No Scrum Master? Is it still Scrum?

What happens when the team gets all the training about Scrum, begins to kickoff the process but they don’t have a Scrum Master?

There are arguments (some legitimate and some not) to justify why Scrum will work without a Scrum Master. First, let me say that a Scrum Master is a role not a title so there really shouldn’t be any restrictions on who can fulfill the role.  Second, someone should take on the role and really dedicate time and energy to give the team the support they deserve. Check out Mike Cohn’s blog about Rotating the Scrum Master Role.

SAM_2306So what work does a Scrum Master do that now needs to be covered by someone else or the team as needed?  There have been a number of response to this question all over the internet and books so you’ve all probably heard that standard answers of remove impediments, champion the process, shields the team from outside interferences, etc. but I’d like to take it a step forward or maybe sideways.

Scrum Masters are champions for the team, their decisions, their delivery and even their failures. They are constantly looking at how the team operates from both an internal and external lens; one that the team members are very rarely able to use because they are in the thick of things and may not have the objective eye.  When a Scrum Master is able to identify things that are impeding the team and help them discover it rather than point a finger, jump up and down and demand they fix it, a bond is developed between the team members that gives them the confidence and trust that someone is looking out for them and is there to help them achieve their next level of expertise.

Eventually, a Scrum Master should find that the team needs their guidance less and less over time.  There are a few exceptions to that.  Teams that are dispersed  teams that gain new team members, teams that experience growth and then split (scaling scrum) will need more time and attention from their Scrum Master during these times.  They may have been experts at their process and become self managing but anytime the dynamic changes, there will be more to talk about, more to decide on and generally shakes the team for a time.

Another thing to note is that Scrum Masters are not Project Managers or even Tech Managers in their primary role.  There is a tendency to do this and it’s a dangerous thing because it can taint decisions and imply a level of power and control that should be absent from a Scrum Master.  Members of a scrum team should continue to rely on their managers and peers to improve their level of skill and professional growth whereas a Scrum Master may notice and relay recommendations about team members to their manager as a way of keeping the health of the team and growth of the team moving in a positive direction.

Hope this helps some of you!


Daily meeting blues? How about shaking it up?

Whether you’ve just started agile with your teams or you’ve been doing it for a while, at some point people may question the value of the Daily Stand up, Daily Scrum or Daily meeting.  People start missing the meetings, arriving late, taking calls, the meetings go over the 15 minutes or start sounding more like a status report instead of the format that Scrum advised us to use.  Jason Yip blogged in Augustabout how to reevaluate the format, watch for patterns and offers some techniques on how to improve them.  There are some great tips here if you want to keep the same format.

This has been the standing Daily Stand up format:
  1.     What did I accomplish yesterday?
  2.     What will I do today?
  3.     What obstacles are impeding my progress?

If the meeting isn’t working for the team anymore, it should come up in the retrospective.  But, if it doesn’t, the scrum master should probe into this directly to get the team to find out WHY it’s not working.  Before revamping meetings or canceling them, always always always find out why first.  There may be a totally different reason than you know and asking the team may be a revelation to you and to the team on how to fix it.

If you’ve ruled out basic things like attendees, room location, tangents and the format just doesn’t work for your team. I’m here to suggest a small simple change.

As each person speaks, they state only the following:
“Today my plan is to _______.”  and if needed followed by “and I will need ____ today to do it.”

This captures their responsibility both for the work they will own today and help they need today.  It’s a simple change but as their Scrum Master, you should listen for ambiguity, overlapping work or people without clear direction so that you can follow up with them to offer help and/or their manager with feedback.

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