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This post is from the Collabnet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.

Last Updated Jan 13, 2012 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert

Everything I learned about Scrum Teams I learned from M*A*S*H

Enterprise Agile Planning
I like to participate in discussion groups.  I enjoy the discussions themselves, and I also like "meeting" the folks who are participating.  There are a lot of questions that get repeated in those groups, but I personally feel that the conversations are various enough that this is a good thing.   There is always enough of a twist on each one that I learn something new. One question that comes up a lot is, "Who should be the Scrum Master?"  Sometimes it is as simple as, "Hey, we are starting to do Scrum, so we need a Scrum Master. Who should we get?" Sometimes it's a bit more involved.  Many of these conversations really focus on turning Project Managers into Scrum Masters, as a sort of natural step in transitioning to a Scrum Team environment.  While I understand this seems to be a convenient, comfortable step, I'm not sure it is as helpful as it originally appears.  In our never/ending search for metaphors to explain ourselves, I am going to utilize that well known show from the '70s and '80s, M*A*S*H.

Consider the role of the Project Manager.  A good Project Manager is responsible for making sure all the variables for a project are identified and categorized.  He/she is also responsible for identifying and mitigating all of the risks in a project.  Most of this is done at the beginning of a project, and will then continue in a reactive manner throughout the course of the project.  Other tasks that are important to a Project Manager are to identify and manage the budget for a project, as well as make decisions along the way as to changes and delivery.  To me, this is Colonel Potter, as played by the late great Harry Morgan. Col. Potter understood that his job was not to tell the surgeons what to do, or how to fix a wounded soldier.  He was absolutely a figure of authority, but knew when to get involved and when to stay out of it. When push came to shove, if there was a decision that the team wouldn't or couldn't make on their own, he was there to either offer some insight to help them come to a decision, or in some cases he knew he had to be the one to make that decision.  One disclaimer here:  the level of authority for a wartime military commander is going to be much higher than in our world, but much of this still applies.  Leadership is not really different; it just becomes that much more imperative. So in the M*A*S*H series, who represented the Scrum Master?  I see the epitome of a Scrum Master as Radar O'Reilly.  He made sure everything got done.  People got used to relying on him without asking for something in particular, and he really made everything happen.  If something got in someone's way, he knew what to trade /and with whom / to make that obstacle go away.  I also think it's worth noting that Radar was a Corporal for most of the series.  He led from a position of no power whatsoever.  He knew nothing about surgery, nothing about the military, but everything about relationships (albeit, not the romantic kind). There was never any doubt as to who really made things happen there; it was all Radar.  He made things run smoothly so the doctors and nurses could focus on healing the sick and wounded.  This is the Scrum Master. One last comment on the M*A*S*H analogy.  At the beginning of the series, the doctors did all of the surgery and the nurses supported them.  Over the course of the series, you would hear surgeons use statements like, "OK, nurse, close for me."  Then later, the nurses started doing triage (determining which patients had to be operated on right away and which could wait) and, in some cases, even getting involved in the actual surgery itself.  So while everyone kept their specializations, each was able to branch out and help wherever necessary. Sound familiar?


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