Nowadays, we usually hear the terms “Agile” and “Scrum” being used as an integral part of everyday language in the context of project management. Even though I am glad that this framework has become popular and more widely understood, the roles and responsibilities within work teams are becoming distorted. This has come about due to the misuse of traditional Agile terms, often due to a lack of knowledge and, unfortunately, a poor understanding of what working in a high-performance team entails.
This applies particularly to one of the most popular, yet least understood, roles within this context: the Scrum Master (SM). Some people are of the opinion that this team member does not add value because they do not directly develop software.
In this article I will analyze the role of the Scrum Master from my personal experience, with a view to bringing down some of the myths that surround it and understanding accurately the place that the Scrum Master occupies as a member of a high-performance team.
I have worked as a Scrum Master for Belatrix for 5 years, and I dare say it has been one of the most demanding challenges I have faced. Even though it wasn’t within the scope of my role to develop software, I was in charge of thoroughly understanding the project: how the team would be able to implement the client’s requirements in each component and how its members would interact with each other. It was also my duty to be fully acquainted with the infrastructure in which the project would be integrated and built, and the environments in which we would deploy it.
In addition, it was my job to understand how the quality assurance (QA) and continuous delivery strategies and practices come together in order to deliver a functional, and relatively complete, product at the end of each iteration.
As a Scrum Master I had to have a deep and thorough understanding of the project in order to satisfy the client’s need for information and updates. As is the case in every services company, the client will always be demanding and meticulous, and will always make sure that every working hour and every dollar invested is fruitful. A SM therefore has to watch over every detail to be able to answer clearly and precisely the client’s questions. In addition, they must draft status reports based on quantitative indicators that will come in handy in the future to make projections and critical decisions.
Being the link between the team and the client is also one of the Scrum Master’s major tasks. On the one hand, the SM is in charge of conveying all the client’s expectations on the project to the team, while, on the other hand, they have to provide feedback to the team concerning the completed work.
However, none of this is possible without a cohesive team that is fully committed to the assigned goals, and that is flexible and willing enough to reach them. There needs to be a high level of collaboration between all the parties involved, and they should be able to realize when it is necessary to make improvements, strengthen their capabilities, fix mistakes and, most importantly, learn from them.
Despite the many advantages that Scrum Masters bring to the team, it is not the sugar-coated role that coaches and books usually depict. Agile and Scrum do not magically solve all of a team’s problems. It is up to the SM to work hard to do so.
Innumerable issues come up on a daily basis, and it is the Scrum Master’s job to deal with them with infinite patience and optimism. Unexpected changes, demotivated team members, differences of opinion within the team that may lead to conflict, unexpected internal dependencies and blockages, communication issues and endless non-productive meetings are only a few of the issues that a SM must face on a daily basis.
I could write a series of articles analysing the complexity and solution of each of these issues, but my main goal here is to create awareness of their existence. A team without a leader in charge of doing away with obstacles and promoting an effective work flow would be chaotic and would never achieve its goals.
One common mistake is assuming that Scrum Masters and Project Managers play the same role. It is critical to understand what these roles entail, both for the work team and for the client. Unlike a Project Manager, a SM is not in charge of instructing the team what they have to do or telling them how to do it. Their job is to make sure that team members are learning from their mistakes and helping them discover more efficient ways of completing their tasks.
The role of the Scrum Master consists of an interesting mixture of technical, interpersonal, negotiation and planning skills that add great value to an Agile team. These skills are usually not innate, nor can they only be acquired through books, workshops and certificates on the Agile formula (even though this will help). It is only through experience and time that you acquire these crucial skills.
Being a Scrum Master is not easy, but it is incredibly satisfying. Helping a team make progress and achieve their goals gives you a sense of personal fulfilment that is very valuable. I hope that this article has helped you become more acquainted with the day-to-day reality of this under-appreciated, yet essential, role.
February 13 / 2020
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