What does a Scrum Master do? The Scrum Guide, job spec and life perspective.

Written by Rafa艂 Witaszek

Hi, my name is Rafal. I am a long-time Agile & food passionate. I approach Agile the same way as meal preparation. From available ingredients deliver the best experience possible. Welcome to my Agile kitchen and Enjoy it! 馃檪

2020-01-30

Recently in our Agile community of practice, one of my colleagues asked me:

What is Scrum Master doing the whole day? Is this a full-time job? I have heard that our company is claiming this is 66% time job. Is this good and accurate estimation?

I have followed up on this topic and I have found out there are more confused people around. I have my own Scrum Master experience and I know what I was busy with. But I start wondering: with what type of daily activities the community of SM is busy with? What employees are expecting from a person in that role? And finally how much reality match the role description from The Scrum Guide? Let’s check one by one…

Scrum Master by the book. What is on the menu? 

The best place to start the journey is The Scrum Guide itself. You can see there that Scrum Master has on his plate service towards three areas:

  • Product Owner,
  • Development Team
  • Organization

Product Owner

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:
路 Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
路 Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
路 Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
路 Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
路 Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
路 Understanding and practicing agility; and,
路 Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.

scrumguides

Development Team

The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:
路 Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
路 Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
路 Removing impediments to the Development Team鈥檚 progress;
路 Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
路 Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

scrumguides

Organization

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:
路 Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
路 Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
路 Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
路 Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
路 Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

scrumguides

What are the expectations? Placing the order. 

You know the rule, he who pays the piper calls the tune. To keep the job SM needs to deliver according to the expectation. First, you need to prove yourself before you start rocking that boat 馃槈

In November 2019 I have analyses +30 job offers from Switzerland, UK and the US. As a result, I have created a mind map with all the expectations towards the person in the SM position.

As you can see (or not ;)) expectations are various. From valid to funny ones. There are visible pattern and the most required skills are:

Knowledge 

  • agile practices, Scrum and Kanban,
  • facilitation skills,
  • conflict resolution / mediation,
  • excellent communication skills,
  • knowledge of different estimation techniques,

Team

  • organize and lead ceremonies,
  • coach both team and individuals,
  • apply & help to understand the theory, practice, rules, and values of Scrum,
  • guide the team, provide training,
  • foster motivation and self-organization,
  • manage risks & issues,
  • protect the team & ensure focus,

Product Owner

  • help with release planning,
  • help with backlog preparation & prioritization,

Organization

  • communicate with stakeholders

As you can see there is a significant gap between what is in The Scrum Guide and the expectations from the job spec. This gap is visible, especially in Organization and Product Owner area. Scrum Master meant to serve much more there but companies don鈥檛 want/expect that. I鈥檓 wondering why? Any thoughts?

So show me your kitchen area. How you do it?

After this lengthy introduction, it’s time for the ultimate question: What is the Scrum Master doing? Unfortunately, there is not much good research on this topic. I have found only one from Stefan Wolpers. The results of his survey based on 242 valid responses he normalized and summarize to this:

Product backlog refinement: 1.00 hours/week
Sprint planning: 0.75 hours/week
Stand-ups: 1.50 hours/week
Sprint review: 0.50 hours/week
Sprint retrospective: 0.75 hours/week
Learning: 2.00 hours/week
Training of teammates: 3.00 hours/week
Training of stakeholders: 2.00 hours/week

You should keep in mind that checking the results that:

” The survey comprised of ten questions, two addressing technicalities (sprint length and team size) and eight addressing the two most intensive work areas: scrum ceremonies as well as education and training of teammates, stakeholders, and the scrum master herself. “

On average Scrum Masters dedicated total 11.50 hours/week to these activities. Considering 6 working hours/day (what it very optimistic) it gives us 2 working days. How does SMs spend the other 3 days? (you can check the survey itself there are some good hints as well).

I’ve read that one should prepare for the meeting twice as long as it’s a schedule. If we apply it here it will fill rest of the week and we have it all clear, right? Well, this will be too easy.

