About the Role of ScrumMaster

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I’ve been too busy for too long to write blog posts, but here’s one, about the role and authority of the ScrumMaster.

The way I understand the Scrum framework is that the ScrumMaster is the person who does have a lot of authority over the process, but in the same way as in any other matter – everyone in the team is responsible for their own work. I don’t see how ScrumMaster has any authority to say anyone in the team that they must work in a certain way. He/she can certainly talk about the process, educate about better ways of doing it, showing where the process currently fails, etc., but I believe every single person in the team is responsible for the way they do their work.

This is not unlike in a soccer team – the coach does train the people, help them practice to become better soccer players, have a vision how the team should/could work together better, suggest better strategies, BUT when the game is on, the players are responsible for playing the game. I don’t know any single soccer game where the coach scored a single goal.

Similarly, if the team performs badly, I would first look at the coach and try to find out what that person did to improve team performance. However, if I determine that that person has done his/her best, then he/she is innocent, and we need to look at the players themselves. Did they do their best? Do they have the right skills to play at that level? Are they practicing on their own time to improve their game play and ball handling skills? It might be necessary to change the composition of the team to match what is needed.

Furthermore, I really appreciate the fact that the team makes their own “rules” and holds all team members accountable to one another for following said agreements. It is not the SM who they are accountable to. So if someone doesn’t work the way it was agreed, they need to explain their way of working to other team members, not the SM.

So, I see ScrumMaster as a strength of the process, compared to almost any other framework around. Finally we have a person who is free to take a bigger look at things, to optimize the whole (along with the help of everyone else in actually making it happen). Finally someone is free from the pressure to deliver and to think of better ways of developing software and removing the blockages. And this freedom, I’ve found, is central to being a great SM. As soon as you dip you toes in the content (i.e. delivering something), it will draw you in like a siren and you will lose the external viewpoint. I’ve been there, I know how attracting it is to participate in finding the solution to the challenge.

I saw this happen in a customer organization that I visited about a year ago. Originally, they had SM’s who were part time members of the development teams. As a result, those SM’s only had time, focus and energy for the “ScrumSecretary” role. As a consequence, the Scrum implementation in that organization was lacking the spirit. It was doing the motions only. After switching to five part-timers to three full-time SM’s, things started changing. SM’s started working on the bigger picture, work with teams better to improve their work, and generally work the environment. As a consequence, over the next eight months quality improved, people became more energized and focused, and also the amount of output increased to double the original.

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