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Sit Down and Learn from the Master: The ScrumMaster's Responsibility to Educate

22 April 2013

Brock Argue
Benevity, Inc.

When I took my first Certified ScrumMaster course, I was taught that one of the responsibilities of the ScrumMaster is to educate. The role of educator is an increasingly important one, as we see more and more organizations adopting Scrum at the enterprise level. However, the role is often neglected by ScrumMasters as they become busy supporting their teams' goals of delivering value to their businesses. Most Agile implementations are led by the IT organization and are then spread to other parts of the enterprise as those groups work with IT. This is not the best way to initiate an organization's transition to Scrum (a complete Agile transition should include changes to an organization's hiring practices, compensation systems, spending habits, facilities, working environment, team composition, etc.), but it is still the most common approach that I've seen. Teams need master educators who are able to teach other groups within the enterprise what the team is doing and why they are doing it — especially considering that most Agile implementations are not enterprise-wide to begin with. Without this education, a Scrum team will fail to achieve its goal of consistent value delivery to the business, because there will be a lack of support for the team from within the organization.

I was reminded of the need for ScrumMasters to be involved in education within an enterprise on my last trip to Disneyland. Being from Canada, I never miss out on an opportunity to hit the outlet malls when I visit the United States, and this trip was no different. While in a Nike Factory Outlet store, I heard my wife say, "Brock, you have got to buy this shirt!" When I turned around, I saw the words in big, bold, blue letters stating, "SIT DOWN AND LEARN FROM THE MASTER." How true this statement needs to be of ScrumMasters. We need to be process enforcers, impediment removers, team coachers, and release planners — absolutely! We also need to be enterprise educators.

Think about it this way: Does your product owner's boss understand what the team is doing in its meetings, and why? What about his boss? What about your finance or human resources groups? Again, it's important to include all of these groups as part of the Agile transformation, because the teams need their support. Most of an organization's Agile transformation will require changes to how these groups work. If you think a ScrumMaster doesn't need to be involved in education, then invite some of these groups (such as human resources and finance) to your team meetings and see what they think. Without educating stakeholders and departments outside of the team regarding such Scrum ceremonies as planning poker, the purpose of what the team is doing can easily be lost. For example, I have worked with teams in the past whose stakeholders believed that the teams were voting on which user stories they liked the best when playing planning poker. They missed the real purpose of the game: to size each user story relative to all other stories in the team's backlog. Not a big deal, you say? Think again. Those stakeholders may not be involved with the team directly, but they have a lot of influence at an enterprise or organizational level. You, as ScrumMaster, may need to solicit their help in resolving organizational impediments. If they know and understand what the team is doing and respect the value that is being delivered through that process, then you'll have a much easier time convincing them to help. After all, planning poker isn't a silly game team members play when they should be working; it's a valuable way to quickly derive sizing estimates for a project and gain team consensus and understanding about the deliverables for the project.

A ScrumMaster should be prepared to educate on any topic related to the team and what they are doing. This includes:

  • Process
    • Sprint planning meetings
    • Backlog grooming sessions
    • Sprint review meetings
    • Sprint demos
    • Retrospective meetings
    • Prioritization
  • Artifacts
    • Burn-down charts
    • Release plans
    • User stories
    • Backlogs
  • Metrics
    • Story points
    • Velocity
  • Tools
    • Backlog management
    • Estimation techniques
    • Progress dashboards
  • Team
    • Roles
    • Responsibilities
    • Goals
    • Accountability

    Additionally, ScrumMasters need to inspect and adapt in relation to education. This includes doing so at the individual level (i.e., be responsible for your own learning and teach your team members to do the same), team level, and organizational or enterprise level. ScrumMasters who take the time to do this will be able to develop teams that are more effective and that operate in an environment that supports what they're trying to accomplish as Agile practitioners: the consistent delivery of value. If it helps, order a t-shirt from Nike and wear it around the office. When someone asks you about it, have them sit down and "Learn from the (Scrum) Master."

    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: 5 (1 ratings)


    Srinath Ramakrishnan, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 4/22/2013 3:56:23 AM
    Nice article on the expanded role of a Scrum master
    Brock Argue, CEC,Educator,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 4/22/2013 8:43:45 AM
    Thanks Srinath! Glad you found this useful.
    Cherie Silas, CEC,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 6/9/2013 9:26:39 PM
    I totally agree! Great job .... I definitely want that t-shirt for all the scrum masters I coach!
    Tirumala Shashikiran, CSM, 6/22/2013 2:57:10 AM
    Nice article..

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