In my experience as a Scrum Master in different organisations and through different community platforms, I could observe many misconceptions in the Scrum Master role.
Let’s move away from the discussion around the difference between the Scrum Master and Coach. From my point of view, there aren’t any differences. But the industry has made it like Scrum Masters are the ones who deal with teams, and Coaches are the ones who deal with leaders in the organisation.
Let us be with the industry, as the famous proverb goes — When you are in Rome, Be a Roman. So let’s confine ourselves in this article to Scrum Masters serving the Development team.
Does the Scrum Masters in the industry understand the true sense of the role?
Do they do justice in serving the Development teams?
Let’s categorise the areas that a scrum master focuses on…
- Processes & Tools
I have placed them in the order of popularity (or visibility) in the industry. Let’s now connect this to the implementation of Scrum in the industry.
Processes & Tools
Most of the Scrum Masters thrive in this area. They bring their expertise here,
Asking the team to add all impediments in the tool (even if it is within the team) and actively solving every impediment for the team through constant follow-ups to help individuals save time in solving their own impediments
Helping the development team to create delivery plans within the sprint to see if there are any slips in delivery timelines (E.g. Delivery to QA etc.) within the sprint
Introducing all the gates or checklists possible at the user story level in the tool and make individuals in the development team acknowledge completion at every stage. This is to ensure teams are following all the processes in place. E.g. Developer acknowledging a checklist that (s)he has completed Coding, unit testing, peer review, Check-in, Build success, etc., before handing it off to QA. QA to pick up only after all the checklists are verified. Similar checklists for QA before that handover for deployment to the next environment.
Actively participating in Daily Scrum, collecting status, marking attendance and sending statuses to the management.
Actively participating in Sprint Planning to ensure all the team members are picking enough stories for the sprint for their capacity, asking them to break down the stories into tasks, with tasks no more than 4 hours to ensure that a given task gets complete half a day.
Actively participating in Sprint Review and obtaining the confirmation for every story that all the acceptance criteria are met.
Actively participating in Sprint Retrospective and making sure everyone’s voices are heard by picking everyone’s name in order. Then actively taking notes to add them to wiki pages.
On top of it, bring in Plugins and, at times, use BI tools to integrate with Agile management tools to take reports. Thus helping the management to get real-time data on the teams such as Individual persons’ capacity allocation, the number of story points delivered per individual, number of defects leaked by individuals, etc.
Scrum Masters identify all best practices possible to help the teams deal with the complex nature associated with the work.
Bring practices such as finalising the design before bringing it into the development so that there won’t be any change once the work is picked up for development.
Bring in levels of refinement gates in the order as BA Refinement Product owner; BA refinement with Architects. Then BA, Architect refinement with the team. Followed by refinement reviews to make sure the requirements are ready to be picked up in the sprint. Having a tracking mechanism to see, if any stories miss the order or even move back to identify the quality of refinement in every stage and help the team get a finalised requirement before picked up for development
Then bringing in best practices such as multiple exploratory testing, regression testing at fixed intervals within sprints to address the quality of delivery within a sprint rather complicating with practices such as TDD, BDD etc.
Continuous performance baseline testing in QA environment to compare the performance of the pages after every build rather than doing a performance measure in a production replica like environment
Scum Masters help the team to be in line with the principles of their own.
Ensuring the team’s highest priority is sticking to the committed plan
Not to allow a change in the plan so that the committed items are delivered without any hassles
Ensuring stabilisation of the development happens at fixed cadence to minimise the time lost in frequent integration
Making sure that the team collaborates with the Product owner in Sprint Review on the work done by the team. Then Product owner collaborating separately with stakeholders to ensure there are minimal distractions to the team
The key point is, motivating the people to do on-time delivery
Ensuring the team communicates the information in a written format to have evidence in case of any failures to refer back
Focusing on the team’s predictable velocity to improve the productivity of the team
Ensuring architects are involved early to finalise the design before the start of development so that there won’t be any surprises in the middle of development
At regular intervals, the team reflect on themselves to improve on the best practices
Providing attention to technical excellence by allotting specific cadence so that the code quality is maintained
The above Principles, Processes, Practices and Tools are more visible, and Scrum Masters can focus and bring in improvements at an effective pace to make the team ‘Do Agile’.
The emphasis is ‘Do Agile’ first. To Be Agile, one need to Do Agile is the logic Scrum Masters apply.
Scrum Masters struggle in the next areas as they are less visible and have challenges incorporating them.
The above-mentioned Principles, Practices and Processes & tools around it picture the values of the Scrum Masters. Scrum Masters in the industry,
Focus on the delivery plan. Any deviation should be escalated immediately or addressed through quick fixes for the team to meet its timeline.
Openness in the Processes and tools
Courage in making the team thrive in a competitive environment
Commitment to delivering all the items irrespective of the value it adds to the end-users
Making the team respect the contracts among team members
The least order of all in the industry is Mindset. Most scrum masters ignore the Mindset part. A mental model is that people are paid for their job, and they need to have the mindset to work for the organisation inherently. But Forbes refers to the Gallup survey taken in the US that 66% of the people in organisations are dis-engaged. Within that, 13% are“actively disengaged” (people with miserable work experiences), and 53% are“not engaged.” These workers don’t feel connected emotionally to the organisation and will be out the door at the first job opportunity or an even marginally better opportunity.
From my perspective, the one with leadership stakes closer to the teams is Scrum Masters. Scrum Masters reflecting most of the points I have mentioned in all the four areas above need to be at the least aware of
What it takes to do Value-based delivery
How to Become a Servant Leader and embody the Scrum and Agile values and make the team embody it
How to make the team Self-organised and align to Agile Principles
Agile practices that resonate with the values and principles to help teams move towards Agility
People are driven without proper guidance towards the role, so they do what they think is right. They go on to justify, ‘I don’t believe in any of the frameworks, but i believe in what is working for me’. The hard truth in the industry is that most people are forced into the role of scrum master without proper role identification and damage the team culture, which spoils the entire organisation.