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Is Your ScrumMaster a Watchman or a Gatekeeper?

Who am I? Naan yaaru?

31 July 2015

RajaGopal Kesiraju
Altisource Business Sloutions Pvt Ltd

We often hear different statements from management: that the ScrumMaster is the watchman for the team, or he is the gatekeeper for the product quality. He is the only noncorrupt police officer in the society of Agile teams. I started wondering how a ScrumMaster can play so many roles: watchman for the Agile team, gatekeeper for quality, noncorrupt policeman, preacher, motivator, evangelist, cross-trainer, cookbook writer, project coordinator, consultant, master in art of living. . . .

Out of all of these descriptors, naan yaaru? Who am I? With a single CSM® certification in hand, must I play all of these many different roles?

A traditional Watchman is the person who keeps 24/7 guard over a building or an asset to protect it from fire, vandals, or thieves. He is the person who guards and patrols the streets to fulfill his job, day in and day out.

A ScrumMaster, along similar lines, protects his team from all external distractions 24/7. Having said that, his primary task is to motivate the team to work on their commitments and make sure that neither other people nor work nor incidents distract them. There are several different kinds of ScrumMasters that we might run across.
  1. A dependent ScrumMaster is one who looks for approval and permission. He can't make any decision fully on his own. He is scared to bring innovation or new thought processes to the team.
  2. A playbook ScrumMaster is one who scored the highest marks. The entire playbook is at his fingertips, and he will do anything and everything as defined within the playbook; he never allows others to promote innovation.
  3. A yes-boss ScrumMaster salutes everyone. While preparing for CSM certification, he read somewhere that ScrumMasters are servant leaders and, truly inspired, he fully practices that. Anything to everything is acceptable to him.
  4. Demotivated ScrumMasters can't change themselves with respect to the surrounding ecosystem. They start crabbing about the PPT (people, process, and technology).
  5. A self-empowered ScrumMaster has a gun with no bullets in it. Nobody cares about a ScrumMaster who has no power.
On the other hand, Gatekeepers are those in charge of passage through a gate. They are the ones who monitor or oversee the actions of others. They control access to something, such as information or services.
  1. Fully empowered ScrumMasters take control of the team. They define what to do and when to do it. It's like military rule.
  2. Formula one and rule book ScrumMasters basically work only on the working agreements. Everything will be defined prior in the working agreements and they strictly adhere to those, with no scope to inspect, adapt, and change.
  3. Art of living ScrumMasters are experienced servant leaders. However, they aren't experienced in process and technology.

From the days of myth, we have had Watchmen. They follow defined guidelines and track processes. In Hindu mythology they were called dwarapalakas, and they safeguarded the temple doors and gave warning when people crossing the threshold had evil minds, desires, or impure personalities. They had no power to take action or define any new process; they simply coach the devout entering the temple, saying, "Enter with a pure mind and surrender yourself to the Almighty." Nothing else.

They were knowledgeable situational handlers and had a defined process, but they lacked self-empowerment.

Like the dwarapalakas, there are many ScrumMasters who have plenty of knowledge but can't handle difficult situations, because they don’t believe in their own self-empowerment.

What does a Gatekeeper do?

Let’s look at another Hindu mythological story, that of the birth of Lord Ganesha.

Once upon a time, there was a fight between gods and demons. After defeating the demons, all the gods and demigods were on their way home. Parvathi, wife of Lord Siva, heard that Siva was on his way back to Mount Kailash, and she was very happy and decided to give a warm welcome to him.

She created a small toy resembling a young boy and gave life to it. She gave all the powers that she had to this boy and made him the most powerful child on earth. She asked him to be the gatekeeper until she came back. Ganesha took the command from his mother and, with all the powers he received from her, he started safeguarding the Kailash.

After many years, Lord Siva came back to Mount Kailash and was surprised to see a young boy with weapons, who told him to stop entering. He warned the boy, saying he was the King of Kailash, but the boy, lacking knowledge of the true situation, didn't pay attention to Siva. Siva got angry and finally punished the boy with his weapon in order to enter his home.

Like Ganesha, there are many ScrumMasters who misuse their power and control due to lack of knowledge about situational handling.

Are you kidding? I'm not any of the above, I'm a CSM.

If you are neither a Watchman nor a Gatekeeper for your team, then who are you?

Who am I? Naan yaaru?

I'm a Gatchaman! (Gatekeeper + Watchman)

So! What can a Gatchaman do? A Gatchamancan do both the jobs of a Watchman and a Gatekeeper, without overlapping in to each other role effectively.

In an Agile context she or he:
  • Takes the role of Watchman to protect the team from external disturbances.
  • Takes the role of Gatekeeper to guard product quality and on-time delivery.
What else does an Agile Gatchaman do?