ScrumMasters Get No Respect
It’s bitterly ironic that the two jobs in a small team that end in “master”, ScrumMaster and BuildMaster, are the ones that get no respect. If you’re working as the BuildMaster, you’re always chasing down developers who broke the build and then skated out. Or you’re writing a lot of back-end scripts that, while useful, nobody ever really thinks about much. They just want it to work™. In a lot of ways you’re like the guy in the circus who follows around behind the elephants all day: not exactly a fun gig, but necessary.
Being a ScrumMaster is just as bad, if not worse. The title itself is hilarious: you are truly master of nothing. Instead of chasing down builds, you’re usually chasing down developers for things like missing estimated hours, or status of their stories How is it possible to stand in a room, work in a room, with a huge board with stories on it, talk about them everyday, yet somehow fail to actually update the board? Yet this happens all of the time. In a way, this makes the ScrumMaster role a lot like testing — you’re always reminding people of how stupid they are. Not exactly a recipe for a fun time.
Worse, if you’re not chasing down developers, you’re teaching newcomers about the “rules” to the Agile/Scrum thing. You know, the pigs and the chickens. What idiot came up with the idea of having to explain how the roles work to middle or senior management in terms of farmyard animals? Could we get any sillier than that? Maybe we could have them actually dress up as chickens and pigs. Nope. Scratch that. If I’m not careful I could start something and not mean to.
But it’s tough to educate everybody, and many times that’s what you’re having to do as you also try to do the ScrumMaster duties. While in really small teams being a ScrumMaster is just a part-time deal, if you have a team that’s just slight too large, say 10 or 11 people, and running really short Sprint lengths, you’re going to be humping it. Good Agile teams are like controlled chaos as it is. ScrumMasters are the ones that always get the worst of it.
Then we have the whole confusion over exactly what the ScrumMaster is supposed to be doing. I hear all you folks out there: “ScrumMaster is just another word for project manager — just with lots of feel-good fluffiness around the job.” But you know what? You’re wrong. To me a ScrumMaster is always focused internally on facilitating the team in their Agile stuff. Traditionally the Product Owner is focused externally on commitments and resources, like testing gear or lab time. I see a lot of teams that keep a PM in addition to the ScrumMaster role. The PM doesn’t run anything: project management is just another skill like database administration or UX savvy that team members bring to the table. And isn’t the idea that everybody on a team should be able to fill in for each other anyway?
Can your ScrumMaster actually develop? If they can’t, you got problems. How is a ScrumMaster supposed to know the impact of various things being brought up in a stand-up if they don’t know what the terms mean or how big of a problem something actually is? Yes, you can ask, but many times obstacles appear “under-the-radar” for a while before they blow up. ScrumMasters who have technical chops can spot these. It’s lot harder to do it the other way.
Do this this with your ScrumMaster role
That’s one of the reasons why, just like with BuildMasters, you should rotate your ScrumMaster role. Let’s face it: it’s not rocket science and if the team is truly working cross-functionally it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. The job requires great people skill and being able to write and add and subtract. Maybe make a graph or two. If you are working side-by-side with your team and can’t talk to them? You have bigger problems than ScrumMaster ones.’
Because of all this, it’s common for ScrumMasters not to be happy with their work — it can truly feel thankless. In addition, because ScrumMasters can tend to be dictatorial, it’s also common for teams not to be that happy with their ScrumMasters, either.
No matter how you slice it, ScrumMasters get no respect. Rotate the role around and let everybody see this and watch your cohesion and performance increase.
If you’re interested in becoming a better ScrumMaster, or would like to get your agile team off to the best start possible, get the ScrumMaster book.
No ScrumMasters were harmed in the making of this post
January 12, 2012