Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, December 14, 2015

Making a Difference

How does a scrum master describe his job at the
office party?
The other night I was having dinner with someone who worked as a nurse.  I understood what they did for a living and when they discussed their work it was easy to understand their frustrations and successes.  Then I told them I was a scrum master and they gave me a blank stare. It seems the world of technology has not filtered out to the fly-over country and so I spend a lot of time explaining to people what I do for a living.  This week I thought I would help others have that awkward conversation about what you do for a living.

At first, I struggled with metaphors to describe what a scrum master does.  In a way, we are coaching helping software developers and business people do their work faster, better, cheaper, and with less hassle.  It did not seem adequate.  Then I thought about Stephen Ambrose and his book, Band of Brothers.  A scrum master is like a platoon leader for a group of para-troopers.  They lead, look after the well-being of their people, and are on the front lines of the software development action.  It seemed a stretch because I do not jump out of planes or get shot at by enemy troops.  May-be a scrum master is like an orchestra conductor getting developers and the business to play together.  Again not very good because classical music does not have a culture of improvisation that developers use to get the job done every day.

May-be I should skip the metaphors.  Each day, I work with developers from Chennai, India.  Then I go into the office and try to work with the on shore developers.  Next, I help my product owners learn to write business stories.  I spend a few minutes being demeaned by my project manager and try to stay positive for my software developers and my business leaders.  I manage up setting expectations and receiving one-word e-mail replies from vice presidents who don’t have time for me unless something is wrong.  I am sweating deadlines, answering awkward questions, and pushing the people I am responsible for to complete deadlines.

I have to be a cheerleader staying positive in some of the most discouraging situations.  I have to be an actor because I have to receive abuse and condescension from business people and say that I like it.  I am a business consultant showing people how to do things a better way and I am a therapist as I help my developers get through personal problems and business frustrations.  It is also a calling like being a member of the clergy because we are pushing people to see a better way.

The best answer I can give is that a scrum master makes a difference.  Many of the software products you use and the apps on your phone are built by software developers.  The scrum master makes sure that construction gets done.  The scrum master keeps the wheels of the global economy spinning as they take numerous conference calls and sitting through endless meetings.  We are not middle managers; we are on the front lines making things happen.

So the next time someone at a holiday party makes a remark about what they make, smile and given them a steely stare and say you make a difference.  It is the only way I can describe what a scrum master does.

Until next time.