How the Role of the Scrum Master Changes Over Time
From their introduction to Scrum to self-management, as Agile teams progress, so do the Scrum Masters who lead them. Learn more here.
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I was teaching a module on Scrum Roles to an Agile Scrum Overview class recently when a learner asked for clarification as to how the role of the Scrum Master changes over time. In my experience, I see three major phases that describe the progression of the Scrum Master’s interaction with the team. In each of these phases, the Scrum Master gives up some control of the mechanics of the framework to enable the team to move ever closer to becoming a well-formed, high performing, self-managed team.
1. Facilitator and Teacher
Scrum Masters are the defender of the framework. When spinning up a new team, they are entrusted with the care and feeding of a team of members who are often experiencing their first contact with Agile Scrum. The Scrum Master has the training and experience to model leadership within the framework, while giving the team room to drift and self-correct. The Scrum Master wants to see the framework used correctly to ensure a healthy feedback loop from the demos and retrospectives. They want to improve the product and improve the team. In this phase, the Scrum Master will most often facilitate the events with the hope the team will learn by observation and grow to absorb many of the leadership habits.
As the team matures and becomes comfortable with the Scrum framework, it is healthy for the Scrum Master to give up facilitation of some of the events and allow the team to self-manage those activities. The Scrum Master may devote their attention to a smooth flow of work and continuous improvement. The Scrum Master may guide the team in addressing impediments that may surface because of factors deep in the organizational structure or culture. At this point, the Scrum Master often prefers to let the team take the lead. When the team works to identify and address these impediments themselves, those actions will have a “longer lasting effect than when the Scrum Master swoops in to correct these issues for them.” (Jarrell, 2016)
The Scrum Master may also encourage cross training and advocate for “T-Shaped” people. These are people with both deep expertise and the ability to work outside their specialty to flex with the workload. Resources who are skilled in this way offer the greatest opportunity to shape the resource pool to the flow of work, thereby eliminating a real or potential constraint.
The Scrum Master may also look to address tools. Test Driven Development and automated testing are great ways both to cut the cost of quality while supporting the standard of care, and to improve the velocity of the team. Teams that mature beyond this phase are almost always committed to automated tests. “Automated tests are necessary to achieve a sufficiently high test coverage in each sprint and thus provide the high quality and rapid feedback that we seek when we are working Agile.” (Eriksson, 2012)
By now the Scrum team has significant experience being a self-managed team. The team has addressed impediments and may have even made lasting changes in the organizational structure or culture of the business. The Scrum Master trusts the Scrum team to respect the framework and to remove blockers and impediments as they arise. The Scrum Master may look beyond the build factory and lobby for improvements into deployment and support. They may advocate for more frequent high-quality deployments. However, this phase is defined by the Scrum Master coaching the team as their focus changes from mechanic to dynamic: from “merely following the framework to a learning and innovating mindset — even to include the process itself.” (Barjis, 2018)
It takes the Scrum Master a great deal of effort to help grow a self-managed, high performing team. But they don’t do it alone. “It takes the sustained effort of committed people, both on the team and above them.” (Wandile, 2018) However, with each phase of Scrum team growth, a good Scrum Master tends to release direct oversight and appreciate the autonomy of the team.
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