Greetings; some time ago, I touched on Product Owner Agile Scrum Anti-patterns. This blog post will be dedicated to the common ScrumMaster Antipatterns. Like before, I will point out problems and suggest small steps take to correct those problems.
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Scrum Master instead of project manager
This problem is quite common with persons that are old Project Managers. Being a Scrum Master is a completely different role than Project Manager, therefore the way the individual acts must be completely different.
Typical Project Managers tend to organise the work of people instead of allowing them self-organisation. They tend to say how, by whom, and by when the work must be done, not giving much space for people to think on their own. The result of this usually teams full of robots instead of people thinking on their own.
First of all, the Scrum Master must be aware of his behaviour to be able to correct it. It is not easy; usually these persons worked for several years in typical Project Manager positions and simply deleting this behaviour will take some time, but being aware of it is the first step.
A great Scrum Master is one who allows the team to create the “How” part. I usually say that the Product Owner mentions “What” should be done, and the Scrum Master helps the team to create the “How” part.
Some weeks ago I wrote a blog post about what characteristics a person should possess to become a great Scrum Master: "Scrum Master as a Servant Leader".
Some years ago I read a book that became part of my top most recommended books to everyone: “Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition.” If you are serious about changing yourself from typical Project Manager into a fantastic Scrum Master, this book is a must.
Role Mixed with Product Owners
I see this problem in organisations where trust is not present, where everyone is trying to do everything to look good in front of management. This is not always the case, but my experience tells me that it is quite common. This leads to big problems, as people do not understand what is/should be their role, so confusion emerges and the productivity of the team goes down.
During my life, I have seen several teams not performing like they should because the Product Owner and Scrum Master spent more time discussing roles and responsibilities than helping teams to produce value for their customers.
Above I mentioned that typically I see this issue in companies where trust is not present. I will not define any solution for that element as workplace culture is something so complex that it cannot be tackled in such a small blog post.
Instead, I will help those who have this problem because they are simply confused about their role within the team/organisation. Some time ago I wrote a blog post about the tasks and responsibilities of a Scrum Master; I think that blog post will provide a lot of ideas about what a Scrum Master is responsible for; it can be found here.
Lack of Understanding of Focus
Based on my experience, this is one of the most common problems that Scrum Masters face in their daily activities. Every day I see teams picking up dozens of features into sprints, sometimes as many features as team members. The same problem is seen during scrum dailies where I see developers picking up their stories, not caring much about work in progress.
As a result, the team ends up having as many stories on going as total developers. Of course, this is quite a critical issue, because teams that work like that are not focused, and as a result, they will take longer to deliver anything.
I have been coaching Scrum Masters for quite a long time on this topic. The solution here is to demonstrate to the Scrum Master and the team how important it is to work on one single topic at a time. There are several games that explain to people how context switching creates delays; I think this is a good place to start, to begin by explaining and making people understand what the problem is with this approach.
After that, Scrum Masters must help the teams in their daily activities. This can be achieved by paying constant attention to the number of features that are taken into the iteration and to the total amount of stories that are ongoing.
Ideally, a single team works with one single feature during an iteration and with one single story during the day. Of course, this is not always possible, but this is the ideal situation. The Scrum Master should facilitate this process by asking the team if they can or cannot take just one single feature into the iteration.
The same should happen every day in the daily when a member of the development team wants to start a new story; he should ask if all the tasks from other previous stories are closed. If they are not, he should pick whatever tasks are still open to close the story as soon as possible. I believe this will increase velocity and focus of the team
SCRUM MASTERS DO NOT COACH THE ORGANIZATION
This antipattern is quite common in companies that make the agile transition but do not understand the role of Scrum Masters. They believe the Scrum Master´s job is to take care of teams and nothing else. Unfortunately, this is completely wrong.
Their role is much more complicated than we can think of! One of their significant responsibilities is to coach the whole organisation in their agile transition. Some time ago, I wrote a blog post, which describes a Scrum Master job description. This post creates a better understanding of Scrum Master´s responsibilities.
Companies that want to succeed with Agile should understand the crucial role that Scrum Masters play in their Agile transition. I want you to be aware – good Scrum Masters are scarce in our society!
In my opinion, a good Scrum Master should be able to answer to most of the “32 Scrum Master interview questions“ in a positive way. As you can see, there are lots of things that a Scrum Master should do, however, it is quite common that companies do not have these kinds of people within their organisations, unfortunately.
A solution? A good possibility to solve this problem is to bring external coaches for some months to teach Scrum Masters to become a great team and organisational coaches. I know this is not the cheapest option, but in the long term, this is something that will save millions to any company.
