Agile Gnostic

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Category Archives: Agile Roles

Distinguishing Qualities of Scrum Masters


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Scrum Masters role is one of widely confused and misunderstood role among three roles in Scrum framework. Different people and organizations have different level of understanding on Scrum Master (SM) role. In many organizations this is either assigned to Project Managers, Technical Leads or Sr. Developers; without thinking about the inherent characteristics required to successfully perform this role. The role becomes more challenging with many over-the-hat expectations –

  1. Scrum Master’s job is not full-time – often expected to own techno-functional works that need to be completed within the certain time in a single scrum or leads multiple scrum teams. It’s believed that Scrum master’s job is not stressful and can easily work with multiple teams.
  2. Single Scrum Master to multiple Scrum teams – partial allocation to multiple teams which complicates the job of SM in order to control any dysfunctional behaviors within teams and do justice to the role being performed.
  3. Rotating Scrum Master role – different team members get their turn to perform this role within the team or one SM being assigned to other teams in turn. Advocators stress upon that it helps to bring good practices, culture and process changes in order to improve team dynamics and single SM don’t get into the comfort zone or gets biased or too much bonded with one or more team members within the single team.
  4. Scrum Master being loaded with traditional project management tasks – mostly by limiting the core responsibilities, they are expected to perform overhead activities from PMO and organization mandated quality process alignments, documentation, and reporting.

Scrum is the highly popular Agile method of software development. Among the three roles of the scrum framework; the role of the scrum master is very important. The ability with which this role is executed decides the fate of Agile project’s agility and future success. It’s the  scrum master’s responsibility to imbibe agile principles and practices into the delivery process and within the team dynamics so that the agile values and principles can be maintained. SMs are always loaded with both delivery and process related responsibilities and various expectations from stakeholders; so many struggles to perform this role. The SMs, especially those who are coming from Project Management background; need to inculcate habits to work and interact coordinately. Based on experience and interactions with many agilist following are some of my observations, the following are roles and responsibilities SMs have to perform.

Many responsibilities in one role

    1. A ‘Servant Leader’ – Scrum master need to be a coach, facilitator, and leader. (S)he is there to resolve the impediments, bring agile practices to the team and help facilitate meetings and ceremonies without any authorities or commands and controls. The practical one is to help the team so as to improve the agile practices, inculcate agile values and principles, help inspect and adapt in order to improve team’s overall performance through optimized processes and practices. The facilitation becomes more challenging in the distributed teams located in different geographical locations and time zones.

    2. A ‘Techno-functional Leader’- In many organizations, it is expected that the SM should proactively work upon removing team’s day today impediments. Often these impediments are of technical or functional in nature. If the Scrum master doesn’t have a good technical and functional background, it would be impossible for one to work on the speedy resolutions. In case if SMs own certain technical tasks; which they are not supposed to due to conflicting responsibilities; he has to act as a role model by timely completion of work-item; setting inspirational examples for other team members.

    3. An ‘Agile Coach’ – In many many organizations single Scrum Master is assigned to perform this role for many teams. Executing Scrum master’s role in appropriate manner becomes extremely critical when the organization is transforming to agile and teams are completely new to the agile ways of working. Many times SMs are compared to put on the hat of Project Managers and/or Reporting Manager of the team, which further complicates the situation and SMs knowingly or unknowingly may deviate from his core responsibilities or Scrum team may not function completely as a self-organizing team.

    4. A ‘Relationship Builder’ – SM has to ensure that the team members, Product Owner, and stakeholders are mutually affiliated and connected as a single group.   SM has to ensure that the scum team works in a healthy cordial environment without any personal or professional anguish among members. It directly impacts the team’s performance and deviates from achieving sprint goals. That’s where SM has to step in resolving conflicts in order to ensure healthy relationships among the team members. A great scrum master takes team along with to have collaborative decision making, process refinement, address challenges and blockers and empowers the team to resolve any such challenges. SMs should be able to recognize team conflicts at an early stage and help facilitate resolving any differences amicably.

    5. The ‘Guardian’ – SM guards the scrum team against external influences within organizations by protecting team’s interest. That’s why Scrum Master takes charges of external communications in communicating project progress, events and their outcomes, meetings with management and stakeholders leaving team members to focus on achieving sprint goal. SM should be able to understand the pulse of team and guard team in all aspects to ensure that the consistent and sustainable pace of development continues uninterrupted to achieve long-term goals.

    6. The ‘Custodian’ – SMs are the voice of the team and help to implement, improve agile values and principles at the team level. SM should empower the team to take decisions, allow self-management without micromanaging the activities and tasks. A good scrum master solicits feedbacks, acknowledge own or team’s mistake, introspect and work for improvement.

Distinguished Qualities To Be a Successful Scrum Master

It’s important that scrum master possesses the following characteristics to be successful-

  • Responsible – takes ownership to execute his job and responsibilities and does not restrain to exercise decision for the overall benefits of team’s goals
  • Patience – highly patient in order to listen and act judiciously, have faith on team and their actions, works with customer and stakeholders with open mind
  • Communicator – as SMs has to deal with both senior and juniors, both internal and external customers as well as stakeholders; so should be having effective communication skills
  • Collaborative – as SM has to depend on others to get the things done, remove impediments, help to attain team’s short-term and long-term goals, SM has to collaborate and encourage collaboration
  • Committed– should trust and be trusted, keep promises and help team to build and maintain trust among members and with all stakeholders
  • Critic – in order to praise strengths and highlight weaknesses of team members; being critical to actions and behaviors; helps SM in effectively controlling the dysfunctional behaviors of members

Conclusion

The Scrum Masters role is very important in implementing Agile Scrum. If SM is not competent enough to imbibe the Agile values and principles, help continuously inspects and adapt and keeps the team together; it would really be challenging to practice Agile and deliver values to the customer.

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