Discounting the role of Scrum Master?

In Scrum we have:

– The product owner (PO) is responsible on the project and involves the customer and other stakeholders in each iteration.
– PO along with the team estimate the user stories and the team pull what they can commit to.
– The team is self organized and sign-off for their tasks.
– The team are free to add or update tasks any time.
– Risks are impediment which are daily tracked.
– No formal management reporting is required.
– Many retrospectives are conducted not exceeding one hour and asking what went, what didn’t, what we should do.

Adding to the above a sign of a successful SM is that the project is doing well in her absence. So his absence is not precluded, this specially happens when the team has worked together long enough.
Then, Why should we need the SM?

Does the SM resemble the situation of auditor? By now we believe no improvement can be meaningful if it does not come from within. Also, auditor involvement in the project is intermittent.

Let me tell you some typical failure scenarios that could happen when we discount the role of SM.

Instead of maintaining backlog of requirements, the PO keep list of tasks

The PO should focus on the INVEST for the backlog and to reflect features of the product. The PO should avoid creating tasks in the backlog and leave it to the team to decide what they should do to deliver the features. SM should be aware about this common tendency. I have seen this occurring more in non-software development projects which implement Scrum.

Inadequate implementation of Scrum management practices

Scrum provides a framework with high-light on certain management practices (e.g. retrospectives, sprint planning, self-organization, daily Scrum and others). Each of these practice requires specialized training and experience so that we can get the benefit from it. Under-valuing the Scrum’s management practices can be increased in the absence of the SM. This reduces the momentum of the project and it could have drawback on building the team.

Lack in incorporating XP practices

Even for the engineering practices, e.g. TDD, the SM can coordinate with the team for their implementation. As a change agent, the SM is geared towards bringing these practices and selling them to the team. The SM can arrange with management to invest in technical team training on some of the agile technical practices. Who can do that if the SM role is discounted?

Natural tendency to override the process

The SM is a process savvy, he has the passion to make the process implemented adequately with sensitivity to the organization. This role can be underestimated by many stakeholders. In addition, the SM wants to work with the team to implement the process and improve it.

Knowledge development and team learning are not streamlined

The project would highly benefit from  if the SM can conduct effective retrospectives. This would increase the buy-in of the team as they see suggestions are implemented and they work better. Retrospectives help the team to use what they learned to find better ways to work together.

Removal of impediments

SM’s effectiveness in removal of impediments can allow the team to focus on the technical work and improves the flow. An effective team normally can self-adapt based on various conditions. Still the team would benefit from having the SM as a facilitator of Inspect & Adapt implementation in a Scrum project. Though he does not interfere with the team, he has sixth sense of how to bring the team to figure by themselves a solution for whatever may occur through the project.

The SM should walk the fine line between the following roles:
  • Do not assume project manager role while not implementing adequately the Scrum management practices.
  • Encourage the team to self-organize while not capturing the voice of the team to derive improvement.
  • Stepping away from how the team does the technical work while not facilitating the implementation of XP practices.
Finally, if the SM can sharpen her coaching and facilitation skills to influence the wise implementation of agile/ Scrum, she can be of high value through whole project.

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