I Killed The ScrumMaster (And Why He Had It Coming)
Yesterday I was asked by a client about how to optimize a team that was already doing very well.
Without having to think twice, I immediately knew the answer.
“Get rid of the ScrumMaster”
Why? Was the SM doing a bad job? Nope, they had an awesome SM. Was the SM confused with a PM? Maybe a bit, but no more than normal.
Here’s the thing: after watching dozens or hundreds of teams try to be Agile and be all nice and Scrummy, I keep coming back to one thing: having a special person who only does SM duties is like having a person who only does database work, or a person that only works on the UI. It just doesn’t fit into a cross-functional team experience. Worse yet, it starts creating a wall between the developers and the rest of the organization.
It wasn’t meant to do any of that, but it does.
I’ve long thought the SM role should be rotated among the team members, and the more Scrum teams I work with, the stronger that feeling. I see an entire industry sprouting up around “being a leader in your team” and the implication is clear: the SM is a leader, they’re a sheep dog, they’re a facilitator, they’re expected to have special people skills.
In other words, the ScrumMaster is just the 21st century version of the Project Manager.
Only it gets better! Back in the old PM days, if the team didn’t perform, you took the PM out and shot him (figuratively, of course). Maybe then you moved on to decimating the team itself. The PM was always responsible when things went wrong. Nowadays, the modern SM has completely dodged that part of the job. Team not doing well? Hey, we’re Agile! That means the team is in charge. If the team isn’t doing well, dang it, it’s the team’s fault! I’m just this leader facilitator guy. Can’t help it if you give me a bunch of schmucks to work with.
Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe in team accountability, and the team has to own and deliver in a sprint. It’s just that the ScrumMaster role is also part of the team, yet it occupies some kind of weird place where it’s also supposed to be a champion for the process.
I will now share with you the dirty little secret of technology development that everybody knows but nobody wants to admit: it’s much easier to take a developer and add on some social, management, negoation, or other skills than it is to bring in an expert in those skills and have them amount to anything useful. We’re treating ScrumMasters as if they’re some kind of end to themselves. They are not. They simply have some special things to do on a sprint. Any developer should be able to do these things. After all, your team is working in a co-located manner, right? And you all get along with each other — heck, you sit right beside each other! Developers are pretty good at counting, are they not? And who can’t make a couple of line graphs?
Nope, the ScrumMaster job needs to be rotated among the team. Everybody should have a turn. Kill the idea that there’s some special guy, special skill, and special technique that’s involved. It might help sell a lot of training classes, it might give something to do to all those folks in your organization with those PMP certifications, but it’s not helpful to the team or to the value stream.
And don’t get me started on the problems with the Product Owner role :)
October 24, 2013