I read recently that the role of Scrum Master held the number 10 spot on LinkedIn’s Hottest Jobs of 2017 list, and the number of jobs in this area is expected to double over the coming year. This piqued my interest because until the summer of 2015, when I was happily working in a Waterfall environment as an Infrastructure Project Manager, I had never heard of either the term Agile or the role. I can hear you gasping as you read this but, in my defence, I was working in a small town in a very conservative environment where process and procedure were everything and “change” a dirty word.
My previous company’s eventual decision to move away from Waterfall to an Agile environment was a sudden one, and there was a great emphasis on Scrum in particular. With my PM role no longer to be, I had to become a Certified Scrum Master, and quickly. I have to admit that the first few months of this new role were not particularly enjoyable as everything seemed very alien. However, since then, having seen the benefits of iterative development, I have wholly immersed myself in the world of Agile and am therefore always interested in Meetups related to this subject.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the #TrueScrumMaster meetup presented by Tobias Mayer, author of ‘The People’s Scrum and creator/curator of AgileLib.Net. Discussions revolved around how the role of Scrum Master has changed since its inception, and what individuals and companies could do to take it back to its essence. Here are just a few key takeaways from the night.
Scrum Master origins
According to Tobias, when the term Scrum Master originated the individual was defined as an “Evangelist, a Servant-Leader and a Sheep Dog”, the last one relating to protecting a team. These words, or their equivalent, are still used in job adverts for the role today, but is this actually the reality?
The ‘slash’ in job title
If I reflect on my previous job, where I was a Scrum Master / Team Leader, I can immediately see that I was only really fulfilling the protector role. It was difficult to be a true Servant-Leader when the latter part of the role meant, by the very essence of its title, that I was having to do more of the leading than the servant element. I did try to wear a different hat depending on which part of the role I was playing but it was difficult once the team were exposed to the leadership side as they seemed unable to see beyond it during the day to day.
This ‘slash’ seems to be more and more commonplace and sometimes it isn’t apparent until after you apply for what was initially advertised as a purely Scrum Master role. Tobias likened this to a “Chimera – strange beasts wandering around, not quite knowing what they should be doing”. I think this is a fair observation. You only have to review adverts for Scrum Masters to see that there are many companies out there who don’t really seem to understand, but are still recruiting for the role because being an Agile company is increasingly in vogue. Simply using the words however, doesn’t mean they are truly understood. If you are a Scrum Master ‘slash’ Project Manager, for example, how can you truly fulfil the Servant-Leader role when you are responsible for managing the team, making decisions and being accountable to the business for achieving the goal of the project? As a Scrum Master you should be one part of a team who are together responsible for both the success of the product as well as the success of the team itself. You can perform each role individually for separate projects but it is more effective to avoid combining them on the same project.
Getting back to basics
Companies need to start truly understanding what it is to be Agile and this means that any sort of transformation needs to be carefully managed. If those tasked with delivering projects are just told that the company is becoming Agile without truly understanding what this means, or being included in the discussions around why the change is happening, then it might be an uphill struggle to really see the true benefit of the transformation. As humans we inherently don’t like change, but if we are involved in the decision-making process from the start then we have more of a vested interest in the outcome.
Part of this is having a more comprehensive understanding of the role of the Scrum Master and allowing them the freedom to guide and nurture teams to success rather than just leading them to it. Agile businesses need to realise that, as Tobias said in his presentation, “there is more control when you release into not knowing and trust that the people doing the work will figure it out”.
Top 5 tips to make your organisation Agile
- Get buy-in: Ensure full buy-in and understanding of Agile at all levels from the kick-off. Be open to change and potentially the release of some control, and accept occasional failures as part of the learning process
- Start small: Maybe just one team at first. As other areas of the business see the improvement in delivery and speed to market the easier it will be to sell the concept to a wider audience. The proof is always in the pudding!
- Remove ambiguity: Take the ‘slash’ out of job roles and allow people to truly understand who they are and what their role is
- Environment: Create an open and honest environment where teams are encouraged to grow, take ownership of their destiny and excel in what they are good at
- Understand: Don’t just use Agile terms, truly understand them