fredag 27 juni 2014

The position for a Scrum Master is open!

(Another attempt to blog in English, since this is a commentary to this post by Henrik Berglund.)

Position now open. But what is the proper position for a Scrum Master then?

According to the very definition of Scrum: the Scrum guide, the role of the Scrum Master is to make Scrum understood and enacted. As a Scrum Master, you don't have any formal authority to do so, so you have to resort to helping others understand their parts. The guide talks about understanding and helping others to understand.

In that sense, the position of the Scrum Master (or a similar coach-like servant leader when other frameworks than Scrum is being used) is always needed. Just as Henrik points out: we are never fully learned. And still I think that it is a worthy target for a Scrum Master to try to make herself unneeded. Or rather: her current position unneeded.

I look upon it as an instance of situational leadership. While the overarching goals remains (developing high value through optimizing flow and value generation), the actual job description have to change continously. In an organization involved in some kind of agile transformation, things change with time:

Knowledge of the framework change: When you start out with Scrum or Kanban or some other approach, people will need a lot of hand holding. The Scrum Master will need to facilitate the events by booking them and even leading them to begin with. With time, people will learn to manage these themselves, if the Scrum Master helps them take that responsibility. While the Scrum Master exists to make Scrum happen, Scrum isn't supposed to die when the Scrum Master is away.

The team matures with time: The dynamics of the group evolves with time. Bruce Tuckman noticed that the maturity of the team can be measured by its ability to reach good collective agreement. As Wikipedia states it:

These high-performing teams can function as a unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. By this time, they are motivated and knowledgeable. The team members are now competent, autonomous and able to handle the decision-making process without supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channeled through means acceptable to the team.

Helping them to reach there and remain there is a constant responsibility of a team coach. Exactly how it is done varies greatly, and a lot of the things the team need help with in earlier stages of their development, they will be able to take on themselves. In this sense, it is good for a Scrum Master to make herself unneeded.

The organisation matures with time: Here is where I see that the job of a Scrum Master / agile coach might be a transitional phase in an organisation's development. If you start Scrum in a hostile environment, fx an organisation where certain fundamental truths about software development isn't regarded properly, a lot of energy needs to be spent on protecting the team from bad management decisions. You will create some agile bubbles by fending off too heavy and/or too vague work items being pushed; and try to minimize the impact of bad incentives and other mangagement dysfunctions.

But that will probably change with time. When we use visual management to become good at showing the impact of bad decisions, the decisions will be better. When more people in the organisation becomes aware of the fundamental psychological and mathematical truths that every member of the lean family (of which agile is one) is built upon, the management will no longer stand in the way for team development.

And when that happens, why can't the management take on the coaching servant leader role? Do we need a separate Srum Master role for this?

In mature lean organisations, it is the floor-management, the manager closest to the team, who take on the responsibility of coaching the team on its continuous improvement journey. This is a natural step in meeting the need that Henrik points out: Organizations need to learn how to learn. It is obviously a waste having both a management structure that works against agility in the organisation, and then have a Scrum Master who is there to minimize the impact of the bad management. The natural fix after a root-cause analysis would be to fix the management.

However, the path for an organisation to walk before they understand this might be long, and it is clear that the majority of the organisations have a need for guides who can help them do the walk. Our job as agile coaches are far from over. But I can definitely see that it is a transitional phase, and when that is over we need to take another job. Probably as managers of the organisations that now has integrated agile values and practices in their very core.

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