Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lessons learned being a scrum master

Failure is just part of being a good coach.
Being a scrum master is more than taking a test and receiving a certification.  There are plenty of hours of hard work and endless meetings.  As a rookie scrum master, I thought I understood the role.  Today, I know better.  This week some lessons learned.

When you discuss the term servant-leadership, many scrum masters see the developers they work with as servants.  This is backward.  A scrum master is a servant to the development team.  They provide help and guidance where they can they take care of the other team members before they take care of themselves. Most people see rank as having privileges; I disagree.  Rank is about responsibility for others, fulfilling those responsibilities and receiving only the privileges which benefit the entire team.

I am an extroverted person and according to the Myers-Briggs personality test I fit the model of charismatic leadership.  This is great for politics or giving presentations to a room full of fanboys but it is a handicap for a scrum master.  The reason is this leadership style means you talk more than you listen.  This is a recipe for failure for a scrum master.  To make change and coach others you need to listen and observer with the attention to detail of an anthropologist out in the field.  One of my early mentors, Andy LaChapelle said it best, “You have two ears and one mouth use them in that frequency.”

Finally, to be a scrum master is to let others do the work.  This has been the hardest lesson to internalize.  I have been a Type “A” person with plenty of nervous energy. When a task was incomplete, I would step in and finish it.  That is wrong and like an NFL coach going into a game to kick a field goal.  The scrum master is the coach and it is up to them to let the team members succeed and fail on their own terms.  It is maddening but so is coaching a team all week getting them in a position to win and have the kicker miss a field goal.

So experience has taught me that to be a successful scrum master you need to be a servant leader putting yourself above others.  A successful scrum master listens more than he speaks.  Finally, a successful scrum master lets the team do the work and self-organize.  I hope you take these lessons to heart so you don’t have to learn them the hard way like I did.

Until next time.