If you are Scrum Master, you probably have as much difficulty as I have to explain to your friends what it is you do. When I learned that the Agile Tour conference was being organised in Lausanne in December 2019, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to involve collective intelligence to try and demystify this role with a strange name, halfway between rugby and martial arts.
Exploring the role from a concrete standpoint
Since I had come to realise that all tasks I was carrying out as Scrum Master could be grouped in 3 facets – the Servant, the Mechanic and the Coach – my workshop's concept was simple: I would ask participants– whether they are familiar with the role or not –to fill out this canvas with their observations or expectations. With this process, we would have a chance to overcome preconceptions and co-create a better "pitch" for the Scrum Master role.
A couple of weeks later, here I am in front of the attendees. First thing was to have a look at common beliefs. According to you, what is a Scrum Master? "It's the one that organises work!" "It's a team chief!" "It's the person who negotiates implementation of the Product Owner's requests while taking the team's capacity into account". There were many incomplete or rough understandings, that made me even more eager to dive further into the role's activities.
Discovering the three facets of a Scrum Master
A Scrum Master is a servant
More like Alfred Pennyworth than Jacquasse la Crasse, in my opinion. Because there is nothing demeaning about configuring a Jira board, getting a room ready before a meeting and tidying it afterwards, setting up the customer's account on the project wiki, or even answering the phone to preserve the team's concentration. Those are even noble tasks, in my opinion; in that it is a way to "lead by example", by putting myself at the service of the team, even if I don't have the title of secretary nor cleaning agent nor systems administrator. My message is: "Beyond my title, I can lend a helping hand." And if everyone does the same, the whole team enters a dynamic of helping each other, beyond each team member's unique specialities.
A Scrum Master is a process mechanic
Scrum defines a precise framework of how to work in Agile way. It is structured and time-aware — thus requiring someone to provide rhythm. That's the facet I call the Mechanic. It’s about facilitating and energising meetings, calling members up for the daily, writing the Definition of Done with the team, challenging the Product Owner in writing actionable User Stories. In one word, ensuring the process is running. It is under these conditions that Scrum can deliver its promise: at a steady pace, the team ships a functional product and learns by itself how to become ever more efficient.
A Scrum Master is a coach
What we are trying to build with Agile is conscious and learning teams. That's what is behind the "self-organising" term that one can read in the Scrum Guide.
In order to accompany the team towards such maturity, the Coach brings an external point of view on how the team operates. They care for psychological safety within the group (the most important factor of team performance according to the Google study). The Coach observes team dynamics and give feedback, conducts individual interviews to identify and propagate good practices, or trains team members to a tool that enhances productivity.
As within the sports context, an Agile Coach reflects the team's own motivation back to the team and gives it the tools it needs to reach the objective it set for itself.
Scrum Master, here and there
Thanks to the diversity of participants in the workshop, it became apparent that the needs the Scrum Master must fulfil are very different from one team to the next, from one organization to the next, even from one moment in the life of a team to another moment or situation it faces.
Whether it is an issue with the Continuous Integration server, incoming demands that disturb the team's focus, or an interpersonal difficulty, many things can be an obstacle to the team's efficiency and thus require intervention from the Scrum Master role.
In any case, all facets of the role are necessary for the team to carry out its work under good conditions, even though certain tasks can be taken care of by other team members.
A role to (re-)discover
As the workshop reached its conclusion, we had revealed the Scrum Master role in all its richness, beyond clichés, and the participants' intention to activate the role had been reinforced.
If you are a Scrum Master, I encourage you as well to explore the facets of the role during an upcoming retrospective. You might be surprised to hear what your team expects from you.
If you energise another role, invite your Scrum Master for a conversation on the ways he could support you in your work.
Either way, if you need a helping hand or just to have a chat, do not hesitate to reach out. With my colleagues from the Agile accompaniment team, we would be delighted to support you.