Team physically fit, mentally awake and Agile.


The Scrum Law;

A Scrum member is:

  1. Trustworthy - always tell the truth

  2. Loyal - to the team and Product Owner

  3. Helpful - to anyone interested in Scrum

  4. Friendly - to create a positive work environment

  5. Courteous – offers assistance to fellow team members who need help

OK, so you get the idea.


Serving as an assistant Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout Patrol is just one example of servant leadership that is similar to being a Scrum Master.  Consider the small group leader concept used in many churches today - - would we see similar traits and practices? Probably.  I may be wrong, but I would bet that if you are successful in one servant leadership role, you’re likely to be successful in another.


So I challenge you to think about the successful Scrum Masters you have worked with in the past.  Were they servant leaders in their private lives as well? Personally, I found that many of my colleagues in the Scrum community are also servant leaders in their churches, schools and community service organizations.  


Maybe the next time you’re looking for a good Scrum Master, look at candidates from the perspective of how they serve outside of work.

Something to think about.

 

 


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



Article Rating

Current rating: 4 (1 ratings)

Comments

Edward Neubecker, CSM, 5/11/2011 9:43:22 PM
Great analogy. As a fellow scout master I couldn't agree more.
Charles Johnstone, CSM,CSPO, 5/25/2011 9:54:10 AM
Excellent article. I am the Scoutmaster for my Troop in Winchester, VA and see these two roles as being very similar.

Thank you for the comparison and for the article.
James Coplien, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 8/9/2011 11:37:14 AM
Alston, great article. You really make me want to get back into Scouting.
Randall Schmidt, CSP,CSM, 10/5/2011 12:01:39 PM
Thank you for your time on this effort, what a great job of putting things into perspective. Service above Self is what it takes to be successful in both Life and work. Thanks Again!
David Wylie, CSM, 7/16/2012 12:49:08 PM
As a former Scoutmaster, I love the parallels. In fact I am going to send this to both our council and National BSA to include some Scrum training with our leaders and scouts. Thanks for your service!
Suma Kumar, CSM, 9/4/2013 4:42:40 AM
Great article. And made me think on a different line while looking for a Scrum Master.

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