One of the development teams elects to have a developer as a scrum master? What would your response be?
Welcome to part 39 in our scrum master interview question series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
I would be perfectly ok with that.
The scrum master role.
People wonder whether the scrum master role was ever imagined to be a singular, dedicated role in the scrum team, and the answer is that yes, it was initially imagined that way. The narrative has changed over the past few years and is now referred to as an accountability rather than a role.
So, there is nothing wrong with a developer taking on the accountability of a scrum master because we want someone who is interested in the health of the team, and someone who is committed to creating an environment where the team can excel.
- Are there great relationships between the individuals on the scrum team?
- Is the environment suitable for the work we are engaged in?
- Are the organizational policies aligned with agile, and if not, how can we improve that?
These are the kinds of questions a scrum master will be asking, and that isn’t counter to what a developer in the scrum team would be thinking about either.
A developer will further be thinking about:
- How to solve the problems at hand in the simplest way.
- How to solve the problems at hand in the most elegant way.
- How to be effective, rather than efficient, in achieving the team goals and objectives.
So, the developer mindset compliments the scrum master mindset perfectly.
As a developer, you are also more likely to earn the respect of the developers on the team far quicker than an independent, non-technical scrum master will. The team will know that you understand the challenges of software development and naturally respect and trust you.
Does the developer understand the scrum master role?
The only question worth asking that developer is whether they are aware of what they are signing up for? Developers, in my experience, have a great deal of professional pride and love to be on top of the challenges they are responsible for. They don’t like entering a role and sucking at it any more than you or I do.
- Do they know what the role of a scrum master is, and why it is valuable to the team?
- Do they have the capacity to operate as both a developer and a scrum master?
- Is this a transition from developer to scrum master or simply a part-time gig?
- Would they want to build on the scrum master role and evolve into an agile coach?
There are a lot of factors to consider when taking on the responsibility of a scrum master and for some people, it may be an experiment to test the waters, whilst for others, it would be a whole new career path that builds on the excellent technical foundation of software engineering.
Is the developer the right or best person for the job?
This is a tricky one because we want to give people the opportunity to explore the role and decide whether it is a great fit for them, but we also have a responsibility to the team to ensure that we are providing them with a great scrum master who can support and advance the team in future.
The scrum master role, and agile coach role, are some of the most demanding and exciting roles I have ever encountered.
I started as a developer and evolved into a scrum master, and down the line, an agile coach, and so I can tell you it has been an incredible journey. It is, however, incredibly challenging and demanding.
It required me to build out completely new skill sets and develop elements of my mindset, thinking, and decision-making capabilities on levels I never imagined it would.
To be a great scrum master and serve a team effectively takes a great deal of work, patience, empathy, and servant leadership. It means that you take the back seat and allow the team to shine when they do well, and it means taking responsibility when they aren’t doing great to get them back on track.
It is a selfless, thankless job in so many ways, yet more rewarding and fulfilling than I could ever have imagined in so many other ways.
Are they prepared to acquire and develop the necessary skills.
Some people think of a scrum master as a mini-project manager combined with a personal assistant.
A scrum master, however, is a teacher, a coach, a mentor, and a facilitator.
They need to be strong agile and scrum practitioners for them to have any credibility in a scrum environment. They need to have worked through many, many iterations with a team and know why and how agile produces strong product development environments.
They need to have a strong knowledge of scrum, especially in the context of a team rather than just an individual, and they need to know how to get the best out of each scrum event. They need to know this inside out so that they can coach others and mentor them through the process.
That requires you to develop coaching skills. Firstly, professional coaching skills and then agile coaching skills. That takes a lot of time, effort, practice, and commitment. It also requires some kind of commitment to training and certification.
It also requires you to be a great facilitator. This takes training, certification, and practice too.
A great facilitator is not involved in the content, they facilitate the content. This can be difficult for a developer because they are often deep in the content and are engaged in developing the solution. That isn’t your role in facilitation and so you often find that developers battle with this.
So, it’s worth working through these elements with the developer and inviting them to commit to acquiring all of these skills, developing those skills, and walking the path of training and certification to ensure they are doing a great job as a scrum master and agile coach.
About John McFadyen
For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.
If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.
If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (CSP-SM) course page.
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