This post is from the CollabNet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.
ScrumMaster: Servant Leader or Secretary?
In Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) courses, many Scrum myths are busted. One such myth is that the ScrumMaster is somehow an administrative assistant to a development team, to a product owner or to an organization.
The Scrum Guide notes that the ScrumMaster is the servant leader to a development team, to the product owner and to the organization: http://scrumguides.org/
The guide describes this service as coaching, guiding, enabling understanding, enabling outcomes and so on. It does not talk about the ScrumMaster typing or writing.
Get Your Hands Off the Team’s Work
When ScrumMasters describe writing down “notes” for the team or scribing the team’s tasks at sprint planning this is what I advise ScrumMasterss everywhere: “Get your hands off of the team’s work!”
Will the team ever learn accountability and collective ownership if there’s an admin who will simply scribe everything for them? What will the team do if their ScrumMaster / Secretary is off for the day? Typically nothing is noted in these situations because the team has not assumed any level of accountability or ownership for tracking their own work.
I have the pleasure of working with high performing Scrum teams. Rarely is there a case where the team members expected someone to write down what they were saying or doing. The development team members make notes, type and do all that is necessary. They see it as just “work they have to do,” as opposed to falling into dogma from traditional system development lifecycle roles. The ScrumMasters serving in those situations, truly understand that they are focusing on the outcome, listening for impediments and pulling interactions back on track. When ScrumMasters feel like they have to “scribe,” their focus is split and they rarely pick up on the items that a great ScrumMaster notice.
Get Your Hands Off the Product Owner’s Work
A great ScrumMaster also needs to serve the product owner. I recently performed an assessment in which the ScrumMaster “kept” the product backlog. The product owner had not only never touched the product backlog, they did not even have access to it. Yikes! Once again ScrumMasters who are falling into this dysfunction, I advise:“Get your hands off of your product owners work!”
The product backlog is for the product owner. It is the way they manage the work that is needed for the product. While anyone can add items, this should not be interpreted as “just send your items to the ScrumMaster and they will take care of adding them to the product backlog.” Many dysfunctions are created out of this type of activity. Not only is the product owner not taking responsibility for the list of items to work on for the product, they are also more than likely are not actively refining and getting items to a state of ready by sprint planning time either.
Service to the Organization
Many associate the ScrumMaster with only a development team and a product owner. This tells me that these ScrumMasters are missing a third of the job. The ScrumMaster has responsibilities in the organization to teach, coach and guide the right outcomes.
In Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) classes, I hear product owners describe interactions with steering committees or leaders that get heated, go down rat holes and never have a definitive outcome. “Where was your ScrumMaster when this was going on?” I ask. They go on to explain that no note taking was necessary so the ScrumMaster was probably not needed for the meeting.
The ScrumMaster is a neutral. They are a facilitator. Who better to come along when the product owner expects emotional discussions? As a skilled, neutral facilitator, a great ScrumMaster can keep the discussion fact-based and focus on the outcomes. If good ideas are generated during the discussion, he or she can suggest that these ideas be captured in the product backlog, so that ideas that can be discussed at a later time and don’t detract from the focus of the conversation at hand.
The ScrumMaster is not an administrative assistant or a secretary. They are the master of the Scrum framework. A process enabler. An advocate for the development team, the product owner and the organization. Great ScrumMasters who focus on servant leadership and outcomes will enable delivering of business value with each sprint.