“The ScrumMaster’s authority over process rather than the team can quickly change” – Mike Cohn
The role of ScrumMaster is not a role for the fainthearted. He must be aware that there is a thin line between the ScrumMaster’s authority over process and authority over the Scrum team. He is a servant-leader to the team whose authority over the Scrum process can quickly be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or even misrepresented. It is unlikely for the ScrumMaster not to cross the borderline, if he doesn’t have a good knowledge of attributes embedded in his role as a servant-leader in the team.
For example, a ScrumMaster can decide to encourage the team to try out a three-week sprint instead of the ongoing two- or four-week sprint, if he believes the two-week sprint is not suitable for the team. The ScrumMaster is on the team to help the team succeed; he therefore has authority over the Scrum process and can suggest an increase or decrease in the iteration length in order to determine a velocity for the team, especially for a new Scrum team. But he cannot force a recommendation on the team. When exactly can his unforced recommendation become authority?
To expatiate upon how thin the line is between authority over Scrum process and authority over a team, I have adopted and arranged Mike Cohn’s six attributes of a ScrumMaster as an acronym that is almost like a word, and I call it the “RICCH-K.” As an acronym, it’s easy for a ScrumMaster to remember and it can help him stop from going over the line of his authority over process into authority over the Scrum team. RICCH-K can also serve as a virtual scale upon which he can weigh his intended actions and decisions before bringing them before the team.
The six attributes of RICCH-K can also guide in the recruitment of the best candidate for the role of a ScrumMaster. They are:
“In dreams begin responsibilities” – W.B. Yeats
The ScrumMaster is not responsible for the success or failure of a project that was completed by a team, yet he or she is responsible for making the most of the amount of work a team can do. His responsibility is without authority to control or dictate, because he is part of the team and not an authority over it. His head therefore cannot be put on the chopping board when the team fails, and neither can it become swollen when the team succeeds — otherwise, like a project manager, it would be easy for him to take the glory for the work done by the team or be fired when the team fails.
Unfortunately, quite a lot of ScrumMasters exerts authority where they only needed to be responsible for the scrum process. A ScrumMaster can objectively tell a team “we have failed to delivers a shippable product at the end of the sprint” – he cannot hold anyone but the team responsible.
“Man is by nature a political animal.” – Aristotle
It was the great Aristotle who said “man is a political animal.” One therefore should not expect a ScrumMaster to differ, or to be crucified if he displays some measure of political skill in the area of influence and negotiation, as he may have to influence the business stakeholders to meet the team’s need. There might also be instances in which he has to persuade individuals within and outside the team to be collaborative and dedicated to the process of Scrum. An example is when a ScrumMaster prevails over an influential person or someone at the top in the organization to release a resource to the team.
“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” – Margaret Thatcher
“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tom Robbins
The commitment of the ScrumMaster as a member of the team (not as a leader) has a way of reverberating throughout the entire team. He is a servant-leader who is committed to removing impediments, and he must remain passionate about that even if he is part-time on the job. There are times when he may not be able to absolutely unblock the pipe; he may only be able to get something, no matter how little, moving through the pipe. The ScrumMaster should not wait until he is reminded about removing impediments to the team. He may have to persist, time after time, before an impediment is removed — but he must proactively do this.
“Collaboration allows teachers to capture each other’s fund of collective intelligence” – Mike Schmoker
A ScrumMaster is a servant-leader and a member of the Scrum team who has the responsibility of ensuring that a collaborative culture is adopted by the team. He doesn’t have to enforce it, but he must ensure that team members are able to freely and openly engage in discussions that deal with problems. This he can do by words, through action, or through inaction. The ScrumMaster must encourage an attitude that fosters a “solution for all” and not a “solution for me.” This is what makes his role more challenging when compared to a project manager’s. He can do this by discouraging a task-driven, hands-off environment where an individual completes a task and doesn’t see the uncompleted tasks as his responsibility. The team must be encouraged to know that all items on the sprint burn-down chart, whether testing or code designing, are owned by the entire team.
“Humility is attentive patience. – Simone” Weil
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self”– Ernest Hemingway
A ScrumMaster must be willing to do everything necessary to help the team attain its goal. He takes pride in the collective achievement of the team. He should not, by action or gesture, make team members accountable to him during daily stand-up meetings. He must ensure that he discourages team members from updating him, not the team, during these meetings. This is where he needs to be very careful, as his body language and gestures can easily imply superiority without his knowing.
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – Benjamin Franklin
The ScrumMaster must make a concerted effort toward acquiring “a bit of most.” That is, acquiring minimal knowledge in specialized knowledge areas that could be beneficial to the team. For instance, it will do him no harm if he has the knowledge of elasticity of demand and supply in economics, principles of marketing, behavioral management theory, balance sheets in accounting, and so on.
A good ScrumMaster must have good technical knowledge so that he is not lost when team members are discussing technical matters. He should avail himself of any knowledge that helps him serve well. The work of LaFasto and Larson has shown that “an intimate and detailed knowledge of how something works increases the chance of the leader helping the team surface the more subtle technical issues that must be addressed” (2001, 133).
Among other factors, the RICCH-Knowledge acronym could serve as a good compass for a ScrumMaster to navigate through teams and projects without wandering into troubled waters.
The ScrumMaster should guide the team as his role demands, and not provide answers. He must see himself as assuming the role of a bus conductor in a bus being driven by the product owner. It is his responsibility to conduct well so that the driver (product wwner) and all passengers on the bus (the team) get to the destination free of any hitches.
As he guides the Scrum team and helps it remove impediments, he must constantly remind himself what his attributes are.
LaFasto FMJ and Larson CE. When Teams Work Best: 6, 000 Team Members and Leaders Tell What It Takes to Succeed. Sage Publications, Inc. 2001.
Mike Cohn. Succeeding with Agile: Software Development Using Scrum. Addison-Wesley Professional. 2009.