This post is about one of the most critical issues that come up when we talk about the dynamics of a Scrum Master and the relationship with the Scrum team. I have a number of colleagues who are Scrum Masters, and one of the most misunderstood item relates to the power of the Scrum Master. Now, many of the scrum masters are actually project managers who moved onto this role when the development methodology moved onto using Scrum. Now they would have been trained on Scrum, and knew all about the concept of responsibility and ensuring that the team has everything they need to make things successful and also that the Scrum Master has the role of a coach. However, they are so used to the concept of being a project manager that it is hard for them to make the transition to a team where the team members are expected to be much more empowered and responsible for the success of the project.
The biggest problem comes up when the team runs into a problem which is not an impediment. It could be an issue related to task allocation, it could be an issue related to a particular person falling behind schedule, it could be numerous other problems that the project manager would have taken up; but things have changed. The concept of a Scrum Master is more in terms of somebody who coaches the team, shows them how to get to the right path, listen to their issues, but, and this is important, does not try to be another member of the team. This is one of the biggest issues – the Scrum Master would think that the team is not being able to resolve items or there is a complex matter and how easy it would be for the Scrum Master to step in and solve stuff that the team should be solving.
What the scrum master should be doing instead would be to be like somebody who can show to the team the problem they are facing and then show them the path to solving it. All this sounds very philosophical, after all, there is work to be done. But the reality is that if the team is not given the space and the ability to solve such problems by themselves, the Scrum Master will be doing these kinds of solutions on a regular basis and it will become more and more like a project team where the Project Manager acts as the main driver rather than as an empowered Scrum team that has the ability to analyse and solve such issues.
This is even more important when the team members report into their own functional managers, that is, the dev report to a engineering manager and the testers report to a QE manager. In such a case, the Scrum Master anyhow has no authority over the team members, and attempts to act like a dominant project manager will not work; instead the better approach is for all the stakeholders to recognize the important of the Scrum Master acting as a coach and the team members having the authority and responsibility to take important steps and ensure that progress is being made.
More about this topic in the next post (Scrum Master taking decisions – Part 2)