Are You Making These ScrumMaster Mistakes?

Scrum asks for a cultural change.  The traditional management style doesn’t work well in a Scrum Team. Scrum calls for servant leadership instead of command and control.

Some Scrum Masters stick to their servant leader role. Especially when the goings get tough, they tend to go back on what they know best – traditional management. Knowingly, or unknowingly, Scrum Masters keep falling into this trap. They start to behave more as project managers than as Scrum Masters.

Several symptoms indicate that the Scrum  Master is struggling to let the Team self-organize.

  • Scrum Master – the task master
  • Scrum Master – the decision Maker
  • Scrum Master – the communication barrier

Scrum Master – the task master 

The Team gets together around the board for the Daily Scrum. It starts on time, a good sign. Look closely. The Team members are talking to the Scrum Master during the Daily Scrum. They are providing a progress report to the Scrum Master.

One Team member has just reported what she did yesterday. She does not have any tasks for today. Instead of picking up some task or self-organizing with the Team to pick up work, she just stares at the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master wisely nods and tells her about the next task. The Daily Scrum goes on.

The Scrum Master is behaving as a manager, not as a Scrum Master.

The pattern can be observed outside the Daily Scrum also. Team members finish their tasks, instead of working with the Team to pick up the next one, they go talk to the Scrum Master asking about what should they do next. As in good old times.

 Scrum Master – the decision Maker

The Team needs to make a difficult decision during the Planning meeting, or during a Sprint. Discussion kicks off. Opinions start flowing, as it happens during a good Team discussion. Then the Scrum Master starts talking. She issues her verdict about the problem and how it should be solved. There is a lull in the discussion.

The Team members are ‘trained to’ look up to the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master has strong experience in design, development or anything similar. The discussion sort of ends.

The Team has decided, though the decision was “spoon fed” to the Team by the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master is unknowingly training the Team to look up to her whenever they need to make a difficult decision. The Scrum Master is essentially working as a “manager”, a “lead architect’, and a “decision maker”.

Scrum Master – the communication barrier

The Team has finished the Planning meeting and the Sprint has kicked off. The Team has started to do the planned work. After a day or two, the Team members feel they need to talk to the Product Owner to get feedback and they want to clarify a couple of issues. Rather, they have several questions for the Product Owner.

The Scrum  Master, of course, frequently talks to the Team members. When the Team raises issues, the Scrum Master is “on it”. The Scrum Master  goes ahead, locates the Product Owner, and asks the relevant questions. She comes back to the Team with the answers, or her interpretation of the answers. And feeds these answers to the Team. The Team feels happy; and gets back to work. The cycle goes on.

Primarily, this is a legacy of traditional management culture, where managers need invent work for themselves. They are accustomed to acting as a go-between for their Team and other stakeholders and teams. The self-organization takes a back seat.

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3 Responses to “Are You Making These ScrumMaster Mistakes?”

  1. Nick Oostvogels
    October 29, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    One usefull test I’ve used is:
    “Can the SM be absent on an ad hoc basis?”

  2. sweavo
    November 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    So there are some antipatterns… but what are the positive suggestions? What are the anxieties / perceived risks driving this behavior and how does Scrum address them?

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