SCRUM MASTER IS JUST A SECRETARY
Many people think this way… In such situation, I get extremely worried, because it means that people do not know what a Scrum Master should do.
In the previous case, I explained how companies do not understand how the Scrum Master is important to all organisation; even though this is not acceptable, but at least it´s understandable.
Nonetheless, when people think the Scrum Master is just the guy booking meetings, facilitating dailies and serving the coffee to their colleagues, this is when things get very dark, and unfortunately, this is very common. I´ve met several Scrum Masters that described these tasks as their daily duties…
Some time ago, I wrote a blog post that describes “The Scrum Master as Servant Leader“. This is exactly what a Scrum Master should do.
The Scrum Master has dozens of different roles and hats, but this is far way from the Secretary job that most of the companies associate Scrum Masters with. Teach, recruit and coach people to be what I mention on my blog and you will grow Scrum Masters into true leaders.
SCRUM MASTER DOES NOT COACH THE PRODUCT OWNER
Throughout my career, I´ve seen this happening quite often; it´s super normal to see the Scrum Master focusing on “team tasks” and forgetting the business part.
When I say he forgets the business part, I do not mean that he should do the PO´s job, but he should help the PO to build a product that brings the maximum value to the company.
The Scrum Master should coach him with product backlog topics and help him to understand how can a team bring the maximum amount of value with the minimum effort.
One thing that I saw working very well during my career was when the Scrum Master invested some good time in studying about Product Management to understand the PO role much better. For example, it could be a good idea to have the Scrum Master taking the Product Owner training course or read a couple of Product Management books. See some of the ones that I recommend below:
- The Lean Startup
- Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love
- Agile Product Management with Scrum
- The Principles of Product Development Flow
- Fifty Quick Ideas To Improve Your User Stories
- Impact Mapping
The Scrum Masters that I coached and who follow this advice became very powerful Scrum Masters. They were able to help a team to grow and at the same time help the Product Owner find the most value out of the team.
SCRUM MASTER IS NOT RECOGNISED BY MANAGEMENT
In this case, I define management as middle management. I saw too many times that middle managers think they are the ones able to change the organisation, and Scrum Masters are only secretaries.
Middle managers are very important to any agile implementation. They are the ones that can help a company to succeed tremendously and create fantastic Agile and lean companies. On the other hand, they are the ones that can destroy any attempt to change anything. Unfortunately, in my experience, the latter one is the most common.
Like I explained before, Scrum Masters are very important to the organisation, and their importance should be recognised. In the end, they play a big role in teams´ growth, agile implementation in all organisation and Product Owners coaching, allowing them to produce products that customers love. In the first place, managers need to understand “What is an Agile Manager“, they need to understand that this job is different than in traditional companies.
The next step is to understand that nothing can be achieved alone. Managers need to understand that Scrum Masters are their partners of success and their life is much easier if they support them since the beginning. They need to understand and be aware of “The different levels of Agile Coaching“.
At last, I would suggest that senior management should hire external coaches. In this case, professional coaching will not only help the Scrum Masters but also middle managers who are then able to see how important they are and how much they need to empower the Scrum Masters to succeed in their role.
CHANGE SCRUM MASTER ROLE OFTEN
Changing the Scrum Master role within the team is something that I sometimes hear, fortunately not that often. The defenders of this theory claim this is beneficial for the team and different team members. The assumption here is that if people change the role of Scrum Master, the whole team can understand what are the difficulties and challenges of a Scrum Master and therefore be more understandable with colleagues.
Some people argue these ideas are possible because the role of Scrum Master is to make him disposable. Therefore, if teams do not need him, they can change the place. In my opinion, this argument is strange! Of course scrum master´s role is to make him disposable, but to reach that level, the team must be quite mature. And if the team reaches that level, Scrum Master is not necessary at all. Thus, there is no need for rotation as there is no need for the Scrum Master.
The big problem with this idea relies on the fact that every time a person within team changes, the interaction between people change. People that are aware of the four phases of a team: The Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing, know that these phases are all necessary and inevitable for the team to grow, to face challenges, to tackle problems, to find a solution, to plan work and to deliver work. Every time a person within the team changes, the team goes back to the beginning of these four phases, forcing some reset to the team.
The basic idea behind all these suggestions relies on the fact that people feel the need to share knowledge, however, changing the Scrum Master role often is by far not the best option.
I truly believe that knowledge sharing is something important, I think if “you do not create a knowledge sharing culture you will die“. So to share knowledge, you have several ways I present here.
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