June 9, 2015

A Branched Version of Done

I was recently contacted by a senior executive of a mid-sized company that is evolving their product development to Scrum. He explained a situation he had been in and wanted my opinion. He accepted me to share his story here (with some abstractions, and calling him Jim) in an open-ended way, inviting the reader -much like he did- to reflect on the purpose and accountability of the Scrum Master and how that role is needed for… well, many reasons still.

Jim’s company started out doing Scrum on some smaller, carefully contained projects with individual Scrum Teams developing clearly separated products and product areas. Through these projects they discovered how iterative-incremental product development increased transparency, and how disciplined engineering practices allowed them to excel. Where Scrum in the beginning was much seen as mainly for IT people, they soon found out the need for a mandated Product Owner representing the internal business and the user base to the teams. They felt that hiring a Scrum Master with three years of experience had been really helpful. One of these early projects was recently expanded to two teams. Both teams work on the same product and draw work from one and the same Product Backlog. The Product Owner and the Scrum Master perform their roles for both teams.

Jim contacted me after he was invited to and attended the second Sprint Review after the expansion to two teams. At this Sprint Review the two teams took 60 minutes each to walk everyone through the software functionality they had created. Each team showed the work from their separated code branch. By the end of the Sprint Review, Jim inquired about releasing the software, but got an unclear answer. In the end it boiled down to the teams promising they would have a look at it, and discuss it with the release department who hadn’t been involved so far. Jim felt like not straining the teams more but an uneasy feeling had crept in. After all, one of the reasons why they started adopting Scrum were their long release cycles, and unclear release dates. It had led to many customer complaints and even losing a couple of important customers. Jim was scared to death for the same, old ghost to re-appear.

He asked for my advice. I suggested to ask the Scrum Master. It seems the role of the Scrum Master was the last option to come to his mind. After all, everyone told him the Scrum Master is not about the actual development.

How about you? If any, where would you situate the accountability of the Scrum Master in this?