The ScrumMaster teaches Scrum to the organization and coaches them in their never-ending adoption. He has mastered Scrum and uses this deep Scrum understanding to guide everybody to discover how they can best contribute to creating the most valuable product.
The ScrumMaster role is often misunderstood and performed poorly because people attempt to map this new role to an existing one. It doesn’t map. It is not the master of the team, nor is it an ‘agile’ project manager or a team lead.
The ScrumMaster role is one of two “meta-feedback-loops” in Scrum. It is a supporting role helping the organization to reflect and improve towards their perfection vision. He creates the environment for people to succeed.
The ScrumMaster Checklist by Michael James is an excellent ScrumMaster tool. It identifies four areas of focus for a ScrumMaster.
- Product Owner
- development practices
These focus areas also expose a common ScrumMaster problem: too much focus on the team.
The four focus areas help us in understanding the ScrumMaster role in LeSS, especially when we plot the ScrumMaster focus over time:
Let’s examine this graph a bit and the reasoning behind this.
Focus on Team
The initial focus of a ScrumMaster towards the team(s) is high, but it should decline over time. When the teams are formed, the ScrumMaster spends a lot of effort on educating and coaching the team(s) in self-management and taking on a shared responsibility. Over time, the team(s) rely less on their ScrumMaster as they take on all responsibility by themselves.
The maturing of teams is one reason many Scrum adoptions opt for part-time ScrumMasters. But in LeSS, the ScrumMaster isn’t a part-time role and when his Team has matured then the ScrumMaster may take up another team—up to three in fact. Being a ScrumMaster for multiple teams automatically shifts focus to the bigger picture of the organization and the Product Owner.
Focus on the Product Owner
Initially, the ScrumMaster focus towards the Product Owner is coaching him in the role. This includes education on how he can best use the Product Backlog, facilitation of his interaction with the team(s), and being there to help him reflect.
Don’t focus only on the Product Owner-Teams relationship. The other Product Owner relationships also need the support of a ScrumMaster. Let’s explore these:
The ScrumMaster helps the Product Owner getting closer to real users and customers. The Product Owner needs feedback from them to validate the direction of the product. It also happens that the Product Owner is the ‘wrong’ Product Owner; then the ScrumMaster should help the organization to find the ‘right’ Product Owner who is close to users and customers.
The ScrumMaster helps to build up a relationship of trust, equality, and cooperation. This is hard work as historically this relationship is fraught with opacity, blame, and distrust.
The focus of the ScrumMaster towards the Product Owner should decrease over time as the Product Owner gets more comfortable with his role within the LeSS organization.
Focus on the Organization
LeSS adoption require an initial structural change, thus initial organizational focus is high. The focus on improving the organization drops once the basic structure is in place. Then it’s the teams’ turn to produce results. That’s the best way to change an organization: by producing results. Why would the organization trust you and your teams if you didn’t show them results and benefit?
Focus on the Development Practices
As a ScrumMaster, you ought to be aware what the top-notch modern development practices are and help introduce these to the team. LeSS adoptions often involve large codebases with lots of archaic and messy legacy code; applying modern practices on them is challenging. The focus on development practices stays high as it will only become harder and harder to improve the teams even further.
Don’t Coordinate Between Teams
Traditional organizations have a coordinator (project manager) who coordinates work between teams. In LeSS, the multi-team coordination is the responsibility of the teams.
Many teams are so used to having a coordinator that they will look for the ScrumMaster to be this. Don’t do it. Help your teams this way:
- remind them that it is their responsibility
- introduce teams to each other
- help them agree on a coordination mechanism, e.g., a meeting
But don’t do the coordination yourself.
ScrumMaster Reading List
We’d expect a ScrumMaster to be an expert in Scrum. But did he master Scrum? Mastering suggests that there is not much more to learn. But we have been involved with LeSS adoption for a long time and we still learn more about LeSS. ScrumMasters need to continuously improve themselves. Reading is one way and we recommend reading:
- Leading Teams —Richard Hackman
Hackman’s Leading Teams summarizes 30+ years of team research and is perhaps the best book on building self-managing teams.
- The Skilled Facilitator—Roger Schwartz
There is a lot to facilitation and this book is an excellent text on improving your facilitation skills.
- Co-active Coaching—Kimsey-House et. al.
There is a lot to be learned about coaching and this book is one of the better starting points.
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team—Patrick Lencioni
Wonderful little fable about how teams work (or don’t).
- Humble Inquiry—Edgar Schein
Schein has 50 years experience in organization development and coaching organizations. One of his conclusion from his experience: we need less telling and more asking.