This is my second blog in this subject and in a sense, an extension to the earlier one published in July this year (http://pm-powerconsulting.com/blog/role-scrum-master-headed/). The role of the Scrum Master is a widely debated topic in the industry. The overlap (or the lack of it) with the traditional Project Manager role is all too well-known and we had dwelt on that a bit in the earlier blog. Having said that, I have always wondered how many Scrum Masters truly understand and internalize the various dimensions of their role to make a significant difference to their respective teams’ outcomes.

First, let us understand some of the typical outcomes I am referring to, that Scrum Masters can truly make a contribution to. These could include, but not limited to, the following:

  1. How effective is the collaboration between Dev and QA?
  2. How effective is the collaboration of the team with the PO?
  3. How has the health of the backlog improved over time?
  4. How effective is the team with their retrospectives?
  5. How self-driven or self-organizing is the team?
  6. How effectively are dependencies with other teams or components handled?
  7. What are new engineering practices introduced and their impact on team outcomes?
  8. What is the overall impact of all these (mentioned above) on the team outcomes – such as say/do ratios, quality of code delivered, hardening time and effort and so on?

Elaborating a little bit on a couple of these outcomes – for example, how do you know how effective is the collaboration between Dev and QA? Ineffective collaboration often manifests as incomplete stories within a sprint, with pending testing or bug fixing forcing a carry forward of stories to the next sprint. In such situations, QA is often seen stretching on the last one or two days to complete testing and fighting to ensure bugs found are agreed upon as severe enough to be fixed in the same sprint. Energy levels seen in retrospectives, volunteering by team members for ownership of actions that come out and effective follow-up of actions by the team resulting in improved outcomes with team goals are all typical indicators of how effective is the team with retrospectives.

While you can add to this list, for you to be effective in delivering on these outcomes, there are a couple of things that you as a Scrum Master need to understand and define:

  • What are the enablers from your perspective for these to happen?
  • What are your expectations from other stakeholders for you to be effective in your role?

For both these, I firmly believe that you as a SM need to take the initiative. For example, you may want to take the initiative in defining and enriching this role in the organization and in its development to ensure the outcomes mentioned are indeed realistically achieved. I recently motivated one of the senior Scrum Masters in one of the organizations I consult with to take up this initiative. One of the things she has started with is to foster and build a community of SMs that would share learnings and experiences and together as a community make a difference to the organization. Fortunately in this case the organization leadership is also very supportive, even if they may not have all the right answers themselves on how to make this a successful role.

That finally brings me to one of the pain points I see with many organizations that I coach from an Agile transformation perspective. This has to do with how they perceive the role of the SM and their failure to get the best out of their SMs because of the lack of understanding and appreciation for what the role brings to the table. They often treat the SM role as a team co-ordination role, with focus mainly on ensuring the Agile or Scrum ceremonies happen on a regular and consistent basis. As a result, even the skills looked for while hiring as well as the subsequent positioning and development opportunities for this role are both issues. Many organizations struggle to retain them beyond a couple of years and if some of the SMs do stay back, they do not know what to do with them after 2 or 3 years. I personally believe that using the role as a stepping stone for a leadership position (such as that of a line or delivery manager) is one great way to ensure the role gets the due recognition for organizational success.

Would love to hear from you on your own organization perspectives and experiences – would be excited to be involved in discussions around this topic.