If you look at the scrum guide, it’s very clear.
They are there to coach the organisation in the adoption of Scrum.
They are there to coach the product owner in the creation and refinement of a great backlog, and they help the product owner to articulate a compelling vision for the team. They help the product owner communicate what needs doing, when it needs doing, and why it needs doing.
They are there to coach the development team in the adoption of processes that help create an environment where the team can thrive. To help with the adoption of agile values and principles to empower the development team to create products and features that truly delight customers.
What does that mean?
Service to the development team
Many, many teams are a collective group of people who are paid to work together. They don’t embody teamwork and they don’t act as a cohesive unit that feed off each other’s strength.
That isn’t what we want in the 21st Century workplace.
What we want is a group of people working toward a common goal and sharing a common and compelling vision for the product, feature, and organisation.
We want a team to be a group of people who want to work together to achieve their goals, who have the skills necessary to achieve their goals, and who have the autonomy to achieve their goals.
We want a team to be willing to have the difficult conversations that are necessary for progression and achievement of goals. We want people to embody what it means to be a team.
As a scrum master, it is your responsibility to create that team environment. It is your responsibility to coach the individuals in that team toward becoming a great team. Facilitating conversations and scrum events in a way that helps the team improve and focus on continuous improvement with each increment.
Yes, the product owner owns the product vision but it is critically important that the developers believe in it and buy into that vision. It is critically important that the team are pursuing a common goal and use their talent and creativity to achieve the product goals and objectives.
A scrum master helps the development team become motivated and passionate about doing the best job they can in the best way they can.
A scrum master creates psychological safety so that the team can have difficult, even awkward conversations, that lead to the discovery of better ways of doing things and improved ways of achieving their goals and objectives.
A great scrum master creates an environment where people have a voice, where their professional opinion is heard and where relevant, acted upon. They create an environment where people know that their contribution is valued and acknowledged.
Service to the product owner
A scrum master also works closely with the product owner. Very often, a product owner has very little training in the agile world and so a scrum master coaches and helps the product owner to understand their place in the grand scheme of things.
A product owner is not a business analyst. They aren’t there to just analyse an environment, design a solution and hand it over to others to build.
Instead, product owners act as the CEO of the product and play a critical role in helping the scrum team to build products and features that truly delight customers. To help the team solve the most compelling problems in the most creative and collaborative way possible.
A scrum master works with the product owner to help them articulate the vision for the product, to represent the voice of the customer within the organisation, and to communicate the needs for the product. What needs doing, when it needs doing, and why it needs doing.
A scrum master helps facilitate conversations between the product owner and the developers where the product owner can talk about what needs doing and articulate the importance of why it needs to be done. Helps the team articulate what is important and how that has an impact in the lives of the customer and product stakeholders.
If you are fortunate enough to work with a deeply skilled and experienced product owner, great, learn from them and use that knowledge and insight to help coach newbie product owners in the future.
It’s your job as a scrum master to support the product owner in creating a healthy and valuable backlog. To help articulate a vision and goal that inspires the development team. And when done right, create an environment where people bring their talent and creativity into every element of the product and feature development.
Service to the organisation
This is a tough area for a scrum master. It often involves scary conversations and interactions with senior managers and leaders outside of the scrum team. At times, you may even feel as if your job is on the line because of the difficult conversations you need to have with key personnel.
It’s a very fine line to walk for a scrum master and you need to take care when interacting and engaging with senior managers outside of your scrum team.
You need to develop your situational awareness and understand when it’s ok to push for a solution and when you and the team are best served by more conservative action.
Organisations will resist you. They will resist adopting a more agile way of working. In their minds, everything works just fine and they don’t like change at all.
As a scrum master, you are leading change and actively lobbying for change that is hard for others to swallow. Actively asking for resources or the removal of impediments that are creating problems for your scrum team.
You need to be resilient and you need to develop your ability to walk those fine lines without generating animosity and resentment in others.
Making the distinction between being assertive in service of your team’s needs and balancing that with the knowledge that change takes time and people needing to fully understand the benefits or costs that are associated with your requests.
A scrum master may be having conversations about policies, about structures, about things which at first glance you may have no right to be talking about.
But you are doing so to create an environment where your team can excel. You are inviting those changes to help your team progress. That is the reason why you are having the tough conversations. That is your right to be there.
As a scrum master, you can see the direct line between a policy and an impediment in your team. It’s your job to have the tough conversations with the people who control those policies and show them how the team will thrive if the impediment is removed, or the policy is changed.
So, you want to be having those conversations with people and you want to do so respectfully.
Understand that those people know how to do their jobs effectively and that they have seniority within the organisation because they have a proven track record for being great at their job.
That doesn’t mean that you need to be soft. It means that you need to balance assertiveness with respect for their job, the challenges they may face, and the need to educate them on the impact of their decisions on the team.
You need to build a reputation for being resilient. You need to develop a reputation for being the person who doggedly shows up until it’s done. To be someone who holds others accountable for the commitments they make and ensure that you see it through to its conclusion.
Coaching the organisation is a vague term and it’s really hard to encapsulate everything that we can do to be of service to both our team as well as the organisation.
What you need to be doing is having conversations with people way above and beyond your sphere of influence and helping them to understand how their actions, decisions, and policies shape the performance of the team and improve the organisation.
You need to be winning hearts and minds way above your pay grade and developing a reputation for being someone who delivers value to the team as well as the organisation.
There are a lot of people in the organisation that want to assist and make great decisions that benefit the team as well as the organisation. It’s your job to find them and lobby them effectively.
So, in summary, there are 3 key responsibilities of the scrum master.
- Service to the organisation
- Service to the product owner
- Service to the development team
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