Scrum Master, Scrum Master as Mother, Ask your Mother, Scrum Master Role, Dan Mezick, Agile Boston
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Original date of note: 06/26/2010

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Abstract

Scrum as defined by the Scrum Guide defines the Scrum Master role, a role that does not actually occur anywhere else in the natural order of human social groups. Because the Scrum Master role is so unusual, interacting with the Scrum Master can be somewhat awkward for new Scrum teams. This might help to explain why Scrum is difficult to implement.

Taking up the Scrum Master role appropriately is also quite difficult to do as well. This post parallels the characteristics, duties, obligations, tasks and authority of the Scrum Master with a well-known role, the role of 'mother'. The analogy is based on my experience and research interacting with Agile audiences throughout the USA at conferences, at user group meetings and at private corporate briefings.

 

 

Here is the question. Where else in the world of human society-- anywhere on earth-- does a role with the tasks and duties of 'Scrum Master' exist?

The Scrum Master

The Scrum Master role is responsible for these tasks:

1. Identify and remove obstacles in the way of the team; quote:

"When the Scrum Master helps ... this is called 'removing impediments' ." (Scrum Guide page 6)

2. Act as the Scrum referree, to manage Scrum boundaries and help everyone keep the Scrum framework's roles, cermonies, artifacts and rules; quote:

"The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to the Scrum values, practices and rules." (Scrum Guide page 6)

3. Protect the team, mostly from the demanding Product Owner during the Sprint Planning meeting; note: the Scrum Guide November 2009 is silent on this protection task. However, it is common knowledge that the SM protects the team. It is my view that the primary source of threat is the Product Owner.

4. Occupy the role of Facilitator at all of the Scrum meetings. The Scrum Guide is quite explicit about this. See the Scrum Guide.

5. Be a servant to the team. Be a servant leader and demonstrate servant leadership behaviors in support of the team and what it needs to do. Note: Once again the Scrum Guide is silent here, once again it is common knowledge that the SM is a servant to the team.

Refer to the Scrum Guide if you want to really dig into these ideas. Scrum Guide Link

Asking Others for the Answer

In the agile/Scrum coaching I do, I notice how difficult it is for organizations to implement genuine and authentic Scrum. I start to wonder about the Scrum Master (SM) role as a source of pain in implementing Scrum.

I examine the role, and try to connect it to my experience in the natural world, looking for human roles in the my experience that might match. Upon further examination, I conclude that there is no quick or precise analogy that actually matches. I conclude that in business and in life, there is nothing quite like the Scrum Master role. I wonder if this is in fact a major impediment to Scrum itself.

I speak at conferences like Agile Dev Practices and I also speak every month at least 3 or 4 times a month. I talk in front of private corporate groups and user groups like Agile Connecticut and Agile Boston. To develop this line of thinking further, I begin asking attendees the question:

"...Where in your experience have you ever interacted with a someone in a role that has characteristics similiar to the Scrum Master?

To my surprise, the overwhelmingly common answer is: "a parent...a mother".

 

Mother

Now this is quite interesting.

Effective Moms identify obstacles in the way of their children, and remove them.

Effective Moms lay out the rules and follow up to make sure they are followed.

Effctive Moms protect their children, sometimes from external forces, and sometime from internal threats, like the ire and wrath of Dad.

Effective Moms serve the needs of their children, while also taking special care to meet their own needs.

Effective Moms tend to mediate and facilitate the processing of conflict in the family.

Traditionally, Moms have deferred to Dads regarding final decisions in matters that pertain to the family.

It is also useful to note now that the mother in a family can really screw it up. The mother touches everyone in the family. There is huge otential to spread dysfunction to the entire group.

So please note, the analogy here between SM and 'mother' is not with just with ANY mother but rather, an effective mother that is healthy and well. A good Scrum Master, (like an effective mother) is healthy, and actively promotes health and wellness.

