The Job and Daily Life of the ScrumMaster

Posted in Scrum and Musings - 0

The job of ScrumMaster is real. It can have a big impact on costs (as illustrated in “The Case for a Full-time ScrumMaster” and The Scrum Field Guide), saving the company money - period. But what does a ScrumMaster do all day to justify a full-time role? The following list encompasses most, but not all, of the day-to-day tasks.

  • Remove impediments/resolve problems
  • Break up fights/quarrels
  • Act as a team mom
  • Report team data
  • Facilitate
  • Help out where needed
  • Educate the organization
  • Drive organizational change
  • Removing Impediments/Resolve Problems

Removing impediments and dealing with problems is always at the top of the list because, especially early in a project, there are many issues to deal with, both external and internal. Impediments or problems found by teams in large companies could be that another team does not respond in a timely fashion, your team needs to understand how an interface works and the people who wrote it are not available, or you have someone out sick for a few days. You also have to interface with management, doing everything from convincing them that an agile process is worthwhile, to reminding them of the fact that your job is full time, to paving the way for bonuses based on team, rather than individual, performance. Finally, you work to help the team solve its own problems and remove its own impediments. A good ScrumMaster should strive to work himself out of a job by creating a high-performing team. For some, this may be impossible to achieve, but it should always be the goal, as it shows a mature team that is truly self managing.

Breaking Up Fights/Acting as Team Mom

People are human. Sometimes we get in weird moods, don’t get enough coffee, have a bad night’s sleep, or just see something that sets us off in a bad way. Recently, my youngest daughter, Emma, could not decide what shirt to wear and thought everything she picked out looked terrible - she lost it. My wife and I had to bring her back to reality.

I’ve had perfectly rational team members who come to work one day and lose it over a challenge to their ideas. Talking them off the ledge takes patience and people skills. Good ScrumMasters need to have the soft skills to intervene when necessary and the emotional intelligence to know when it’s better to stay out of it altogether.

Reporting Team Performance

The ScrumMaster needs to help the team improve. One of the ways this is done is through reporting. A good ScrumMaster tracks the team’s historic velocities, burndown rates, and many other project-related metrics. This is done not only to assist the ScrumMaster’s own team in improving its estimation and smoothing the rate at which stories are completed during a sprint, but also to help other teams (especially new ones) in the organization as well.

The important thing to remember is that reporting team data, either internally to the team or externally to management, does not mean you are collecting data to hold against the team. Instead, you are providing visibility into data that the team needs to see and understand to improve.

Facilitate and Help Out Where Needed

The job of the ScrumMaster is to make it easier for the team to achieve its sprint goal. Many ScrumMasters wrongly assume that the best way to facilitate is to just do the work, which is not the case. Facilitation is not solving other people’s problems or doing it for them; it’s making things run more smoothly. The goal of facilitation should be to help the team analyze and get a better understanding of the system and the problems at hand.

The job of the ScrumMaster is not to provide answers or to do everything for the team, but rather it is to help people get to the answers that they may already know. Now there may come a time when you need to help out to complete a task. Helping out is OK on occasion as long as you don’t forget that it can hinder you in your role as ScrumMaster because it can cause you to focus too much on the work and not enough on the larger impediments that may be negatively impacting the team. When you do help out (and I know you will), remember that doing so must be the exception rather than the rule.

Educate the Organization and Drive Organizational Change

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” That quote, commonly attributed to former United States President Woodrow Wilson, definitely applies to these two ScrumMaster tasks. It’s tough to convince people to try something new because change is frightening. I find that when introducing new concepts, policies, or methodologies inside an organization, people’s first response is to wonder how it will affect them. Will their jobs be safe? Will they be able to provide for their families? Others openly rebel, refusing to consider the new way because the status quo, as bad as it might be, is better than the unknown.
A good ScrumMaster finds a way to introduce new ideas and initiate change without shocking people’s systems.

For more on the role of ScrumMaster as well as ways to convince management to make it a full-time job in your organization, check out The Scrum Field Guide.