Since early 2008, I have been fortunate to have worked as an Agile Coach, Transformation Consultant, Leadership Mentor, Organizational Guide and Team Coach. Over those years I have had many ups and downs with plenty of learning throughout my time. This is the first in a series of articles to explore and share my experiences with various individuals, teams, leaders, and companies in the hope that each will hold a kernel (or two) of wisdom that you can utilize in your own coaching and transformation work. Enjoy!

The Tale of the Two Scrum Masters

One of the first opportunities that I had as an Agile Coach was to work (mostly) independently with a financial company. This assignment had me work closely with a single Vice President and two teams that would be adopting an agile approach to work via my training, coaching, and mentoring. It started off simple enough with me and a colleague working with leadership to determine the agile framework to use (we chose OpenAgile). Then I started with the first of two teams with training and hands-on coaching. At the same time I worked closely with that VP, and then started with the second team.

The First Scrum Master

Even though I used OpenAgile as the framework, for simplicity I will refer to each of the two individuals as Scrum Masters. The first Scrum Master came from a project management background. She was told that she would become the Scrum Master to support, guide, and help remove obstacles for the team. She did not have a choice.

The amazing thing about her was how she showed up each day and approach her work with the team. Nothing was beneath her. Nothing was outside of her role. Nothing was too small for her to take on. When the team was feeling low, she supplied treats for them to eat. She noticed that the team was writing tasks on sticky-notes for each Sprint Planning session, and many other them were the same ones from the previous Sprint. So she wrote them up herself ahead of the session so that the team would not waste time. Whenever the team identified an obstacle that was outside of its control she would go and deal with it right away and then report back to the team on her progress.

She seemed to take on this role as new challenge and learning experience. And the team was better off because of her.

The Second Scrum Master

Much like the first Scrum Master, the second Scrum Master also was told that she would be taking on this new role, and she also came from a project management background. However, she took a different approach to her work and role. She refused to get supplies for the team. She didn’t take on obstacles with joyfulness. She seemed upset and frustrated.

How Did the Two Agile Teams with Each of Their Scrum Masters?

Well, you can imagine (and you would be right) that the first team was more joyful, which led to better discussions, and led to better outcomes.They not only respected their Scrum Master, they respected each other and gained plenty of respect from their leaders and stakeholders.

The other team did not do as well. They struggled to become unified in their approach and their actions. They were not able to keep their commitments.

The Second Team Needed an Intervention

Throughout this coaching work, I was speaking directly with the VP daily on the progress of both teams and the individuals. It became clear that the something needed to be for the situation of the second team and its Scrum Master.

I suggested two courses of actions to the VP for the second Scrum Master.

  1. Move her to another group (non-Agile) and allow her to go back to her Senior Project Manager role where she seems happier OR …
  2. Remove her from the company since she is not able to perform the duties that she was tasked with.

I did explain that the first option was kinder and more fair since she never asked for this role in the first place. Nor was she given proper support from leadership to make this be a positive and healthy experience.

The VP decided to choose option 1 (move her back into a project manager role) and find someone else to take on the Scrum Master role for the second team.

What Happened to the Second Team and Previous Scrum Master?

Well, the second team got a new Scrum Master who was willing and able to support the team in its needs. He was happy to take on the work. He was joyful in his demeanor and his actions. He helped the team make its commitments and thrill their leaders and stakeholders. The team was better off and ended up producing valuable results for the company.

And, the previous Scrum Master went back to her work in project management. She was happier in the work that she wanted to do.

What Did I Learn from the Tale of the Two Scrum Masters?

A few key insights came from this experience and have informed my career in the field of agile coaching and organizational change, including:

  • Allowing individuals to choose their role and team came make a huge positive impact on their actions as well as those around them. We did a choose your team workshop a few years later that greatly helped increase ownership and energy on the teams and company.
  • Framing a role change as an experiment with a finite timeline can reduce stress and increase the chances of the individual to try to the new role. Then once the experiment is done, that person should have the option to opt-out and go back to a previous role.
  • Daily discussions between the agile coach (me) and the key stakeholder (the VP in this case) allows for healthy dialog and support. This can only work if that key stakeholder can and does behave in consistently healthy ways such as seeing the coach as a partner on this journey.

I am happy that I was able to do this work at this client, and I feel honoured and supported by my colleague to trust me enough to build the relationships and make my own choices during the assignment and give my own advice to the client. It was a great learning experience.

I hope that each of you continue to bring light and love to those around as I continue to strive in doing this each and every day.

Paul J. Heidema

Paul J. Heidema

CEO at SparkActa Inc. -- Paul J. Heidema consults, coaches and guides senior management and staff to look for possibilities to improve their results and improve their organization. He leads large-scale organizational transformations to achieve lasting results in: building a culture that supports trust and growth, leadership coaching to mentor others, organizational effectiveness in processes, and systems thinking.


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