The cadence of the Scrum ceremonies

Scrum Master’s day very much depends on the Sprint stage. As you have seen on the data above meetings/ceremonies takes a lot of time. This is the first thing to consider thinking about Scrum Master day. Scrum ceremonies cadence enforce a specific kind of engagement. So you must realize that these days you will be very busy with specific kind of tasks. Printing user stories, doing Jira stuff, talking to many people from the team, stakeholders name it. You dedicated all your time to the team. No questions about it. Of course, your engagement will depend on the maturity of the team and …project. 馃檪 Team maturity I will cover below.

Shu-Ha-Ri

How SM allocate his or her time depends on team maturity. The best method of learning is by doing. Pairing with someone who masters it already will elevate your learning experience.

The more immature team the more SM time it needs. I like the Shu-Ha-Ri model introduced to the Agile world by Alistair Cockburn (co-authors of Agile Manifesto). In a few words:

“Shu” is when a student follows the master without questioning his approach or techniques. During “Ha” s/he starts asking questions and reaching to the roof of the chosen way. In the final “Ri” stage student becomes master and start creating own techniques. Spotify created their model going through this flow. You cannot just copy and paste agile adoption. You need to discover your way by continuous learning and adapting. Details of the model: https://www.martinfowler.com/bliki/ShuHaRi.html

So back to our SM daily responsibilities with a bit of food twist 馃檪

Shu – let’s make a spaghetti we want

We know in general “what” but we don’t know “how”. We need someone who will walk us through the path. You are hungry. Do you want spaghetti? “Yes, please” Ok! I check what you have in the fridge and based on my knowledge and our taste I say “Let’s make carbonara. Trust me. You will love it!”. We will make it together.

When the team in in the “Shu” stage it needs lots of attention from the Scrum Master. More answers than questions, more teaching than coaching. You need to teach the team and explain why do we have all the events, what is the goal of it. Gain their trust. Build rapport and introduce (never force) your favourite and proven tools from the SM tool-box. Suggest running experiments based on your observation. Let them make mistakes and learn from it especially if it’s not costly and you can easily recover from them. It’s very important at this stage to introduce validated learning. Do, measure and adjust. All these points are activities that take your time.

Product Owner (PO) might be on the different maturity level than Dev Team. SM must pair up with PO every week, daily if needed. You need to be like Batman and Robin, Thelma & Louise, Rick and Morty. Among other things, you work together to increase the clarity and transparency of the product backlog items. You discuss vision and strategy for the product. There are many things that the PO need to have in the tool-box. SM has to pay attention if these tools are in use when appropriate. It’s not part of this article to name them, but as a SM you should know when and why to use them.

SM and Organization might be not yet there to work together on the agile transformation together. SM needs to work on the basics, and the organization needs to know more about its changeability. Taking the team perspective the best SM can do for/with the organization is to deliver the message from the retrospectives. Make it transparent and visible what slows us in agile adoption. Very important is to make sure that it is a two-way communication channel. Retrospective points for the organization should get back to the team. Any feedback (e.g. we don’t have money/ time/ resources for this) on the outcome from the retro is better than no feedback at all. It’s highly demotivating for the team to realize that no one cares about their efforts. It costs nothing to send a leader (decision person) to the team during one of the next retros and deliver the message. Believe me – It makes a huge difference.

Ha – I like your carbonara.

I want to have it my way. You play with the quantity of this or that. Less bacon more sauce. You learned basics you experimented many times. Different wine (yes it’s part of the recipe), different ingredients, you have found your way. Did you check how others do it? Let’s go to Italy to taste it there! Is it any better?

You challenge the team whenever you see inefficiency. One of my favourite root cause analysis tools originates from Lean and is known as “5x Why?”. Ask why we are doing this or that? Spend more time on personal coaching. Learn personal motivation, goals, ambitions. This is the ultimate coaching time. You can guide them to do better when low hanging fruits were already collected. There are no quick wins anymore. You need to dig deeper to find the next goals and challenge other frontiers. Test automation? Pair programming? Involve the UX team during the design process? Grow out of your role? There are many ways to go. Your role is to help them make better decisions, ask better questions, be better in any way.

Product Owner – once s/he knows the tool-box (you can google it) it’s time to focus on the questions like “is this feature worth the effort?” Ask about ROI (return on investment) be a consultant for the domain and help to make better decisions. Learn the business to be a partner in the project conversations. Do you know the market you are in?

