The New New Scrum Master: Two Main Focus Areas


I’m going to take a break from talking about the New New Product Owner to talk about the New New Scrum Master now.

Preface:  In the last 4 years, the Scrum Guide has had two very significant updates, including updates to the Scrum Master Role. In this article and the series that follows, I attempt to describe “The New New Scrum Master” role in Scrum.

The Scrum Master role has not changed as much in recent Scrum Guide updates as much as the Product Owner.  In many ways, however, what has changed, is the number and higher frequency of misconceptions about the Scrum Master role.  This is, in my opinion, due to late adopters to Scrum who don’t take the time or money to attend proper and professional Scrum training.  Yes, this appears to be a completely self serving statement since I’m a Scrum Trainer.  However, the bigger, and more important reason this statement is true, is because Scrum is a much deeper topic than people think.  We often use the metaphor of the difference between a Chess player who knows how the different chess pieces move, and a Chess player that has extensive experience and knowledge about how to be excellent at the strategy and techniques of Chess.  There is a vast difference between those two ends of the spectrum, between knowing the rules and being able to excel at winning.  With Scrum, people and organizations vastly underestimate just how long that spectrum is.  All you have to do to confirm this is to witness or hear about a Scrum adoption that is horribly painful or not working.    So, my hope is that we can clear up some misconceptions for the New New Scrum Master and help reduce some pain and increase some profits!

The two main focus areas for the New New Scrum Master are:

  • Teaching and coaching the organization on how to achieve the benefits of Scrum, and
  • Removing impediments that are beyond the reach of the Development Team.

For brevity’s sake, we will shorten these to “teach/coach” and “remove impediments.”

All of the other Scrum Master focus and duties derive from the above two focus areas.

For a high quality class that focuses exclusively on the Scrum Master role(the course is also great for management), see our Professional Scrum Master class and contact us if you’re interested in one.

Teach/Coach

One of the main focus areas for the New New Scrum Master is teaching and coaching the organization on how to achieve the benefits of Scrum.  Let’s talk about how this might be done.

The New New Scrum Master knows the “Why’s” behind Scrum.
In my experience, Scrum Masters would do well to understand the benefits of Scrum on several levels, before worrying about specific teaching or coaching techniques.

First and probably foremost, the Scrum Master should understand and *be able to succinctly communicate* the *business* benefits of Scrum to the organization. It is important to to be able to communicate these benefits succinctly because, in the wider organization, the Scrum Master will very often be given 5 minutes or less to convey them.

Each Scrum Master should have their own such list of benefits memorized, but certainly some of them should be:

  • Faster time to market
  • Quicker ability to pivot to market opportunities and competitor threats.
  • Higher Customer Satisfaction
  • Higher Productivity
  • Higher Transparency
  • Better Predictability
  • Better alignment between the business and software teams
  • And the list goes on…

A good study of the 11 key metrics in “Evidence Based Management” will help you to be aware of some of the business benefits, but come up with some of your own.  Make it yours!

Being able to rattle a good handful of these off, and then being able to *explain succinctly* how different sub parts of Scrum support these goals should certainly be in the New New Scrum Master’s toolbox.  When facing an organization that has not been to proper Scrum Training, be sure not to use too much Scrum speak — keep it very simple and mostly devoid of Scrum terminology.  Also, definitely focus on the business benefits of Scrum that align with organizational desires and goals.  The more you can point to those higher organizational desires the more buy-in you’ll likely get from those higher in the organization!

The New New Scrum Master should also be able to communicate the benefits that will appeal more to those on and around the team, such as:

  • Benefits to Development Team members
  • Benefits to Business Stakeholders
  • Benefits to Product Owners

Again, the same advice as above, be ready to rattle off a list, be ready to explain how different parts of Scrum support each of the list items, and be ready to avoid Scrum terminology for those who haven’t had proper training.

Knowing the “Why’s” behind Scrum will help convince others of “why” to pay attention to your teaching and coaching.  Notice I said “help convince” — it will likely take much more than that, but knowing these benefits is a “must have” for those conversations.

Knowing the “Why’s” behind Scrum is just one aspect of “teach/coach.”  Don’t misunderstand me, teaching and coaching is actually more than just teaching and coaching — using those two terms is simply a way to oversimplify this focus area.  You might also want to mentor, advise, and facilitate at times.  But even those things can fall under “teach/coach.”  We’ll explore this more in future posts.

Removing Impediments

The second New New Scrum Master focus area is removing impediments that are beyond the reach of the Development Team.

There is a common misconception that the Scrum Master is responsible for removing *all* impediments for the Development Team.  While the Scrum Guide is a little vague on this subject, it is somewhat hard to articulate the fine balance between the Scrum Master’s duty to remove impediments, and the Development Team’s responsibility to self-organize. This misconception drives a lot of failure in Scrum implementations.  We’ll explore this more in future posts.

The metaphor I like to use here is “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  When respecting and coaching on the Development Team’s obligation to self organize, it is important for the New New Scrum Master to realize when is the right to time to give the fish, and when is the right time to teach to fish.  The answer is usually the latter, but sometimes the former.

Remember:  Teach/Coach, and Remove Impediments

I have thought about this a lot, and have even conferred with my fellow Scrum coaches on this.  Pretty much all of the responsibilities of the New New Scrum Master boil down to the two focus areas of “teach/coach” and “remove impediments.”

In future articles, I will go deeper on each of these two focus areas.

In the meantime, do you think any Scrum Master duties cannot effectively fall under those two focus areas?  If so, what are they?  Sound off in the comments below!

2 Responses

  1. Hi Charles,

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts on the Scrum master role. As you mention under ‘teach/coach’, there’s a lot more into the ‘coaching’ part. Creating something in a team, and especially new product (software) development which is inherently complex, requires a performant team. And there’s the catch: humans might just not be that good at team work. Being able to work well in a team is a personal skill. For a team coach / Scrum master, a good understanding of human behaviour, human psychology is a basic need to be able to spot; understand and deal with conflict in a team. Or being able to trigger people to new (adapted) behaviour. What motivates people? How to get people more aligned? How to get people to truly work together and embrace the challenge given? All that is not explained in Scrum (and not much either in a default Scrum training either); but essential for any Scrum master. (simply said, to move on beyond ‘mechanic’ Scrum).

    Kind regards,

    Frederik

  2. Frederik I agree with much of what you say, though I will say that our Professional Scrum Master class covers many of the areas you described.

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