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Real ScrumMasters

What to expect in today's team realities

4 August 2017

Prabhneet Suri
Whitelotus Consultants Pvt. Ltd.


As Agile coaches, we often must handle the responsibility of interviewing candidates for a ScrumMaster role. That has been an interesting task for me: focusing on many CVs with the role description of ScrumMaster, as well as on our own expectations of a ScrumMaster.

I think that somewhere along the way, as organizations, we become confused about the skill set we’re looking for in a ScrumMaster. Should he or she be a technical expert, a quality expert, or a management expert? Of course, we can’t forget about a business SME either. So we end up mixing in too many skills when writing the requirements for our ScrumMaster.

Some of the interesting roles that I see ScrumMasters end up performing are assigning tasks to the team, understanding the client’s user stories, finalizing sprint dates, and so on. But wait, aren’t these the collective responsibility of the Scrum Team? Or are we saying that we are ScrumMasters–cum project leads–cum project managers? This makes me think about how difficult it must be for ScrumMasters to act in their role, facing unrealistic expectations from all the stakeholders.

Some of the challenges these actual ScrumMasters face, especially if they are in a still-to-be-matured Agile organization, are mainly due to the stakeholders’ lack of knowledge about Scrum roles, or a mental block regarding accepting the Agile Manifesto as it is, rather than trying to make everything adjust to their existing sequential management style.

To deal with such situations, one can go back to the core responsibilities of the ScrumMaster as mentioned by Kenneth Rubin, CST®, in his book Essential Scrum: coach, servant leader, process authority, interference shield, impediment remover, and change agent. One can be sincere in undertaking all these responsibilities as best as possible; as an outcome, one must be to be able show enough business value to all stakeholders. Only then can one justify the role of true ScrumMaster. Here I can think of the analogy of filmmaking: We as ScrumMasters need to move from the role of superhero to creating superheroes in our respective projects. (I can more easily relate the role to the film director rather than to the hero.)

Coming back to where I began, if I have need to help find a ScrumMaster for a team, I look for skills like these (again, these are partly taken from Essential Scrum):
  • Knowledgeable — but not a Know-It-All
  • Questioning — someone who can ask valuable questions while keeping in mind that the purpose is to derive the solution
  • Patient — since patience is the key to many solutions
  • A good facilitator — which will quickly show itself through the quality of the ceremonies conducted
  • Transparent — someone who does not believe in keeping things to himself or herself but who empowers team to make decisions
  • A behind-the-scenes worker — a person who believes in providing value over being in the limelight, with a natural instinct to protect the team and not participate in blame-games
  • A people-person — someone who takes everyone along toward the achievement of the sprint goal; such people are able to become change agents
But above any of the technical or social skills, I would look at a candidate’s love for Agile. I personally believe that the first step toward creating a self-motivating and high-performing team is to have a ScrumMaster who has a passion for Agile and completely believes that this is the way forward. Only such self-motivated individuals can create a motivating environment, especially for development teams working in difficult timeboxes.

Let this kind of ScrumMaster be the most important new asset to the development team.
 

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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Comments

Abhinav Mathur, CSM, 8/4/2017 10:07:44 AM
Good Compact representation of the dilemma facing the SCRUM master recruitment and ongoing role definition.
Couple of observations from my experience
1.) The role of SCRUM master is a purist role (no delivery) where he/she is a facilitator, process guru and most importantly servant leader. But the organisations claim to follow Agile have started to hire SCRUM master who have delivery responsibility with command and control model of management, this goes completely against the fundamental vales of Agile.
2.) On other spectrum as more and more organisations move to scaling of Agile where multiple SCRUM teams are working closely to deliver business value. In this case SCRUM masters need to learn to be highly collaborative across the teams to realise value delivery across multiple teams.

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