You Can’t Phone It In

August 19, 20102 min

Being a ScrumMaster is much more than just showing up for the Scrum meetings and lobbing in a few facilitation techniques to keep things moving along.  Yet I think many project managers who are new to being ScrumMasters misunderstand what is required of them.  I feel they read about Scrum in one of the many excellent books on the topic and think, “Facilitation…four meetings…lessons learned…planning…task tracking.  OK, that looks easy – I can do that in my sleep.”  All they can see are the transactional aspects of Scrum.  Since that is all what Scrum is to them, they bring the empty project management mindset to the work and the result is a functional Scrum without any purpose, rituals without any meaning.  And this is where I think many project managers turned ScrumMaster stumble with the role.

An excellent ScrumMaster has a real presence with the Team.  To become an excellent ScrumMaster one must go beyond the simple transactional elements of Scrum and focus on the transformative aspects of the work.  As ScrumMaster you need to focus, really focus, on the needs of both the Team and the individuals as you work to improve the environment they work in.  You need to be both physically and emotionally there for them in a profound way.

Scrum’s great promise is that it reconnects people to each other work through empowerment and true collaboration.  As ScrumMaster it is your responsibility to facilitate collaboration, to help people feel comfortable and willing to take both professional and personal risks.  This does not happen in a fifteen minute Daily Scrum, or a two-hour Sprint Planning meeting or during a Sprint Retrospective.  Those rituals have very specific goals and individual coaching is not one of them.  The moments where one-on-one coaching happens and trust is developed are the times when the people are doing the work.  It is those moments when one notices a Team member’s joy, disappointment, frustration, happiness and anxiety.  You catch them being real and experience the moment with them.  This only happens when you share physical proximity, observe and be present when these moments happen.

In Scrum, we strive to give the Team members slack and ask them to limit multitasking to preserve their focus.  We expect the same from the ScrumMaster and that is why I recommend new ScrumMasters only focus on one Team.  If as a ScrumMaster you are lurching from fire-to-fire, meeting-to-meeting, team-to-team you are still operating in the old project management paradigm and it needs to stop.  People on the Teams need your help.  Stop being so busy and focus on what the Team needs for a change.