ScrumMaster

Are you going to hire a Scrum Master? Stop! You might be making a big mistake. Considering your team’s old team leader or manager is probably not a good idea either. Let me explain why.

Special role of a Scrum Master

The role of a Scrum Master is far from typical Management role. Team itself should be self-organizing and does not need team leader, but Agile Scrum processes needs someone to make sure process is followed. So he/she is master of the Scrum process, not master of the team. He/she must do everything to ensure that team members can fully focus on their work, so even assistant would be better word to describe the role than manager. Leadership skills are also needed, but with the Servant Leadership style.

Here is a list of few of the values that are important. Scrum master must …

  • be part of the team, not above it.
  • be easy to speak with and trusted by other team members.
  • put the team success above own.
  • have courage to protect the team.
  • be assertive enough to Facilitate Scrum.
  • have enough technical skills to work in the team.

Yes, Scrum Master role is very challenging, but you can grow to that role if you understand the basics and have the right attitude. I consider that the most important thing for Scrum Master is to prioritize the team as the most important thing. Without the team nothing gets done and therefore it must be protected, helped and valued. But on the other hand, it does not work unless the team trusts and values their Scrum Master. That happens a lot of easier if the Scrum Master is truly part of the team and sitting in the same boat.

Old team leader as a Scrum Master

When a team starts to adopt Agile Methodologies, it is quite typical to assume that your old team leader is the best choice for Scrum Master. Team easily still considers their old team leader always as their manager, which easily makes him/her an outsider. Being part of the team is a mental state of the team, not Scrum Master’s opinion or official nomination.

If there’s friction or problems on the work, is team really going to trust their Scrum Master? If team fails, is Scrum Master going to take the blame or is it team’s failure? If Scrum Master is doing bad job, is it easy for team members to point that out? Those are very important questions to ask from yourself.

Technical Skills?

This is a bit controversial subject, but I think it is important for Scrum Master to be able to work in the team. I know that there are a lot of Agile Scrum experts who now disagree, but my experience is that Scrum Master role is not going to take 100% of the time. occasionally it takes 100%, but that is only when there are a lot of issues and when those are solved, it takes much less. I would say 50% is pretty good average for most of the time.

So what should Scrum Master to with all that free time? Just drink coffee or create fancy slide shows? In that case he/she will be quickly an outsider for the team. Maybe have multiple teams? Definitely not. Scrum Master must be part of the team, not run around between multiple teams. How about getting hands dirty and working with the team? Scrum Master don’t have to be the most technically talented person of the team, but good enough to help the team with some simple and lower priority tasks. That really integrates the team together and builds the trust.

Hiring a Scrum Master

If you hire Scrum Master from outside, how soon he/she will integrate to the team? How long does it take to build the trust and be part of the team? It might take less time for someone from the original team to learn and grow to be the Scrum Master. There might be someone in the team who would be great Scrum Master, but needs some coaching and courage to step up. In Finland it is rather typical that there are great talents, but they are too humble to step up. They might consider the role, if you ask in Private and tell that you see the needed potential.

If you really don’t have anyone in the team who could be the Scrum Master, I still think you should not hire Scrum Master. Rather hire a new team member with skills needed for the work … with Scrum Master experience. There’s a big difference!

Summary

Try to have Scrum master from the team. If that is not possible, hire a normal team member with solid Scrum Master experience. Using old team leader as Scrum Master might also be a bad call. The team must consider Scrum Master as “one of us” – someone who is truly part of the team, not outsider or someone above the team. Someone who really knows what their work is and maybe even help doing it.

Real Scrum Master is a trusted team member, not an undercover manager!

Saku
Founder, CEO and SW nerd of Eeku Oy. Yrittäjä, toimitusjohtaja ja koodinörtti @ Eeku Oy.

2 Comments

  1. Great article Saku,

    Couple of thoughts that came into mind:

    1) We should be slowly letting go of having ScrumMasters in the first place and replacing them with Agile Coaches, Scrum only takes us so far. Having said that, I think that hiring an outside coach for Agile Team(s) might prove beneficial, if one cannot already be found roaming free within the company (very unlikely since these guys tend to keep busy).

    2) What Agile Coaches hired from outside can bring to the table is: deep understanding of the principles, strong handle on the experience of actually implementing the principles and perhaps third a fresh perspective for the Team, and in some cases, even the organization.

    3) Depending, then, whether we’re more of a service organization or a product one, you might start thinking about close collaboration of your coaches so that they can learn and grow in a fruitful environment and supports this.

    4) If we’d require Agile Coaches to have any technical know-how whatsoever, in my opinion the best area of expertise for them would be DevOps. Having coaches or ScrumMasters say anything about technical details is in my opinion a mistake in many cases. Team should always have the shot-calling ability here. Like you said, they should be part of the Team, for sure.

    5) If for some weird reason a ScrumMaster or a Coach can handle more than one Team, he or she should first examine his or her own actions, is everything really taken into consideration here and then if the Team is simply perfectly independent or getting close, seek another project simultaneously. There’s always room for improvement.

    Just my two cents from the top of my head, regards,

    Tommi Joentakanen

    1. Thanks for commenting 🙂
      I agree with most of your thoughts, but I have a bit different opinion of the Agile coach and Scrum Master roles.

      I agree that hiring Agile Coach outside might be good idea. I still wouldn’t replace Scrum Masters with Agile Coaches, since I consider them totally different roles. I see Agile Coaches work more like this:
      – Coach all Scrum Masters and Product Owners, individually and together.
      – Discuss with management to make them understand Agile work – sometimes this is truly needed!
      – Roam around all Scrum teams to see how Scrum is being used and facilitated
      I totally agree that Agile Coach should have no technical responsibilities, but more like organization wide role covering multiple Scrum teams.

      I’ve seen that the best Scrum Masters are team members, who are just mentally suitable to SM role. Someone who is trusted by the team and who is brave enough to protect them. Good Agile Coach can help that “someone” to grow to that role. Of course Scrum Master is also partially coaching his/her own team, but especially when the team get’s used to Scrum, it takes only fraction of your time.

      My opinion: One Scrum Master per team and one Agile Coach for multiple teams. How many teams Coach can handle depends of their Agile background and knowledge.
      Of course there are many right ways of implementing Scrum and it always depends of the organization, work and people which way is the best.

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