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The Scrum Master conundrum

Pick your poison Scrum Master. Which will it be?

The enforcer: If people don't want to do Scrum, I will get you to do Scrum because that's my job To Scrum Master the team(s).

Or if you prefer...

The pretender: I am going to just go with the flow and pretend Scrum has no shape, structure or "rules". We can be "Agile Scrum"

If you prefer to watch a short video version of this blog, go here:

This is a situation I found myself in time and time again as Scrum Master. The balance of wanting to do things in a humane way whilst not bullshitting myself about the game I was playing. By game: I am talking about Scrum. Scrum is a game, for a game to be played it comes with components such as rules, constraints, roles, structure. Think about it. Any game be it Chess, football, rugby - for the game to be played it comes with things we need to do. These things keep the integrity of the game alive. For example, when playing football if the ball goes outside of the white lines, we stop the game & depending on where you are on the pitch it's a thrown on, goal kick or corner. If we continue to play football outside of the white lines & we agree that this is how we want to play - this is fine. But it is not football. You will play that new game in the way you want but may not get the benefits because the rules have been changed. It's reasonable to call something what it is, so that we know why something may or may not work.

Let's put some context around this...

When I was a pretender

Let's go 10 years.

The team were doing something which is clearly not Scrum, every time the Retrospective came, it is pushed to the side because " we're busy" - a few sprints on, still no Retro. You know as a Scrum Master this is a dysfunction which goes against what Scrum is trying to help the team to do. To slow down, find improvements to become more effective. You raise it with the team and they tell you that "it works for us". You try to explain why this event is important, nothing happens & eventually you start to go with the flow & also repeat the " we do what works for us" mantra. Now, there is nothing wrong with a team who do not want to use Retrospectives - let me make that clear. Teams should get to act on their on volition. Yes, there are teams who can do something which gives them the value of a Retro in a way which doesn't need a meeting. I have an open mind. I became a pretender because I didn't want to be seen as the assh*le who kept pressing them to do something they didn't want to do . By telling them that this game of Scrum can be whatever we want was akin to saying we're doing Judo & deciding we will use striking during sparring. I was Pretending. Instead I should have called it what it was, maybe Sambo or Mixed Martial Arts but certainly not Judo.

When I was an enforcer

Let's go back 12+years.

I was hired for a short term gig where the manager wanted me to get the team "into shape". I didn't know it then but it was pretty much an enforcer role. This was all about what they used to call "Shock therapy Scrum" or worse still " Aggressive Scrum". You join a team, you tell them rules of the game & you don't take on feedback. It's not a conversation, it's a request to do what you're told. And that is the energy of this experience. I had two members of a team in particular who didn't see the point in joining certain events so I strong-armed them along. When the team were on their journey to play the game of Scrum better, I would point how "bad" their existing way of working was.

Yes, it was a team following the rules of the game but how engaged were they? How fair was it to put down their way of working, to force them to events & not tolerate any other ideas from other frameworks (Scrumban? How dare you! - This is a joke now, but not so much back then for me).

And so the better way?

To ask teams if they aspire to use Scrum.

I ask this question to all teams first. I do not assume that they want to use Scrum & even though this may cause conflict with the person who has hired me - it is fundamental to the ethics behind my work to support teams.

When we ask teams if they aspire to use Scrum, it opens up those benefits:

-If they say yes, we now can focus on where we are and where we want to go

for example our Daily Scrum is 25 mins, yes we know this isn't perfect but since we aspire to use Scrum we'll actively explore how to get there

-We can be humane about it, using the above point we don't need to push, force or attack a team who still on their journey to getting closer to the rules of the game (the 15 minute time-box for one example)

-We can feel more confident & open as coaches pointing out gently where we see the rules of the game not being followed

And if the team do not aspire to use Scrum. The short answer is: do not use it. The long answer of course comes with more context. What if half the team want to & the half don't? Well, these questions will be answered on another blog.

Stay in touch, subscribe to learn more. I look forward to your thoughts.



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