In a recent presentation to the Red Hat Agile Community, I prepared a talk on the ScrumMaster role outside of the team. It took several weeks to put this together; I really wanted this to make an impact and motivate the group. This topic contained some very important information, but the delivery could easily sway the intended audience to either listen or ‘shut down’. The primary objective focused on the role a ScrumMaster plays after his/her team becomes high performing. I was using my own professional anecdotes and Essential Scrum as the basis for my case. Specifically, in Essential Scrum Kenneth Rubin states, “Usually as the Scrum team’s need for a ScrumMaster decreases, the need for the ScrumMaster to focus on broader organizational impediments and to be a change agent throughout the organization value chain increases” (192). However, the secondary intent aimed at motivating ScrumMasters that have grown complacent in their role. The Red Hat Agile community is in its early stages, and it needs the unified effort of its ScrumMasters and practitioners to truly make a difference within the organization. After deliberating the delivery of the speech, I opted to take a more informative approach instead of my usual ‘fire and brimstone’. This approach would appeal to most in the Red Hat Community, avoid alienating anyone who might interpret the speech incorrectly, and inspire some to take the next steps in their agile careers. The following is the written version of the speech.
ScrumMaster Beyond the Team
Whether we like it or not, the ScrumMaster’s job does not end with the team. When we are certified, we are constantly bombarded about our responsibilities to the team. Our duty is to serve team first. We do this daily by coaching our teammates, seeking ways to continuously improve, protecting the team against blockers, and serving as ambassadors between the team and its customers. Our goal is simple: Get our team to achieve high performance. Some ScrumMasters choose to stop here; serving as a ScrumMaster on a high performing team adds the temptation to grow complacent. I contend that there is much more value a ScrumMaster can provide. Though we are always dedicated to our team, we have a deeper calling to the organization and the overall agile community.
Impact on the Organization
The software development industry is riddled with organizations that practice ‘dysfunctional agile’. Yes, Scrum, Lean, Kanban, and many other frameworks are proclaimed in IT hallways, but chances are that upper management has no idea what it means. In other organizations, there exists direct or indirect resistance to any kind of transformation. In these scenarios I ask, ‘Where are the ScrumMasters!?’ Though the organization may not be practicing scrum, I consider change agents and members of the adoption team are ScrumMasters/Coaches. These organizations need involvement from their agile practitioners to properly align the organization on why they have chosen a collaborative strategy instead of how to collaborate. Essential Scrum details the roles good ScrumMasters can play in these scenarios:
A good ScrumMaster must help change minds as well. Scrum can be very disruptive to the status quo; the change that is required to be successful with Scrum can be difficult. The ScrumMaster helps others understand the need for change, the impacts of Scrum outside the Scrum team, and the broad-reaching benefits Scrum can help achieve. The ScrumMaster also ensures that effective change is occurring at all levels of the organization, enabling not only short-term success but, more importantly, the long-term benefits from using Scrum. (187)
It takes courage to accept change, but it takes almost an inhuman amount to lead it. During adoption and implementation, opportunities will arise for ScrumMasters to influence organizational change. Exercising tact while addressing areas of improvement is critical; you don’t want those listening to shut down before you even get a chance to propose a solution. We are the messengers of the good, bad, and the ugly; in order for our organizations to to trust us, we must be able to deliver it all.
While leading an agile adoption at one of my previous employers, our adoption team spent many days working with executives and management who were curious and skeptical. We worked to answer all their questions and concerns, and we took the time to research the answers when we could not. I’ll never forget how nervous the adoption team felt when we pitched adopting scrum to the IT executive team; you could’ve cut the tension with a knife. However, our ability to convey why we felt the change was necessary won them over, and we never looked back. Many of those on the adoption team eventually became ScrumMasters and Product Owners. We accepted the duties for our teams, but we knew we also served an organization about to go on a ‘rollercoaster’ journey.
The Agile Community
What good is knowledge if we don’t share it? Former Google CIO and VP of Engineering, Douglas Merrill, once said:
“Knowledge was power, back when knowledge wasn’t easily available or disseminated. If you lived in the 1600s and wanted to be a stonemason, you’d start off as a master’s apprentice. Instead of paying you, he’d teach you his trade. He could do this because he had the knowledge you couldn’t get elsewhere. He had power. You? Not so much.”
I’d like to encourage all agile professionals to communicate and collaborate by any means possible. This is not a community where knowledge hoarding is rewarded. Start a blog, write articles for printed and online magazine’s, attend local or national conferences, get your certifications, etc. The idea or tactic you used to help improve your team may help out a fellow professional. Just as we push our teams to continuously improve, we must do the same same with our own careers.
Don’t Get Comfortable
When making a very big professional decision my father gave me some excellent advice. He said, ‘A lot of times when someone feels comfortable they get lazy. When people get lazy, they can’t grow. If you’re comfortable, son, you will not push your limits. Sometimes we need to make ourselves uncomfortable in order grow.’ At the time his advice sounded so broad, but the more I reflected on it, the more I understood my direction. I made the decision that wasn’t the easiest, would surely push my limitations, and would inevitably lead to growth. It was also extremely risky, but I couldn’t let fear dominate my decision. Though frightening at first, this decision eventually led to starting this blog, writing articles, making presentations, putting user groups together, and getting involved with the agile community. It certainly wasn’t something I felt very comfortable in, but it was a series of deliberate decisions that offered growth opportunities.
A ScrumMaster begins his/her journey as an individual that makes a commitment to to his/herself. We then join our teams and start marching towards the goal of high performance. If our teams reach high performance, opportunities will open to make impacts in the organization and beyond. As professionals, our organizations and the agile community cannot afford to have us sit on our certifications and knowledge. Complacency is not in the ScrumMaster dictionary… we threw it out when we made our decision.
- Merrill, Douglas. “Knowledge Is Power? Those Days Are Long Gone.” Forbes. Forbes, 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/fidelity/2015/03/25/10-tips-for-filing-your-2014-tax-return/>.
- Rubin, Kenneth. “ScrumMaster.” Essential Scrum. Pearson Education, 2013. 191. Print.