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What a ScrumMaster is not

“Who wants to be the ScrumMaster this Sprint?” was the question overheard towards the end a virtual stand-up on a project with a globally distributed team.  This question screams of a lack of understanding about Scrum. The role of ScrumMaster is not something that gets passed from person to person with each Sprint.  The ScrumMaster does not just organise and chair the meetings that form part of Scrum.   Neither is it a role equal to a Project Manager.  ScrumMasters are neither the boss of the team nor its administrative assistant.  The ScrumMaster is the team’s coach, trouble-shooter, problem solver and facilitator.

The high-profile of Agile, and Scrum, in particular, has made agile ways of working trendy and something many in the IT industry are clamouring to adopt.   All too often Scrum gets implemented in the hope of a “silver bullet” that will resolve all project issues. Not to mention look good on CVs.  Agile frameworks such as Scrum offer many benefits to projects and is an effective way of working.  However, as with most things, they need team members with knowledge and skill to leverage the benefits offered.

Scrum’s popularity has led many to adopt it on projects without the requisite in-depth knowledge and understanding necessary to apply Scrum effectively.  For many teams, a change to Scrum, or any other approach, is just that, a change and one requiring proper handling.

When adopting agile approaches teams may try to hold onto old ways of working, old roles and responsibilities and simultaneously embrace elements of Scrum.  Such a blend when implemented in a considered, tried and tested way can be helpful.  However, if applying a blended approach out of ignorance, or resistance to change, then it can be a terrible idea that can reduce the team’s effectiveness.  DSDM’s Agile Project Framework provides specific guidance on how to implement a DSDM based approach that works well with Scrum.  However, trying to do Scrum in teams that have limited knowledge and experience of agile can cause significant misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions.  Such a lack of knowledge can hinder the effectiveness of Scrum.

The ScrumMaster must champion Scrum and agile within the organisation and team. Teams familiar with traditional waterfall methodologies, and less so with agile, need the benefits that an experienced ScrumMaster can bring.  The ScrumMaster can only fulfil the role of agile champion and coach if they have the knowledge and experience to do so.  DSDM includes a role of DSDM Coach, which clarifies that the role is to coach the organisation and project team on how to apply DSDM.  While the methods are different, the need for a competent coach and mentor remains.  The ScrumMaster must be knowledgeable about Scrum to coach the team and help (not direct) their progress.

So, if your team is attempting to use Scrum and has limited knowledge of how to apply it, seek an experienced ScrumMaster to help guide your team through the transition.  The value and benefit a ScrumMaster brings to a team extends far beyond organising meetings, they are an essential driving force in increasing team efficiency and productivity.