Think about it. Where else in the world of human society-- anywhere on earth-- does a role with the tasks and duties of 'Scrum Master' exist? Sometimes in sports, 'head coach' takes up this kind of role. But not usually. A more common scenario is the for one of the assistant coaches to take up a Scrum-Master-like role. This is my observation-- none of my audiences have ever associated the SM with the assistant coach on a basketball or hockey or baseball team. They all say 'parent' or 'mom' when I ask:

"...Where in your experience have you ever interacted with a someone in a role that has characteristics similiar to the Scrum Master?

 

Ask Your Mother

What does this mean?

Does it mean that the Scrum Master role is a mothering, caretaking kind of role?

Does it mean or imply that the Product Owner is a father-like role?

Does it mean that the team is in some sense a group of related children?

Probably not. It does mean however, that the Mother role is the closest analogy that most people can come with, when asked to answer the question:

"where have you EVER seen anything like the Scrum Master role....in real life ??"

When I ask this question to groups across America in my travels as a teacher and agile/Scrum coach, the overwhelmingly most common answer is a long pause.....followed by a shrug of the shoulders. This means most people are not finding anything similiar to the SM role, in their experience.

However, for every 12 or so people in the room, one typically answers "parent" or "Mom".

Is there a role in life that is anything like the Scrum Master ?

Ask your Mother.

The conceptual link of the Scrum Master role is certainly a basis for more analysis and research.

Consider these situations and examples in Scrum

1. Scrum per the Scrum Guide does not define who has authority to define the Scrum Goal, or the Sprint Length.

In the absence of guidance from the Scrum Guide, we are expected to 'try something' and 'see if it works'.

In a collaborative culture, we all discuss it and get a group decision. In an authoritative culture, "formal authority" gets to decide. Period. And that is usually what happens. Someone who does not take-up the SM role appropriately encourages this kind of autocracy and undermines genuine and authentic Scrum.

2. In Scrum, the Scrum Master is authorized to facilitate the Sprint Planning and Sprint Review meetings.

The Scrum Master also has authority to speak and in fact intervene when the team goes off-track during the Daily Scrum. If the SM does not take-up the SM role appropriately, the result is a very negative influence on all of these meetings and in fact an undermining of authentic and genuine Scrum. Thus the SM can be a source of serious dysfunction in Scrum implementations.

3.Scrum per the Scrum Guide does not define who has authority to pick the SM.

This often leads to an inappropriate person taking up the SM role, which has a substantial mothering aspect. If the team gets a 'bad mother' what we end up with in non-genuine and non-authentic Scrum, for various reasons such as the SM not providing enough protection from the Product Owner during Sprint Planning and at other Scrum ceremonies.

3. In Scrum, Mike Cohn, author of SUCCEEEDING WITH AGILE says that there is a "natural tension" between the Product Owner and the SM. The 'protection of the team' aspect of the SM role speaks to this tension-- the SM is mostly protecting the team from the Product Owner's often unreasonable demands during Sprint Planning.

The role of Mother in a family is a pivotal role that touches the lives of everyone inside the family.

How the family ends up (healthy, "merely" dysfunctional, or severely dysfunctional) has a lot to do with how the Mom -- or is it the Scrum Master?? -- behaves.

***

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About the Author

Dan Mezick: An expert on teams and a trusted adviser to CxO-level executives worldwide, Dan consults on enterprise-wide culture change, implementing Scrum, and the often difficult adoption of authentic Lean principles. Learn more about Dan Mezick here.

He creates and teaches specific, useful tools and techniques for facilitating successful enterprise-wide adoption of agile and Scrum. Dan’s articles on teams and organizational dynamics appear on InfoQ.com, ScrumAlliance.org, and AgileJournal.com. Learn more about Dan Mezick's agile writing here.

He's the organizer of the Agile Boston user group and a 3-time presenter at Agile2007, 2008 and 2009, an invited speaker to the Scrum Gathering (Orlando) in 2010 and a news reporter for InfoQ.com

Reach Dan at:

dan.mezick [at] newtechusa [dotcom]

You can learn much more detail about Dan via his Agile Coaching page here.

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