Many teams and organizations struggle to get the most out of Scrum. In a previous post “Don’t blame “agile” for existing problems” I shared my analysis why agile or Scrum itself often gets the blame. In this third post out of three I will focus on what the most common mistakes are with Scrum that lead to dysfunctional Scrum. But this time we take the perspective of the Scrum Master.

Scrum roles and responsibilities

Over the years I have learned and experienced that most symptoms can be traced back to not adhering to the responsibilities of the Scrum Roles. That’s why I have sliced this topic into three separate posts:

Each post takes the perspective from the role being covered. I explore high impact discrepancies between how Scrum is intended (referred to as Professional Scrum) and how it is often practiced and misunderstood. These posts are based on my own experience when I practiced the roles of Development Team (member), Product Owner, and Scrum Master. And on recurring examples my students mention during my Scrum.org courses.

Scrum Master

Professional Scrum Master

As a Professional Scrum Master you exist in order to enable others to master Scrum, and help them understand the purpose of the core values and principles of Scrum. You trust that empiricism and experimentation will lead the way forward, regardless of where you are today. You are a servant leader to the Scrum Team, and you coach the Product Owner and Development Team in their role and the responsibilities that come with it. Additionally, you help grow an environment in which the Scrum Team can thrive, by coaching the rest of the organization and leading Scrum adoption.

Read more: the responsibilities of the Scrum Master

Lead by example

You eat, sleep, and breath the Scrum values – focus, openness, courage, commitment, and respect. And by doing so, you are the living example for everyone around you. You might share an observation no one dared to raise before, and enable a courageous conversation to take place. And you acknowledge your mistakes and share your learnings. You trust the Scrum Team to get their job done and if they don’t, you provide the space for learning to happen. Sometimes this means you actively do nothing. Sometimes you might facilitate and coach them so they grow their learning capabilities, and can navigate the issue at hand more effectively next time.

When it comes to self-organization, it’s not your role to solve problems. You feed the challenge back to the team so self-organization is encouraged and can take place. Only when the Scrum Team is not able to resolve the issue themselves – and after they have really tried – you can help them remove the impediment.

You don’t use force to make people follow you. Instead, you help reveal alternative paths to reach the goals of the Scrum Team and the organization. And you encourage them to experiment so they discover for themselves what path to take.

Why this might not work for you

Misinterpretations by the organization

Your organization might have slightly different expectations, like the Scrum Master needs to manage:

  • The Development Team
  • The progress of the Sprint
  • Productivity
  • Meeting rooms
  • Meeting invites
  • Conflicts
  • Tools
  • Agile practices
  • HR matters
  • The Product Owner
  • The Product Backlog when the Product Owner is unavailable
  • Stakeholder expectations with regards to the product

Misinterpretations by the Scrum Master

Or maybe you as a Scrum Master have a different understanding of the Scrum Master role, like having to:

  • Prevent people from making mistakes
  • Solve all problems the Scrum Team is faced with
  • Command everyone to the Scrum Events when they don’t show up in time.
  • Only coaching the team
  • Accept the organization has very low standards related to Scrum and agility

What you can do about it

Frequently inspect what we should expect from a Professional Scrum Master. For example by attending a Professional Scrum Master training course. And revisiting the Scrum Guide. Furthermore, reflect on how you practice the role at this moment. Only then you can identify discrepancies. And as a result you can figure out what you can do to change it for the better. Reach out to other Scrum Masters and exchange your experience.

Categories: ScrumScrum Master