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What Else Does the ScrumMaster Do?

Bringing Agile outside the IT team

8 September 2017

As teams who are new to Scrum learn more about it and their knowledge within the framework grows, they often ask me, "What else does the ScrumMaster do?"

By way of answer, I try to help people understand that the ScrumMaster is not only a coach for the IT team but can also be a coach for the enterprise as a whole. In this article, I explore a few simple techniques the ScrumMaster can offer to management and business units within the organization, to initiate organizational change and transformation beyond the IT department.

Daily stand-ups, backlogs, and boards everywhere!

When teams realize the benefits and how they can be successful with Scrum, they want to "do" Agile. Don’t be surprised if you see people gathering spontaneously in the mornings, discussing Post-It notes on the wall.

This can extend to the larger organization. I have worked with business units and executive teams who are responsible for managing projects, products, or initiatives, using visual management techniques such as program backlogs and program boards. I also introduce them to the concept of daily stand-ups. During their stand-ups, the business unit or program members discuss:
  • The progress of each initiative
  • Any issues related to the initiative and how they may manage them
  • Working together to move the initiative forward
Notice that the vocabulary in those points differs from the traditional “three questions” that IT teams typically discuss during their stand-ups. The idea here is to acquaint non-Agile teams and leaders with Scrum principles and events to help pave the way for their eventual Agile transformation.

Initially, I work with these teams to create a program backlog of initiatives. I teach them backlog management techniques, estimating the value of the initiative and prioritizing items (the greater the value, the higher the priority). I help these teams establish backlog refinement sessions and approaches to refine new items to a point that they are ready for a team to work on.

Program boards can be as simple as categorizing them as "To Do," "Doing," and "Done," or a more detailed Kanban board with a Lean approach. Based on the needs of the organization, the whole value stream can be visualized on the board, highlighting where items are building up or becoming bottlenecks on their path to delivery. Boards are change agents, as they help teams understand where in the process items are being held up and they encourage teams to work together, remove inefficiencies, and improve the process to avoid similar bottlenecks from occurring in the future.

Developing an organizational plan

To gain a shared understanding of what an organization will deliver, I have implemented section or branch planning and review sessions. These sessions are an opportunity for all teams within a department or branch to gather and discuss the new initiatives and assess their outcomes together.

During the initial planning session, all teams attend and discuss the items in the program backlog while defining the criteria and the Definition of Done. The session also includes discussions about risks, issues, dependencies, and constraints associated with those items. Once there is a shared understanding, the work is allocated to individual team backlogs. Following the initial planning session, teams then break out into their own planning sessions to estimate size and complexity of the items, select the items they will work on during the next sprint duration, and together put forward a plan on how to deliver the items.

When the sprint duration ends, it is good practice to hold a joint program review session. This is an informal forum for all teams in the section or branch to attend and demonstrate what they have delivered during the sprint, discuss why any items were not delivered, and seek feedback and questions from attendees. As a result, the ScrumMaster has a greater understanding of what is being delivered as an organization and is able to manage issues or risks and validate assumptions early and often. This allows the organization to adapt before going too far down a path that may not provide value.

Be the Agile champion

Over time, the ScrumMaster role becomes an Agile champion for the organization. Be the leader who initiates change, help others assume the Agile mindset, and work with all types of people to transform the culture of the organization.

Keep looking for ways to improve, deliver, and work together!

Feel free to ask questions about anything covered in this article and provide comments or feedback based on your own experiences.

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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