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Posted By - Geoff Watts
Maybe you’ve read my Scrum Mastery in a Nutshell post and are wondering what you might be doing in a typical day. Or perhaps you are thinking about a career change and have read my post on Getting a Scrum Master job with no experience. Regardless, a very common question is “What does a Scrum Master do all day?”
Having spent years being a Scrum Master and being incredibly busy, it’s always interesting to me that people think it’s a job with little to actually do outside of facilitating a few meetings. Reflecting on why this is, I think there are a few reasons why some people might think that the Scrum Master has nothing to do all day:
In reality, Scrum Masters play a critical role in the success of agile teams. They help to remove obstacles, facilitate conversations, and ensure that the team is aligned and working effectively. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the role of the Scrum Master and what a typical day looks like for these professionals.
As I write in my book Scrum Mastery:
The Scrum Master should do whatever is needed to help the team become high performing and for the organisation to deliver excellent products quickly. For this reason, it is incredibly hard to nail down a definition of the role. What a Scrum Master needs to do one sprint could be incredibly different from what they need to do in the next sprint.
So if it’s that ambiguous, how can you know what to expect? Well here’s my guide to what a Scrum Master does all day.
To begin with, a lot of your role as Scrum Master will be spent establishing the new rhythms of the Scrum framework. Getting people (and yourself) into a habit of daily meetings where the team begin to talk to each other about their progress and plans, achievements and challenges. Helping the team to look at the bigger picture of the Sprint Goal they are working towards and put team outcome over individual output.
Before you get to this point there may be a lot of work to be done in getting permission to experiment with Scrum and getting people with the cross-functional skills into the team that allow the team to actually deliver end to end value within a Sprint. This can involve – among other things – lobbying, presenting, influencing, networking and form completing.
Of course depending on your organisation, you might be able to achieve a lot of this without being noticed…surreptitiously gathering together your team of ninjas to battle the forces of inefficiency and ineffectiveness…sorry I got a little carried away there!
In the early days, it can seem as though every day throws up another challenge to productivity and flow. One of the key responsibilities of the Scrum Master is to remove any obstacles that are preventing the team from working effectively. This could involve mediating conflicts between team members, working with stakeholders to resolve any issues that are blocking progress, or identifying bureaucratic processes that are inhibiting delivery of value to our customers.
As I said earlier, there is no typical day (or even Sprint) for a Scrum Master so people entering into this role need to be prepared for the unexpected. Actually this was a big part of what made the job enjoyable for me. It’s easy to think “Oh no, what now?” but actually every impediment we uncover is another step towards a more functional organisation so my advice is to treat these impediments with a sense of joy and excitement.
As well as the daily interactions with the team during the Sprint, we of course have the other rhythmical elements of Scrum – the Sprint Planning Meetings, the Sprint Reviews and the Sprint Retrospectives. Certainly in the early days there will be quite a lot of preparation for these events in order for them to run smoothly and establish them as value-add events.
In many organisations there is a culture of “meeting apathy” so adding more meetings into people’s calendars can be met with understandable resistance but if those meetings are well structured and well facilitated so that people attending see the value, that resistance quickly falls.
As well as using Scrum to deliver value (it’s never about doing Scrum for the sake of doing Scrum) another output of Scrum is to foster a culture of continuous improvement. This involves facilitating retrospectives, encouraging the team to reflect on their performance and identify areas for improvement. The Scrum Master may also help the team to implement changes to the process, such as incorporating new tools or techniques, to improve their effectiveness.
One thing I like to have on my daily “to do” list as a Scrum Master is to help the team take daily steps towards becoming more than just a good team and become a great team. These improvements could come from the retrospectives of course but I also like to work with the team on their “milestones to mastery”.
As well as helping the developers become a high-performing team, Scrum Masters also work closely with stakeholders, such as product owners and senior management, to ensure that everyone is aligned on the product goal and priorities and is aware of the current status of delivery.
Scrum is an empirical process and so transparency is key. Even if it is not information that we would like to hear, like the delivery is not on target, it is better for everyone to know this now rather than later so that we can be proactive in our response.
Most Scrum teams will bump up against the “less than agile” parts of the organisation and this tension is an amazing opportunity to look at how we can expand the benefits of our ways of working into the wider organisation and value streams. Ultimately this is the second part to the Scrum Master role that is so often overlooked – that of organisational change agent.
One of the major components of our Scrum Mastery Pathway is to prepare Scrum Masters for this difficult yet essential part of the role. This can involve advocating for agile values and principles, and working with various formal and informal leaders within the organisation on the benefits of a more agile mindset.
For example, the Scrum Master may help to bring stakeholders such as operations, sales and even end users closer to the delivery to reduce the feedback loop and increase the understanding within the team of the problems we are looking to solve. This may in turn require challenging organisational structures, role boundaries and processes in the name of greater organisational effectiveness. A lot of political skill is required to enable this disruption tactfully.
Ultimately the aim of the Scrum Master is to do themselves out of a job. The metaphor of Nanny McPhee is often cited.
In the film, Mr. Brown (a man who has just lost his wife) and his seven badly behaved children stumble across the magical nanny who says to them:
“There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go. It’s rather sad, really, but there it is.”
She then proceeds to change the children’s rules and process, restricting their freedom and challenging their authority (for previously they ruled the roost), so much in fact that the children hate the new nanny:
“We will never want you,” the children tell her
“Then I shall never leave,” replies Nanny McPhee
Eventually, however, the children learn to appreciate the new behaviours that the nanny’s rules and process have helped them adopt and enjoy their new lives so much that they don’t want her to leave. But she has done her job and so she must leave.
Like Nanny McPhee, as you develop as a Scrum Master and help your team develop and achieve greatness, you too should be ready to leave.
“But why would I want to make myself redundant?” you might ask.
I would argue “Why wouldn’t you?”
Imagine putting this on your resume:
I enabled a team and an organisation to become so agile and high-performing that I was no longer needed.
I would argue that if you managed to make yourself redundant you would be in such high demand that this would be the least of your worries!
So my general advice is to make sure every day you are doing something that will help you one day become redundant for both the team and the organisation. Create such a high-performing, self-organising team, with such a good relationship with the Product Owner, with such a keen understanding of the Scrum framework (and the principles behind the framework) that they don’t need any facilitation (of either process or people) and have no impediments left to remove.
In other words, be so great that they don’t need you anymore. That’s a challenge that certainly won’t leave you with nothing to do all day!