Your team deliver amazing results. You are getting visibility outside of your team. You start working at a higher level. Think about scaling agility outside of your team & department. Work closer with the SM of the interfacing teams. If you don’t have it yet you should create Scrum of Scrums. Because you care about your team you start a community of practice. Your team members can grow in and out of their expertise. By doing it you remove communication silos. You need to help it grow.

Ri – carbonara with asparagus is what I want!

You develop your taste. You have tried different meals, carbonaras, you have experimented with different ingredients. It’s time to make it yours. Based on your, skills, experience, knowledge and resources available. I love the one with asparagus.

There is not much you can do on the team level. You keep yourself around especially to address organizational issues. You make sure the machine works with the optimal pace. Ceremonies are there, they are self-managed, they keep each other accountable and they are working on their “Spotify model”. Once in awhile challenge them so that they never stop experimenting. There is no growth without taking a risk.

Product Owner. Are you AirBnB, UBER or Netflix of your business? If not then it’s time to check why. Innovation is not born overnight. It’s a result of doing outstanding well all the basic things. Ask good questions (what does it mean, you can ask? 馃檪 learn it! ), build your next iterations base on the numbers, not opinions (unless your PO surname is Rockefeller of Jobs 馃槈 ).

Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.

P.J. O’Rourke, All the Trouble in the World

Is your HR, operations, maintenance services and canteen in your Organization works in an Agile way? If yes, then you can say – Elvis had left the building and it is time to go home. Otherwise, there is still work for you to be done. You are not a Scrum Master any more. You grow to the role of Agile Coach or even Agile Organizational Coach. Your next goal might be the first Organizational promise from The Scrum Guide:

Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;

scrumguides.com

It’s all about expectations.

Have you ever went to the: restaurant, visit a city or bought anything based on the reviews and promises and end up being disappointed? It’s a very very bad feeling when expectations are not met. Remember:

dead Scrum Master is a useless Scrum Master.

Ken Schwaber.

As mentioned above there are so many things that Scrum Master should be doing and yet there are some never grow out from the Secretary role. Sometimes this is an initial expectation of the employee, but you can work on this. This is why many of our colleagues see the SM role as someone who: do the Jira, do the stand-up, and let’s have the retro 鈥.done. If you want to spot the anti-pattern ask “What is the experiment they are doing right now? The last one? When it was? Where are the results?” ask SM to join you for the meeting during the stand-up time. Does the stand-up happen or the team waited for Scrum Master to join?

I agree that the skilful Scrum Master can serve to 3 or even more scrum teams. But great Scrum Master can serve and master one (it might be coming from Geoff Watts – author of “Scrum Mastery). I mean bringing them to the 鈥淩i鈥 level. It’s a people role. You work for them and with them. You polish your skills daily.

“What Scrum Master does the whole day?” I hope at this point you realize that there is no clear answer to that question. Is it a Sprint Planning day? Is it a Sprint Retrospective day? What is team maturity level? How long you work together? How long you are in the organization? I must amid there is no clear answer to that question.

I wanted to present 3 viewpoints from the areas of:

  • what Scrum Master should be doing by the book,
  • what is expected by the employer
  • what could be done by a passionate individual.

If you are already a Scrum Master please keep in mind that this role is not the end station of your journey. You should see it as a step on your path to becoming an Agile Coach. Grow. Develop new skills. Never stop learning. Being a Scrum Master is not only a position. It is a promise to yourself to your team and organization. Promise that you will never stop improving, bringing best from your team, individuals and organization. Learn how to coach, teach, mentor, facilitate, develop products, scale agility, improve UX. The list goes on, and on and on… The key part of your growth are questions you ask yourself and others. It’s not about “if” it’s about “how”.

PS. Ceremonies were in the previous version of Scrum Guide now we call them Events

You may also like…

No Results Found

The page you requested could not be found. Try refining your search, or use the navigation above to locate the post.

2 Comments

  1. AffiliateLabz

    Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 馃檪

    Reply
    • Rafa艂 Witaszek

      Thank you 馃檪 More to come!

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *