Don’t Limit the Role of the Scrum Master


Don’t Limit the Role of the Scrum Master


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I’ve heard quite a few questions about the necessity and value of having a Scrum Master in an organization. Sometimes, the role of the Scrum Master is combined into the engineering manager role or any other technical role which would create a conflict of interest. These questions are born either from a poor knowledge of Scrum or a misunderstanding of the principles and values behind it.

However, there are some people who limit the role of the Scrum Master and follow exactly what is written in relevant literature. That’s another problem that affects the community of Scrum Masters in general: the Scrum Guide tells you what to do in overall terms, and it’s your responsibility as a Scrum Master to go beyond that and bring value to both the company and the team. There is never a one-size-fits-all recipe; every team and company has different missions, people, values and cultures.

In this post, I’m going to share some tips and practices to help other Scrum Masters excel in their role and add real value to their organization.

Challenge the Process

As an enthusiastic Scrum Master, challenge the process of the entire company and lead the organization to embrace the agile mindset, principles and values (such as commitment, focus, openness, respect and courage).

Push not only toward continuous improvement, but also toward continuous adaptation. The Scrum Master is accountable for adapting the process in respect of the business strategy and mission.

In certain occasions, perhaps for operations/infrastructure/maintenance teams when it makes sense and is appropriate, the Scrum Master can streamline the process and turn it into a Kanban method. The Scrum Master will benefit from other agile methods, tools and practices as well. Continuous learning is essential.

Coach the Engineering Practices

If you are a Scrum Master who has a good technical background in software engineering, or if you develop some code in your free time, try to foster and coach technical practices within the team, such as continuous integration, continuous delivery, pair programming, test-driven development (TDD), automated acceptance testing and refactoring.

For instance, continuous delivery is a very valuable practice that will allow the team to deliver features into production more often and get better feedback from the stakeholders. Your team code will obtain both quality and performance with the introduction of these engineering practices.

Communicate With Stakeholders

Be the conduit among business and technical stakeholders, make sure the communication is fluid and well understood and spread the knowledge of Scrum. Engaging the stakeholders and making sure they are all on the same page is important for the health of the product. Teach them how to maximize return on investment (ROI) and meet their objectives.

Peer With the Engineering Managers

Help the engineering managers with the team’s performance reviews as necessary.

Encourage them to empower the team and provide any type of support needed. The Scrum Master can also help to expedite the hiring process by finding candidates who would be a great fit for the team.

Educate new engineering managers, product owners and team members on-boarded in the company. Whenever a new person is hired, the team will need to be restructured again to be balanced and continue working efficiently. The Scrum Master is needed to provide training and coaching during that restructuring period.

Scale Scrum and Agile

Scale up large products into multiple agile teams, integrate the pieces all together and promote training to spread the knowledge of Scrum and agile. Help business people to understand the framework. Get them involved and obtain feedback frequently, listen closely and take immediate action. 

Create and foster communities of practice for product owners, Scrum Masters, engineering managers and development teams. Agile is all about collaborating with other teams and people, sharing good practices and learning lessons.

Learn new practices continuously and experiment with them with the teams. There is always a new technique to apply from the Scrum experts, so don’t hesitate to be curious. 

Promote hackathons and dojos to drive innovation and excellence. Both the company and the teams will gain significant benefits from hackathons. People will have an open time to expose their ideas, and the company will have the opportunity to hear those ideas and possibly implement them.

On the other hand, a dojo is a powerful technique to improve your skills, grow up and be more efficient. For example, you can facilitate a coding dojo for new hires and bring experienced software engineers to hook up with them. The newbies will get to see how coding is done in the company while simultaneously bonding with senior-level engineers. It also enables the transfer of knowledge.    

Nurture Scrum structures with high-level managers and executives. Show the benefits of Scrum to them and speak up. Don’t be intimidated by them; if you are seriously passionate about Scrum, you can influence and lead the entire organization to the next level.

Work Closely With Product Owners

While helping the product owner to enhance the product backlog, why not contribute to the backlog and innovate with some new insights and ideas? A great Scrum Master takes an opportunity to understand the business context and drive every decision based on it. Each team and each product require different strategies and, again, no one recipe is a good fit for every team.

Moreover, a great Scrum Master focuses on improving the agile approach the product owner is taking, thereby providing templates and tools for the product roadmap, business-driven development (BDD), Business Model Canvas and mockups/drawings.

Streamline the Scrum Ceremonies

Improve the way retrospectives are held depending on the situation and phase of the product/project. There are several different types of retrospectives that can be conducted to extract the right pain points and identify action items to be tackled.

Call each ceremony a “conversation,” since development teams typically prefer conversations rather than meetings. Remove waste in each conversation and invite people with an effective purpose and clear agenda. If possible, take the team to demonstrate the user stories as soon as they are done by the team. Coordinate with the product owner on what is proposed to be brought during the sprint planning and do your best to make it efficient. 

Assist the Development Team

To remove waste, bureaucracy and unnecessary work assigned to the team, take ownership. In some cases, they need someone to take accountability of the change management control due to compliance regulations or something similar. I once faced a situation in which a company needed to create some documents and present the changes planned to be released into production. It was not rocket science, but it took time and focus from the team.

Run team-building exercises to connect with each other in a positive atmosphere, cultivate happiness across the team members, celebrate each milestone reached and resolve conflicts in a collaborative way.

Collaborate With Other Areas and Departments

There are some companies that have a PMO (project management office), and the Scrum Master can help turn it into an Agile PMO with KPIs and metrics that make sense in terms of deliverables.

Moreover, the Scrum Master can conduct process improvements on the business side and influence them to implement Scrum as well. Scrum is not only for software; it can also be applied in marketing, finance, accounting, HR and many other places. Spread it across the organization.

Conclusion

We used to limit the Scrum Master role according to the parameters provided by literature. However, this is not enough: the world is evolving and demands flexible frameworks adapted to the circumstances of the company and the market in general. One particular method might fit very well with one team, but may not work for another team, it really depends on several factors, such as product, people, technology, company and market. The basis is taught, then from there, you will adapt, experiment, learn and evolve. 

From the topics depicted above, there is a common sense that the Scrum Master role is a long-term assignment and will never end. The success of the Scrum Master relates to the value that it brings to the organization as a whole, as well as the level of happiness the team is experiencing: they are learning, delivering, feeling safe and awesome, working at a sustainable pace and not disturbing their personal lives. Even the best high-performance team can benefit from the Scrum Master role.

After reading all these tips, do you still feel that the role of Scrum Master can be replaced or discontinued? Do you believe that the success of a Scrum Master occurs when the team doesn't need him/her anymore? There are tons of different ideas to be accomplished by a Scrum Master. This post listed only a few, and I guarantee that the work will never be done. As always, be passionate about serving others and delivering value.

If you have any doubts, questions or contributions related to the role of the Scrum Master, feel free to let me know in the comments section below.



 

Paulo Rebelo helps companies to improve using agile and lean principles and methods like Scrum, XP and Kanban. He currently works at Blackhawk Network in the U.S.

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