When I see how some roles in organizations are just jumbled up, the team simply does not understand how they should be leveraging that role to their advantage, it makes me sick to my stomach. One such role is “Scrum master” in an agile development team. The value of scrum masters doesn’t seem to be understood well either by organizations or by team members. I’m fairly certain that scrum masters are tasked with incredibly absurd tasks, but I’m not sure if this is because of the scrum masters themselves or because the teams they oversee frequently act carelessly.
In my personal observation, I have seen scrum masters being treated as
1) Optional role: In most startups, there is an absurd plan B and a popular judgment in operation. Having “Scrum masters” would be a waste of money because we are able to run our agile processes without their help. Let’s get an Agile/Scrum book, have a fast look at it, and then start putting the methods into practice. Thoughts like “Well, scrum is all about the typical ceremonies and we have little experiences from our past that are good enough to manage the show” are even worse than they already are.
2) An official team assistant: “Scrum masters don’t do any work; all they do is schedule meetings,” someone once said. Teams expect scrum masters to make meeting room reservations not only for scrum ceremonial activities but also for their work. I frequently saw that in one of the banking setups, the team architect would give the scrum master instructions on when to reserve meeting spaces for him.
3) Host and Entertainer: No matter the meeting or gathering, scrum masters are always looked at for facilitating it, but why? They serve as team coaches, assisting teams in maximizing their efforts and enhancing efficiency. They are not party performers.
4) Bug dispenser of the team: This practice just irritates me to no end, Scrum masters are expected by teams to distribute bugs. In one of the large enterprise organizations, I have had a first-hand experience with Scrum masters prioritizing defect tickets, allocating them to the appropriate developers, producing bug reports, sending the reports to management, and other tasks in large business firms.
5) Babysitters: Some teams even treat scrum masters as babysitters
Resolving internal team fights
Follow up with team members if they finished their work
Constantly reminding people to speak up and pass on the information
Clean up all the documentation, files folder structures, etc.
There is a huge difference between someone volunteering to help with team activities V/s defaulting some ridiculous tasks as that role’s primary responsibility.
How should teams make use of the scrum master role?
Coach & Mentor: The Scrum Master plays a critical role as a coach and mentor to the Scrum Team. They help the team members understand and apply Agile concepts and practices, and consistently improve their procedures and practices.
For example: If a Scrum Team has been struggling with their Sprint Reviews, and the stakeholders are providing feedback that is not very helpful or actionable. As a coach, the Scrum Master would collaborate with the team to determine the underlying source of the problem and create a strategy to resolve it.
Facilitator: A team is a collection of people who have an assortment of personalities; while some can talk for hours on end, others are shy and prefer to retire to their safe havens. While some people are incredibly dominant and intimidating, others are humble and simply follow. ballScrum Masters are like oil to the ball bearings, they identify the anti-practices and facilitate the meetings to guarantee every team member gets an equal chance to participate and put forward their perspectives.
Removing Impediments: Scrum Masters have a holistic view of how a team operates, and they facilitate better collaboration by involving the right roles at the right time to keep tasks moving. For example, A task is blocked because of a dependent ticket that is waiting for a reply from a CX colleague. Scrum masters facilitate getting the reply to the dependent ticket so the task can be unblocked.
At Small/Medium enterprises scrum masters may not get to flex all their functions. In Large enterprises with scaled agile teams, the role of scrum masters is expanded and their presence help reduces chaos to a much larger extent. If you have a scrum master in your team, take time to talk to them and understand their role better.
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