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The ScrumMaster's Courage to Be Weird

A difficult but necessary task to protect the team

19 November 2014

Often, we need one person to be "weird" to protect the team. I believe it's the duty of the ScrumMaster to be weird in order to save the team from distractions and to educate everybody on various aspects of the system. I would like to discuss a few of these "weird" but important tasks that a ScrumMaster should perform.

Task 1: Protect the team from tasks assigned by managers

Such assignments arise continually, and as a ScrumMaster, it is necessary to avoid them by talking personally to the manager assigning the tasks. When you tell him or her, "You cannot assign tasks to your reportees anymore," that manager will think that you have gone nuts -- you are weird. How a ScrumMaster handles this situation leads to our next task.

Task 2: Manage the managers

Before you talk to managers, it is important to understand their sentiments too. Going to a manager and saying, "Do not assign tasks anymore" (which they would have been doing for years ) is similar to telling an engineer, "Do not code anymore" -- you'd be lucky if the engineer didn't slap you right there. Rather, if you tell the engineer, "Hey, you know what, don't code in Java anymore, but you can code in Python," this would be a little better, even though the engineer might still feel a bit uncomfortable.

Similarly, request of the manager not to assign tasks (definitely weird behavior in the eyes of many) -- but also take the responsibility of getting your team to the next level, of growing the team in terms of numbers and revenue. Also, explain to them about the importance of the manager in your organization, even if that's not a traditional Scrum role. This makes managers feel safe and respected and gives your team better understanding.

Task 3: Educate people about the responsibility of their roles, one on one

Even though all of your people, holding their various roles, have gone through training, there are many situations in which people do not behave as expected according to their role. In these cases, it is the responsibility of the ScrumMaster to talk to them personally. While this is not exactly weird behavior, it could be done more commonly than it is.

Give the example of their specific behavior and explain, "This behavior is expected, and I understand it is difficult, but I am just pointing it out to make you understand. Don't take me wrong." One on one is best; if you try to correct someone on the spot, in front of others, they might not agree externally even if, internally, they feel you are right.

Task 4: Educate people about the importance of time

If any meeting overshoots its timebox, one has to stand up and request that it end. And that is the responsibility of the ScrumMaster. Sometimes the meeting might be hosted by your VP, but still you need to act "weird." In the process, you will educate everyone about the importance of time. This requires a lot of courage.

Task 5: Escalate obstacles/impediments right to the VP

If any pressing obstacles/impediments are not getting resolved for whatever reason, a ScrumMaster should escalate this to the VP. This will make the managers around you think that you are weird. This also requires a lot of courage to do.

On a closing note

Here is the message I would like to give all fellow ScrumMasters:

It is difficult to be weird, BUT It is necessary.

It requires a lot of courage to be weird, BUT the sense that "I am weird for the sake of my team" will give you a lot of courage.

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.

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Robert Day, CSM, 11/26/2014 7:11:27 AM
The medieval Russian Tsars had someone in their court called the 'yurodivny', or 'useful fool'. This person, usually seen by everyone at first sight as a jester, was actually able because of his lowly position to say the things that were obvious but that no-one else felt able - or safe enough - to say.

It was always a precarious position, but woe betide the Tsar who ignored their yurodivny.

In the same way, a Scrum Master may be saying things in the organisation that people will not want to hear. It is therefore necessary, when an organisation adopts Scrum, to set out in advance to a range of managers at different levels that there will be times when the Scrum Master will not necessarily be a respecter of persons and their presumed status, and signing up for Scrum means that those people who may have been used to thinking of themselves as Very Important will have to put up with not being the centre of attention and waited on hand and foot every time they demand it.

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