Scrum is the most common and well-known of the Agile frameworks. The Scrum Master role is the most written about and talked about of the 3 Scrum roles. However, it is usually confused with a Project Manager, a master of Scrum, and/or a facilitator.
A friend and colleague described the Scrum Master as someone who creates the environment for the team to succeed. With this in mind, the Scrum Master does what is necessary to empower, support, clear the path, and help the rest of the Scrum team to become the best team that it can be.
The Scrum Guide says “The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted.” This individual has a tough and important job to perform.
Over the years, I have come to understand and develop a path that most Scrum Masters follow to become outstanding Scrum Masters and Agile Catalysts for their teams and organizations.
Keep in mind that this model and its contents have been learned, developed and modified through others’ learning, plenty of collaboration, and my own understanding. And this model, based heavily on the model by Angel Medinilla, is not the only model, instead, it is a way to explore and understand how a Scrum Master may advance over time. And many Scrum Masters may join two stages together, skip a stage or do something quite different.
Stage 1: Scrum Buddy
At this first stage, the Scrum Master has just started (probably with little to no support) and is just getting things going. The Scrum Master performs these actions:
- Acts as the team secretary – taking notes and keeping the meetings on schedule
- Schedules meetings – sets up the time, place and meeting invites for all Scrum meetings
- Identifies impediments – makes a list of impediments as they are mentioned
Within this stage, the Scrum Master is doing basic actions that start the team in using Scrum but it is rarely effective nor is it empowering.
Stage 2: Scrum Boss
At the second stage, the Scrum Master is now taking more ownership of the Scrum process. There is a sense of being more comfortable with the new role. The actions include:
- Enforces Scrum – makes sure that everybody does Scrum as it is written and understood by the Scrum Master
- Interacts with the team as the interface – becomes the connector between team members
- Diagnoses and decides solutions – analyzes problems and decides individually how to solve them
- Removes impediments individually – once a solution is decided, the Scrum Master removes the problem without others
- Avoids conflict – when disagreements arise, the Scrum Master tries to steer clear and hope that it will resolve itself
- Moderates discussions – becomes the conversation connector to maintain the peace and move the discussion forward
- Controls the team – acts a manager or boss or project manager of the team
By moving to this stage, the Scrum Master internalizes more of what Scrum is and begins to advance. However, it does not empower the team to take collective ownership of its own destiny.
Stage 3: Awesome Scrum Master
In the 3rd stage, the Scrum Master begins to deeply understand and crystallize the 3 pillars of Scrum (transparency, inspection, and adaption) and the definition of Scrum: “A framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value” which come directly from the creators of Scrum in the Scrum Guide. The actions at this stage include:
- Mentor and supporter – always looking for ways to help, even it is just by being a listener
- Team gardener – viewing the team as individual and amazing people that need “sunshine”, “rain” and care
- Creates supportive and empowering spaces – understands that the entire team, including the Scrum Master, need various types of activities and opportunities to be creative and inventive
- Change agent – being an example to others through deeds and words and then making a noticeable difference in the group and/or organization
- Innovator – identifying and acting upon new ideas and experiments, never settling for the status quo
- Takes advantage of learning opportunities – when someone or a group learns something new, the Scrum Master exposes that learning and broadens its knowledge and application
- Embraces feedback – actively seeks opportunities to get feedback on the team, the process, learning and more
At this third stage, the Scrum Master is fully embracing the spirit and the activities of this Scrum role. This is when the team has the ability to reach for the stars and become a high-performing team.
Stage 4: Ultimate Agile Coach
Once this final stage is reached (in this conceptual model), the Scrum Master moves beyond helping the team to now helping the organization as the full-time occupation. Many amazing things can happen. Actions include:
- Level 3 listener – moves to a place where you are able to purposefully listen without letting your own thoughts pull you away, and able to allow the environment to inform the knowledge within the act of listening
- Asks powerful questions – able to pose deep, profound, and non-linear questions to seek truth without having a desired outcome or response
- Acts like a mirror – able to show through actions and words what others are currently displaying to help others see their behaviours and then choose to adjust them
- Always learning – Continuous improvement is at this person’s core as he/she looks for opportunities to grow and help others to grow
Within the fourth stage, the Scrum Master “graduates” helping the Scrum team to paying greater attention to the organization and collaborating with others to create a culture of learning and/or a culture of innovation. This is where an organization with multiple Ultimate Agile Coaches can support and lead a completely new organism.
Some Final Thoughts on the Journey of a Scrum Master
The role of the Scrum Master is relatively simple (based on the description by the founders of Scrum in the Scrum Guide), yet it has been watered-down and become the shell of its potential self.
- The Scrum Master is not a facilitator of Scrum – even though this person may do some of that.
- The Scrum Master is not the most knowledgeable in Scrum – even though they could be if they were trained, coached, and continued to learn on their own
- The Scrum Master is not the boss of Scrum – even though it is probably valuable to pay attention to any guidance given by the Scrum Master
This role is important and critical for the advancement of the Scrum Team. As is the roles of the Team Member, and the role of the Product Owner. Together these three roles, if done well, allow for the development and advancement of an amazing and outstanding Agile team.
What stages have you seen in your Scrum Master? Were they able to advance themselves and the team?
This model is built upon the Scrum Master Maturity Model (Slide #39) by Angel Medinilla. Thanks to Michael Sahota and Heather Wilson for their encouragement and collaboration. And thanks to Wessam Nasser for his curiosity and insights.
As always, thanks and enjoy your journey with Agile values and Agile frameworks!
Paul J. Heidema