Who is a Scrum Master?
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In my experience as a Scrum Master in different organisations and through different community platform, I could observe a lot of misconceptions in the Scrum Master role.

Let’s move away from the discussion around the difference between the Scrum Master and Coach. From my point of view, there aren’t any different. But the industry has made it like Scrum Masters are the ones who deal with teams and Coaches are the ones who deal with leaders in the organisation.

Let us be with the industry, as the famous proverb goes — When you are in Rome, Be a Roman. Let’s confine ourselves in this article to Scrum Masters serving Development team.

Does the Scrum Masters in the industry understand the true sense of the role?

Do they do justice in serving the Development teams?

Let’s categorise the areas that a scrum master focuses on…

  • Processes & Tools
  • Practices
  • Principles
  • Values
  • Mindset

I have placed in the order of popularity (or visibility) in the industry. Let’s now connect this to the implementation of Scrum in the industry.

Processes & Tools

Most of the Scrum Masters thrive in this area. They bring their expertise here,

Asking the team to add all impediments in the tool (even if it is within the team) and actively solving every impediment for the team through constant follow-ups, to help individuals save time in solving their own impediments

Helping the development team to create delivery plans within the sprint to see if there are any slips in delivery timelines (E.g. Delivery to QA etc) within the sprint

Introducing all the gates or checklists possible at user story level in the tool and make individuals in the development team to acknowledge completion at every stage. This is to ensure teams are following all the processes in place. E.g. Developer acknowledging a checklist that (s)he has completed Coding, unit testing, peer review, Check in, Build successful, etc before handing off to QA. QA to pick up only after all the checklists are verified. Similar checklists for QA before that handover for deployment to next environment.

Actively participating in Daily Scrum, collecting status, marking attendance and sending statuses to the management

Actively participating in Sprint Planning to ensure all the team members are picking enough stories for the sprint for their capacity, asking them to breakdown the stories to tasks, with tasks no more than 4 hours to make sure that a given task gets complete with in half a day

Actively participating in Sprint Review and obtaining the confirmation for every story that all the acceptance criteria are met

Actively participating in Sprint Retrospective and making sure everyones voices are heard by picking everyone’s name in order. Then actively taking notes to add it in wiki pages

On top of it bring in Plugins and at times go on to use BI tools to integrate with Agile management tools to take reports. Thus helping the management to get real-time data on the teams such as Individual persons’ capacity allocation, the number of story points delivered per individuals, number of defects leaked by individuals, etc.

Practices

Scrum Masters identify all best practices possible to help the teams deal with the complexity nature associated with the work

Bring in practices such as finalising the design before bringing into the development, so that there won’t be any change once the work is picked up for development

Bring in levels of refinement gates in the order as BA Refinement Product owner; BA refinement with Architects. Then BA, Architect refinement with the team. Followed by refinement reviews to make sure the requirements are ready to be picked up in the sprint. Having a tracking mechanism to see, if any stories miss the order or even move back to identify the quality of refinement in every stage and help the team get a finalised requirement before picked up for development

Then bringing in best practices such as multiple exploratory testing, regression testing at fixed intervals within sprints to address the quality of delivery within a sprint rather complicating with practices such as TDD, BDD etc.

Continuous performance baseline testing in QA environment to compare the performance of the pages after every build rather doing a performance measure in a production replica like environment

Principles

Scum Masters help the team to be in line with the principles of their own.

Ensuring the team’s highest priority is sticking to the committed plan

Not to allow a change in plan, so that the committed items are delivered without any hassles

Ensuring stabilisation of the development happens at fixed cadence to minimise the time lost in frequent integration

Making sure that the team collaborates with Product owner in Sprint Review, on the work done by the team. Then Product owner collaborating separately with stakeholders to ensure there are minimal distractions to the team

Key point is, motivating the people to do on-time delivery

Ensuring the team communicates the information in a written format to have evidence in case of any failures to refer back

Focusing on team’s predictable velocity to improve the productivity of the team

Ensuring architects are involved early to finalise the design before start of development so that there won’t be any surprises in the middle of development

At regular intervals, team reflect on themselves to improve on the best practices

Providing attention to technical excellence by allotting specific cadence, so that the code quality is maintained

The above Principles, Processes, Practices and Tools are more visible and Scrum Masters are able to focus and bring in improvements at an effective pace to make the team to ‘Do Agile’.

The emphasis is ‘Do Agile’ first. To Be Agile, one need to Do Agile is the logic Scrum Masters apply.

Scrum Masters struggle in the next areas as they are less visible and have challenges incorporating it.

Values

The above-mentioned Principles, Practices and Processes & tools around it picture the values of the Scrum Masters. Scrum Masters in the industry,

Focus on the delivery plan. Any deviation on it be escalated immediately or addressed through quick fixes for the team to meet its timeline

Openness in the Processes and tools

Courage in making the team thrive in a competitive environment

Commitment to delivering all the items irrespective of the value it add to the end-users

Making the team respect the contracts among team members

Mindset

The least order of the all in the industry is Mindset. Most scrum masters ignore the Mindset part. A mental model is that people are paid for their job and they need to inherently have the mindset to work for the organisation. But Forbes refers to the Gallup survey taken in the US that 66% of the people in organisations are dis-engaged. Within that 13% are“actively disengaged” (people with miserable work experiences) and 53% are“not engaged.” These workers don’t feel connected emotionally to the organisation and will be out the door at the first job opportunity or an opportunity that is even marginally better.

From my point of view, the one who is with leadership stakes closer to the teams is Scrum Masters. Scrum Masters reflecting most of the points I have mentioned in all the four areas above need to be at the least aware of

What it takes to do Value-based delivery

How to Become a Servant Leader and embody the Scrum and Agile values and make the team embody it

How to make the team Self-organised and align to Agile Principles

Agile practices that resonate the values and principles to help teams move towards Agility

People are driven without proper guidance towards the role, so they do what they think is right. They go on to justify ‘I don’t believe in any of the frameworks, but i believe in what is working for me’. The hard truth in the industry is most of the people are forced into the role of scrum master without proper role identification and go on to damage the team culture which in turn spoils the entire organisation.

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