Project Management

The Misunderstood Scrum Master

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Categories: Agile


By Christian Bisson

Inspired by The 8 Stances of a Scrum Master (a great read if you haven’t done so already), I want to focus this article on a few of the “misunderstood” stances of the scrum master.

Recently, I asked colleagues to share what they think a scrum master does, and the answers revolved around organizing scrum events (secretary) or note taking (scribe). It’s even expected that they make sure the office has coffee (coffee clerk).

Although there is nothing wrong in helping the team with any of the above—especially when it’s a brand-new team figuring out everything from setting up their work station to getting to know each other—there is a line between helping and not fulfilling your potential as a scrum master. This is important for you as an individual, but also for the team in the long term (even if they don’t know it).

So how can we fix this?

Stop Doing It

As a scrum master, you have to factor in everything when making a decision about whether or not to do something for your team. So, if the team is used to you doing a task and all of a sudden you stop, this might have a negative impact.

On the other hand, it might be what they need to break bad habits. If you do stop doing it, the team will have no choice but to do it themselves. However, in this case, you should warn the team or give them a heads up that you will stop by the next sprint, for example.

Never Start Doing It

If you are new to the team, or the whole team is new, you might have the opportunity to simply never start doing a given task in the first place. Although it seems counterintuitive to “not help” the team, you’ll avoid creating any habit that will affect them in the long term—and will be challenging to break.

In this case, you should explain to the team that it’s everyone’s responsibility to handle these tasks and to build good habits from day one.

I personally did this with note taking a few years ago. It was challenging at first, but now I go to meetings without any apparent ways of taking notes, making it obvious that I won’t be doing it. (I do have my phone in case something important comes up that I need to note for myself, of course). Now in meetings, I’ve gone from the note taker to being able to focus on facilitating the meeting and help the team get the best out of the conversation.

In Conclusion

It’s quite challenging to avoid all the “misunderstood” stances of the scrum master, but we have to do our best to be true to the real value scrum masters can bring to teams.

What misunderstood stances have you fought against? How have you tried to combat them?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: January 21, 2020 11:57 AM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Dear Christian

Interesting perspective on:
"The Misunderstood Scrum Master"
Thanks for sharing

Misunderstandings can only exist if the roles are not well defined

I liked the 8 stances. The do/not do sounds very Yoda-ish. ("There is no try.")

Thanks, Christian. A bit taken back by your colleague's summation of the role. It can often be a misunderstood role and undervalued on the importance and impact the role has or can have.

Take an orchestra director. He or she directs the orchestra. However, it seems at times that musicians are more focused on their music sheets than anything else. However, without the director, the orchestra would probably perform poorly or at least not as good. I dare to say that a SM is somewhat comparable to an orchestra director.

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