What does a ScrumMaster Do Anyway?
We’ve discussed what a ScrumMaster is and what their main responsibilities are. We’ve even discussed the hard and soft skills needed to make a successful ScrumMaster (thanks, Leslie Knope). But, still, what does a ScrumMaster do anyway? What makes up an entire work day? How does their day (and their effectiveness) change as they engage with more teams?
ScrumMaster As A Servant Leader
As a servant leader, the ScrumMaster’s main responsibility is to facilitate value delivery by removing roadblocks that stymie progress. It sounds accurate but vague at the same time. What does it mean to remove roadblocks? Or facilitate value delivery.
Our Senior Agile Coach, Braz Brandt defines a servant leader as “An individual who believes in the inherent power and abilities of the people and teams around them, and works to help elevate those people while creating the environment for their long-term success and happiness”.
So while ScrumMasters are not expected to play barista every day, it’s not uncommon for them to treat hard working teams to a coffee or a pint (or two) every once in a while. Other examples of servant leadership include:
Making sure the process works for the team, and not just for the unicorn. Most of the workforce is not made of up unicorns, just good workers who need systems like Scrum to make them more efficient. While the ScrumMaster is the “master” of Scrum, it doesn’t mean that Scrum is the only framework that will be used by their team. Being a master means knowing something so well, and the intent behind it, that they are able to adjust in the right way when necessary. ScrumMasters work with the team to determine the best solution for the problem, even if the final answer is not Scrum. Maybe Kanban is better in a particular instance; or maybe a hybrid of the two, Scrumban. Other examples of mixing it up are demo-ing in real-time instead of waiting for a planned Sprint Review or a team creating an experiment-driven learning mechanism for improvement that isn’t a Sprint Retrospective.
Protecting the team, by helping stakeholders understand and respect this new way of working. Agile is completely different. Teams are now empowered and don’t need managers to delegate tasks. Planning projects with Agile is also very different as the focus shifts from the plan to the result. Instead of having access to team members and assigning rush projects, leaders are encouraged to work with the Product Owner to prioritize the project in the backlog. It takes time for this shift to occur, and as the Agile champion, it is the ScrumMaster’s job to continue to educate and help stakeholders and team members navigate the new terrain.
Facilitating Scrum Ceremonies, there’s more to being a meeting facilitator than creating a Google calendar invite with the agenda. A great facilitator understands the goals of the workshop and makes sure the team is on track towards meeting that goal within the designated time frame.
For example, Sprint Retrospectives are meant to help the team improve by identifying issues and determining action items that will help solve them. A ScrumMaster should be prepared for the meeting by having the foresight to know what potential issues might be discussed, determining an activity to create space for the team to surface said issues, and then guiding the team to find a resolution.
Championing information radiators, like Kanban boards and burndown charts. There are two sets of information radiators: the ones for the team and the ones for stakeholders. Artifacts geared towards stakeholders prevent them from micromanaging because they have a view of the progress being made. Team-based information radiators help teams because they provide visibility into the Sprint, which allows them to raise issues and make decisions when they begin to see red flags.
A way to keep teams happy and productive is to make work and progress visible. This keeps stakeholders focused on strategic initiatives and away from micromanaging, which makes teams happier. Micromanaging is the number one thing leaders should do if they want to drive away talent.
Working with leadership to get tools and training for the team.
One way to prevent frustration and grumblings from the team is to make sure they are set up for success. Examples could be helping to secure Product Owner training for the Business Analyst who just became the new PO or getting an updated laptop for the QA so that they can test in multiple browsers simultaneously.
Example ScrumMaster Daily Agenda
To help you better understand the day-to-day of a ScrumMaster, we asked to see the calendars of actual ScrumMasters. Meet Link’s calendar. He is the SM for two teams, Avengers and Ultron. Below is an example of what his week looks like during Sprint end/beginning. Since the teams are working in a similar area of the product and have the same stakeholders, they have a combined Sprint Review.
In order for a ScrumMaster to be effective as a servant leader, it is important that they have ample time to teach and coach teams and leaders, and just be available for the team. They also need time to prepare for meetings, analyze data, mentor team members and meet with stakeholders and leaders to remove impediments that prevent the team from making progress.
The best ScrumMasters have this one thing in common: time for their teams. If a question or problem arises, they need to be there to help find a solution. They have an open-door policy; they are available. Imagine if Link was the ScrumMaster of three teams? Four? What would his calendar look like then? Check out Ana’s below. She has 3 teams.
Doesn’t leave a lot of breathing room. During Sprint week she basically goes from meeting to meeting with no time for other work that will help make the team really effective. With this many teams, the consequence is the teams have to schedule their meetings around her rather than her scheduling them to meet the teams’ needs. Or in this case, you might notice that she doesn’t have a Review on the books for Fight Club due to calendar conflicts with the other two teams. You might also see that the Retrospectives and Sprint Plannings are shorter than recommended for maximum outcome. It’s hard to fit it all in when ScrumMasters have too many teams. Our recommendation is to limit 2 maybe 3 teams per ScrumMaster.
We hope this article clarifies questions about the ScrumMaster role. In the meantime, let us know if we missed anything. What is your definition of servant leadership? How do you exemplify that as a SM and as a leader?