Part 0: When and Why to fire a Scrum Master?

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Scrum Master

“Scrum Master” is a critical role for companies working according to Scrum framework and team success depends a lot on this person. Though a lot of people argue how this role should be implemented and if necessary at all. I think it’s a full-time role. I want to offer an analogy with football manager and show you why Scrum Master’s role is critical and when you should consider firing him.

It seems main reason this role is questioned because there are not so many good Scrum Masters, who really do their work and help team achieve great results. What kind of Scrum Master are you?

Next post on this topic: Part 1: When and Why to Fire a Scrum Master?

Protection can lead your team to a comfort zone

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Protection can lead your team to a comfort zone instead of desired process improvement. Who is better to get your team out from comfort zone? Market or ScrumMaster?

What is “Comfort Zone”? Wikipedia says:

The comfort zone is a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk

So, you definitely don’t want your team to be in that condition.

ScrumMaster

This person is often considered a coach for the team. And the goal is to make sure that team does the best work they possibly can. To do that there are tons of tools that can be grouped like this (at least from my point of view, suggestions for more tools are welcome :)):

  • Gamification: e.g. playing scrum with lego
  • Power questions during retrospectives
  • Visualization techniques + 1000 sticky notes and colourful pens

comfort zone

As you might understand all this requires a lot of determination and patience at least from Scrum Master. You often get natural resistance when you want to introduce something new or challenge a status quo. This process is not necessarily effective because it depends on a lot of factors and mostly on experience of a Scrum Master. And for “experienced” teams it’s very easy to stay in comfort zone and defend their beliefs.

Market

It’s much easier here! Either you satisfy your customer and provide value for him or not. You know what will happen If you stay in comfort zone:

  • they will laugh at you, if you are lucky
  • client will not get back to you, if you are not lucky and they have this possibility

You might still need to educate your client to work according your process: participate in planning and reviews, give feedback.

Recommendation?

Don’t protect your team from end-users/market, and enjoy watching how your team achieves hyper performance!

Why do we need a Scrum Master?

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If you search Google you will easily find a description of the role and most probably you perfectly know it.

But why there is still an open discussion takes place. Should a Scrum Master be the only role? Can a Developer (QA, whatever…) perfectly perform this role? Here is normal team:

Scrum Master

Team’s output – perfect product; Scrum Master’s output – highly performing team

As it can be seen role of a Scrum Master is critical for the team. Scrum Master is the person who challenges the team and focus on improvements. Key aspects that allow to achieve that:

  • Observation

Scrum Master

Only person who is not committed to a sprint can focus on observing team’s work, fostering difficult discussions and thinking about long term improvements. From my experience it’s much more difficult to do that being a developer acting as a Scrum Master.

It’s written in a lot of books – to improve the system you must be outside. How often do you see a football team coach who is also playing on the field? If you did, it definitely wasn’t a game of professional teams and in all cases this model fails.

Why doesn’t this work? Everything is simple. While you are on the field you don’t see how the whole team performs. You don’t know when it’s best to make substitutes e.g. to give someone a rest before a very important match next week or just to avoid injuries; you can miss when opponent changes tactics or you noticed problems other team has and new learned tricks can be applied.

– Substitutes or injuries can be mapped to handling conflicts, fixing small bugs or implementing some practices

– Change of tactics can be mapped to desire to innovate, learn and build long term value

 

  • Protection

Scrum Master

I believe by “protection” everybody thinks about external “threats”: Product Owner with new requirements, other teams with questions, noisy room and etc.
While it’s true I think it’s more important to protect team from themselves – over committing, forgetting about technical debt or non-functional requirements, resistance to new practices, lack of courage to say “no”.
Protection gives possibilities for the teams to keep the pace and improve.

Resume

You must spend a lot of time on the activities above to grow teams. Decision who is going to perform Scrum Master’s role depends on how fast you want to improve.

 

Best answer when ask for estimates is NO

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You’ve been a lot of times in a situation when you have a problem (or at least you think so), money to solve that and you ask someone for estimates to understand when you are going to get your solution.

As a product owner you want to hear that you will get that thing in one sprint, not three.
As person looking for outsourcing company you might want to spend less money.
This list can go longer, but basically you want hear a number.

In most cases people who request estimates don’t event expect to have another answer – discussion. They just need estimates to make their decision or pass over this information further so others could do that instead.

I instead expect to hear following answer a team – “No, you don’t need that! Because…” or “Hm, no. Let’s take a look at alternatives…” or “Why? Did you think of this?”

This “NO” means following to me:

  • team knows the domain
  • there is trust between me and team
  • there is a valuable discussion
  • we can achieve better results

Otherwise you have a bunch of doers or an army, but maybe it’s just what you prefer better.

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Retrospective of retrospectives

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Situation

Problem: most SMs are really only meetings facilitators, which is not cool and not effective; it also doesn’t allow reusing all power of Scrum framework.

Goal: Make SM a person who challenges the team and helps them to improve.

Actions: Happiness index metrics, with approach of implementing improvements (or problems solving) in next sprints as highest priority; Re-energizing retrospective of retrospectives: looking for new formats, enabling scrum masters to make decisions.

Expectations: it’s a long and interesting trip of a cultural change 🙂

 

Retrospectives play important role here. But what is retrospective and how should it happen? Is retrospective a meeting where you list what went well, what didn’t, and what you want to change? E.g. “A team member might say he felt he had to complete work that should have been completed by another team member.  Or a team member might say she received emails constantly which prevented her from getting any work done….”

While a retrospective may help you solve this type of problems or improve the way you work, not all problem-solving or process-improvement is a retrospective. I think there is no need in a retrospective to solve daily problems; it can be done on every day basis.

To make company better place to work following concepts must be kept in mind while doing retrospective on different levels:

  1. Building a shared picture
    • Different people notice different things, even when working together in the same environment
  2. Joint learning
    • As representatives from different teams and different point of views we can form a joint perspective of what is happening and what is now possible. It doesn’t mean we all must agree, but different points of views should enable us to learn and look for opportunities
  3. Taking actions/Making decisions (the thing that we are missing sometimes)
    • It is not about only “fixing problems”. It’s about decisions based on join learning, which might be making experiments to try out something new, or maybe even to decide not to change anything for a while.

Remember! Scrum Master is not the one who only organizes daily stand ups, planning and review meetings. He is the person who challenges the team and helps them to improve.