No more Scrum Masters


[Context: Sat in a meeting room reviewing Scrum Master CVs and interview performance…..]

I’m in the lucky position to be part of a company looking to digitise it’s customer facing and internal systems and processes, striving for better customer satisfaction and efficiency. We have new backers and money to spend and growing a team of talented people.

We are though hitting a lot of the common challenges when working in and around Agile teams.  The need for a clearer strategy, linking metrics to the features being delivered and understanding the best way to measure improving team performance.

As part of hiring for a Scrum Master we had the age old debate as to why we need a Scrum Master, it became obvious that those around the teams had done a good job at creating the perception that the teams were working well.  However when talking to the teams themselves there remains a number of areas for improvement that the teams need support with.

The complication with Scrum Masters is that typically they command a fairly high salary and often do not add direct tangible value to the software solution.

There are many statements that are banded around that can confuse senior leaders, a Scrum master is there to make themselves redundant, a Scrum Masters success is a reflection of the teams. But what is a ScrumMaster? for most we do not need to defend this too strongly as Scrum Masters come out of the box with Scrum and i’ve been lucky enough that previous Directors understood the value of the role.

Change agents, leaders, mindset enablers and other such visionary statements.  However we live in a world where its hard to think long term, we want results today or we might not be in business tomorrow.

I hire only people with Agile experience, so why do I need a ScrumMaster to teach them what they already know?

I’ve lucky enough to have moved through all roles within the software development lifecycle and most recently floated in and out of IT and Business teams and from Scrum Master to Coach to Product Owner.

As a Scrum Master my role was to remove blockers for my team and ensure we delivered. However my own interests (Agile, lean, management3.0, strategy) meant that slowly over time i moved away from the team.  It’s human nature for people to be career driven and for budding Scrum Masters this will often mean Seniority and Agile Coaching.

This move from the specifics of the work into the focus on the process and happiness of the team leaves you terribly exposed, if senior leadership do not value the role then, in more difficult circumstances, it leaves you in a difficult position to justify the cost of you.

So……should we hire a ScrumMaster?. I think you really have to question the objectives for the role to ensure you get the right person. In our case we do not simply want someone to facilitate the process, we need our teams focused on some very strict delivery deadlines, someone technically minded who can work between teams and systems. Isn’t that the role of a senior engineer i hear you say? well there are multiple ways to solve every issue and multiple ways to deploy your headcount, this is just our current thinking.

We think we might be looking for a Delivery Manager (popularised by Government Digital Service), i’m even reconsidering my view that that person cannot be the line manager of the team. We need to try and detach personal development through delivering solutions, versus learning and improving skills versus career planning. You can get these from multiple people, its just a case of having the right networks and time permitted for it to be of use.

So that’s decided, no more Scrum Masters for us? maybe, I’m not even certain we should be using Scrum as the outcome we want is fairly certain, but that’s another different conversation.

I’m far more open minded that I used to be, we can make any structure or process work well if we have the right people with the mindset to continuously improve and ideally those that have worked with the more frustrating and inefficient project mgt/software delivery frameworks.  Get the right person and the job title doesn’t really matter, as long as the objectives are clear. I’m confident now that I could take on the role(s) of Product Owner, Scrum Master and team line manager and succeed.  That’s based on my experience and empathy I have gained by getting it wrong in the past.

So……what about Business Analysts and Product Owners.  Life is odd isn’t it, having built a Scrum Master and Coaching team and phased out Scrum Masters in the past, I’m now in a position where I’m prepared to do the opposite.

Essentially, we need to get things done, as quickly and cheaply as possible whilst ensuring high enough quality.  We need the teams to be comfortable, inspired with where we are going and know why we are going there.  They can decide the path to get there and advise if its not the right destination as we start to travel.

Without wishing to bite the hand that once fed me I’m starting to wonder if all the theory based preaching, the happy clappy, everyone loves everyone and trusts everyone, no need for managers, holocracy, setting each others objectives and salaries etc etc is actually doing the whole Agile movement a dis service, it’s too far from reality in most mature organisations.

Businesses only exist to serve a purpose and make money doing it.   If we cannot clearly tie the value of all this hugging to the bottom line then we will lose the faith of the very people that employ us.

HOWEVER, I still see value in embedding the Agile mindset at the more senior level, to ensure the business has agility, could this though be an Agile Coach sitting in the HR/People or L&D team? I’m quite interested in the work  Jen D’jelal is doing. If our recruitment teams understand Agile then thats really positive for the future of the business culture and if someone in L&D can train when required then this feels like a great place to be.

Don’t get me wrong I live and breath the Agile values and embody the mindset, however I feel the value much more embedded in project ownership talking about how we are going to increase customer and business focused measures far more than I was getting teams to right their names on balloons.

Why not discuss this further with me……

Lean coffee meetup

Tuesday, Dec 6, 2016, 8:00 AM

All Bar One Milton Keynes
Unit 2, 320 Midsummer Blvd Milton Keynes, GB

3 Members Attending

Join us for discussion on Agile, Lean, Testing, Development or whatever else you’d like to talk about. Propose your topics join the group discussion, or just listen and get inspiration.How does a Lean Coffee work?Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are direct…

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