The Scrum Master: Three Popular Anti-Patterns

Scrum is a decep­tive­ly sim­ple frame­work for agile prod­uct devel­op­ment. Besides the devel­op­ment team there are only the roles Prod­uct Own­er and Scrum Mas­ter. The process is lean and requires only a few arti­facts and events (as the meet­ings in Scrum are called). This sim­plic­i­ty leads in prac­tice to all kinds of fake agile and car­go cult – love­ly but rather inef­fec­tive dra­ma. To pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing, there is the Scrum Mas­ter. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this impor­tant role suf­fers from many mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions, as the fol­low­ing three anti-pat­terns illus­trate.

The Manager

There used to be project man­agers and a project man­age­ment office, now the Scrum Mas­ter man­ages it. Plan­ning meet­ings, writ­ing min­utes and reports, track­ing open issues and any oth­er admin­is­tra­tive stuff.

It is dif­fi­cult to get a man to under­stand some­thing when his salary depends upon his not under­stand­ing it.

Upton Sin­clair

This is very con­ve­nient in two ways. On the one hand, because the team and the prod­uct own­er can then con­cen­trate on their work (of course only until the next report is due and they are then both­ered with esti­mates and spread­sheets), but also because all the for­mer project man­agers and project man­age­ment offices find their posi­tion in the new agile world. And what’s espe­cial­ly con­ve­nient is that noth­ing has to be changed except the title!

The Teacher

When Scrum is intro­duced and orga­ni­za­tions under­go an agile trans­for­ma­tion, there is a lot of change and uncer­tain­ty. This inevitably leads to the call for con­sul­tants and their sil­ver bul­lets. Because no one knows enough about Scrum yet, the Scrum Mas­ter (usu­al­ly indeed an exter­nal con­sul­tant) is seen as a teacher. He or she should instruct the clue­less prod­uct own­er and the clue­less devel­op­ment team in Scrum. And if it does­n’t work out, then a bet­ter Scrum Mas­ter will be brought in!

The Scrum Mas­ter is respon­si­ble for pro­mot­ing and sup­port­ing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Mas­ters do this by help­ing every­one under­stand Scrum the­o­ry, prac­tices, rules, and val­ues.

Scrum Guide, Novem­ber 2017

The Scrum Guide delib­er­ate­ly does not state that the Scrum Mas­ter is a teacher or con­sul­tant who teach­es and intro­duces Scrum the­o­ry, prac­tices, rules and val­ues. It says that it helps those involved to under­stand them so that they can imple­ment these them­selves accord­ing to the supreme prin­ci­ple of self-orga­ni­za­tion. Of course, this requires a deep under­stand­ing of Scrum from the Scrum Mas­ter, but also a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent stance than that of the teacher or con­sul­tant, into which he either will­ing­ly puts him­self or into which he is dri­ven by the sur­round­ing orga­ni­za­tion in its quest for more agili­ty.

Stop try­ing to bor­row wis­dom and think for your­self. Face your dif­fi­cul­ties and think and think and think and solve your prob­lems your­self. Suf­fer­ing and dif­fi­cul­ties pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties to become bet­ter. Suc­cess is nev­er giv­ing up.

Tai­ichi Ohno

The Guardian

Why should I care about the oth­ers. All I care about is my team! That’s what I pro­tect and pro­mote as a Scrum Mas­ter.” This posi­tion is often to be found, but it is much too nar­row, as the sec­ond para­graph about the role of the Scrum Mas­ter in the Scrum Guide shows:

The Scrum Mas­ter is a ser­vant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Mas­ter helps those out­side the Scrum Team under­stand which of their inter­ac­tions with the Scrum Team are help­ful and which aren’t. The Scrum Mas­ter helps every­one change these inter­ac­tions to max­i­mize the val­ue cre­at­ed by the Scrum Team.

Scrum Guide, Novem­ber 2017

The Scrum Mas­ter works pri­mar­i­ly with his team, but always has a broad­er per­spec­tive. He always looks at the team in its envi­ron­ment. He thinks not only of his team, but also sys­tem­i­cal­ly and there­by helps to avoid local sub-opti­miza­tion. This is the only way the team can opti­mize its val­ue con­tri­bu­tion to the big pic­ture.

Ser­vant lead­er­ship: At Spo­ti­fy man­agers are focused on coach­ing, men­tor­ship, and solv­ing imped­i­ments rather than telling peo­ple what to do.

Agile à la Spo­ti­fy

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