Scrum Roles — The ScrumMaster

The ScrumMaster (SM) is a hard role to explain, I think. It is easy to misunderstand, and, in fact, it is commonly misunderstood.

The SM must first help the team learn how to self-organize. Self-organizing is a thing we humans all do, and we all can do more of it. Most of us can also do it competently in a small group.

It’s impressive how much we have been taught not to self-organize at work. Of course, this varies very significantly per team. Some teams pick up self-organizing quite easily. Other teams struggle with this, in part because other people (often managers) outside the team inhibit the self-organizing, or simply because old habits tell them they should not or can not self-organize.

In any case, probably the first duty of the SM is to help the team self-organize better.

Related to this, the SM must teach the team to be more honest, and not only the team, but everyone around that team that affects the team. This is a hard task because we humans tend to want to avoid unpleasant truths.

Now, we are not asking that everyone always talk bluntly about unpleasant truths, but for the team to self-manage, it must have more of the truth. For the team to identify the biggest impediment, they must be more honest, etc., etc. We can manage better if we have more of the truth, and for humans this is hard for many reasons.

Maybe the third duty is the SM must protect the team from distractions. This, of course, is in some sense an impossible task (to eliminate all distractions), but to reduce distractions significantly is actually quite easy.

To reduce some important distractions can be challenging. Some managers in some situations want to distract the team. The manager may be senior and may feel he is helping the team, but the SM may know it is not helping the team. That conversation might be challenging. Because if they protect the team from distraction, we often call the SM the sheepdog.

Next, the SM teaches the team and the organization about Scrum. He or she is explaining it all the time. They forget, they seem to actively misremember, they interpret it wrongly — often coming from the waterfall paradigm. So, the values, principles and practices of Lean-Agile-Scrum must be explained over and over and over and over…

The SM more broadly must remove impediments, or, better said, get impediments removed for the team so the velocity increases significantly. Jeff Sutherland says an average SM should be able to increase velocity 100 percent in six months. Longer-term we expect virtually every team to become hyper-productive. That means, productivity has increased 5x to 10x from the baseline.

At the same time, happiness should be higher (see the Happiness Metric), Business Value should of course also be significantly up and quality should be improved.

An impediment is anything that is slowing the team down. The Impediment List should include the top 20 or 30 impediments — areas where we need to improve or the organization or life needs to improve — so that the team can be better.

An impediment is not only a distraction, not only a blocker to one story, not only a system down problem, not only… anything. An impediment can be anything that is slowing down the team. People issues, anything that a team member is not perfect at doing, problems with management, organizational issues, technical issues, people issues, etc.

One of the key impediments is that the PO sucks. That is, that the very good person in the PO role is not used to this very different role. The SM must get help to the PO until he or she becomes a good to excellent PO.

Who fixes impediments? Well, obviously a typical SM is good at fixing certain types of impediments himself or herself, but no SM is good at fixing all types of impediments. Also, the team can and should invest some in fixing impediments. People outside the team (managers, consultants, whomever) can be excellent at fixing certain types of impediments.

The SM has to draw on all these different people, and get them to fix the impediments in priority order. He or she has to do this with no authority, no power. The SM must convince with logic and reasonable persuasion.

On a professional Scrum Team, the SM should be full-time. (There is no Scrum rule in the Scrum Guide that says that, but then the Scrum Guide is silent on many things.) If the SM is one of seven people, then we are devoting about one-seventh of the team’s power toward continuous improvement. This is a bit over 14 percent of the team’s time. This seems reasonable and fair. Especially if, by investing in this way, we get 100 percent improvement in team productivity.

There is always a tremendous amount of improvement to be made. Everything can be made better in some way. In Lean, idea is expressed as the relentless pursuit of perfection. The people can become more skilled in all the hard and soft skills. The team working together can always be improved. The impediments from outside the team always need more fixing. The only question is how to prioritize the impediments, and then the next question is what is the best solution to each impediment (best meaning mainly best ROI — the cost of fixing over the benefit of fixing).

I hope the SM job has become a bit richer now.



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