June 17, 2020

How to Prove the Value of Scrum Masters to the Organization?

As part of The Liberators Network, we organize meetups that allow participants to give & get help around challenges they face with unleashing their organization’s superpowers. All meetups focus on peer-to-peer coaching, building networks, and the sharing of experiences. Last week, Simon Flossmann, one of our Patrons, took the opportunity to raise the following challenge:

“How can a Scrum Master prove its value to the organization such that (s)he isn’t considered to be the first asked to leave in a crisis?”

To explore this challenge, we used the Liberating Structure “Wise Crowds”. This structure makes it possible to tap the wisdom of the whole group to give help with tough problems, questions, and challenges. The purpose of this blog post is to share the outcome of the meetup. In a future article, we might describe how we facilitated Wise Crowds, virtually.

Meetup

Some pictures of the Wise Crowds meetup, organized as part of The Liberators Network

Advice from the Wise Crowd

During the Wise Crowds meetup, 55 participants from around the world, worked together to collect ideas, recommendations, and advice for Simon’s challenge. By studying the results, we identified the key patterns and listed them below. All this advice was formed in 10+ breakout rooms. Listening to it simultaneously was obviously not possible. So we take the liberty to refine and expand the advice with our own knowledge and experience as well.

Recommended experiments, strategies, and practices are:

  • Clarify the Scrum Master role. The role of the Scrum Master can be difficult to understand. Especially for people that don’t have knowledge of Scrum. So, create opportunities to explain the purpose, activities, and responsibilities of a Scrum Master. Share a summary of the role on the intranet, host a meetup, or create a short video. If you’re looking for a good summary, check the paper “The 8 Stances of a Scrum Master”.
  • Be open about your worries. Share your concerns about feeling vulnerable and that you’re afraid to be asked to leave the organization in times of crisis. You’re probably not the only person having this feeling. Your openness is an example for others. It creates an environment where others dare to speak up and share their concerns, worries, and anxiety.
  • Ask the Development Team. What is their expectation of a Scrum Master? What do they want to gain? How would they describe a successful collaboration? What outcome do they expect? What are the conditions that need to be in place?
  • Ask the Product Owner. What would the ideal collaboration between the Product Owner and Scrum Master look like? What hopes does (s)he have? What is a goal the Product Owner wants to achieve, that might need support from the Scrum Master?
  • Diagnose your Scrum Team, together. Make the state of Scrum within your Scrum Team and organization transparent with the Zombie Scrum Symptoms Checker. It will help create transparency around what’s going on in your team and the wider organization, in terms of Zombie Scrum. As a Scrum Master, it’s your responsibility to make Scrum work in an organization. Ask each team member to conduct the survey individually, collect the results, and define improvements. All the surveys combined should give a good impression of the state of Scrum in the entire organization.

Survey

A screenshot of the Zombie Scrum Symptoms Checker

  • Measure Team Morale. This can be measured with our free tool TeamMetrics. This is a survey to help (Agile) teams improve by gathering objective data about key team factors such as team morale and interpret the results with the help of benchmarks. As a Scrum Master, you support the team in improving its morale. This survey can help you make the progress transparent and thereby show your value as well.
  • Use outcome-based metrics. Useful metrics focus on agility and on value delivered. Like cycle time, customer satisfaction, team happiness, innovation rate, return on investment, and total defects. Interpret metrics together. It’s not about the metrics, but about the conversation and the insights that ensue. Improving the outcome of the metrics is a shared responsibility, it is, however, an indicator of how successful you are as a Scrum Master. So you can use it when management questions your importance. For more details, check the article “Stop Measuring the Pizzas and the Cooks”.
  • Define success criteria, do this together with your sponsor. Before starting as a Scrum Master, discuss the success criteria with the person responsible for hiring you. This could be a line manager, but also the Scrum Team itself. Upfront, define what success looks like. What is the purpose your sponsor expects you to achieve? Make this tangible by using the earlier mentioned metrics, the Zombie Scrum Symptoms checker, and the Team Morale survey. Use “Min Specs” to make the essential work transparent that needs to be done in order to achieve a shared purpose.
  • Make impediments transparent. For example, with the “Management in Scrum” exercise. It explores how management is an integral part of Scrum, what is expected from all the Scrum roles, and how this is often different in ‘real-life’. It also shows what the current limitations & impediments are to fully benefit from the empirical process of Scrum. It’s the responsibility of a Scrum Master to help remove these impediments. The transparency this exercise creates around the state of Scrum, automatically shows how much work there’s left to do for a Scrum Master.

Management in Scrum

Examples of cards that have impediments when it comes to working with Scrum.

  • Share a team newsflash within the organization. Create organizational awareness for the results your team achieved by sharing a team newsflash (the newsletter’s cooler cousin). Include new features the team built, impediments they resolved, or a Retrospective format other teams can benefit from as well.
  • Organize User Experience Fishbowl with Scrum Masters. Occasionally, organize a User Experience Fishbowl in which the Scrum Masters share their lessons learned, successes, and struggles with the wider organization. Encourage all kinds of different departments, managers, and teams to join. Having Scrum Masters speak openly about their experiences, will help create a better understanding of the role, and offers the opportunity to give & get help.
  • Ask for feedback. The following experiment takes courage, but can be extremely powerful: organize another User Experience Fishbowl, this time with the Development Team and Product Owner in the inner circle. Again, allow everyone from the organization to join. The topic: what is the value of Scrum Masters in this organization? What is good, bad, and surprising?
  • Scrum Masters are servant-leaders. Scrum Masters help Scrum Teams become successful by providing the services and support they need to do so, without drawing attention to themselves. Scrum Masters should recognize that in complex work, bringing people together, and shaping future actions together is the best way to be effective. The ultimate test for a servant-leader is: do those served grow as persons?”. A Scrum Master can use this perspective as well, to show the value (s)he is delivering.

Fishbowl

A UX Fishbowl in full-swing

  • Work with the wider organization. Don’t focus solely on the Scrum Team. It is natural to focus on the team level initially, but the focus should shift towards building relationships and acting as a change agent on an organizational level. Scrum Masters can show their value by working with people from the HR, Finance, and Sales departments as well.
  • Focus on the purpose of Scrum. As a Scrum Master, you should make transparent the impediments that limit Scrum Teams in their ability to deliver “Done” Increments. By having this as your focus, the necessary changes will become clear. The Scrum Master can facilitate conversations and collaboration with other Scrum Teams, management, and departments, to start removing the impediments. Together, an environment can be created in which more value is delivered to stakeholders, which also shows the value of the Scrum Master itself.
  • Start and/or join a Scrum Master community. Scrum Masters are responsible for helping organizations find ways to deliver value to stakeholders faster and more frequently with Scrum. This is no simple task and requires creativity, intelligence, and close collaboration with developers, product owners, and management. We believe that Scrum Masters make a bigger impact when they work together with Scrum Masters from inside and outside their organization. Working together, Scrum Masters have the creativity, intelligence, and wisdom to overcome the many hard challenges that they face in helping organizations work effectively with Scrum.

SMLJ

Join The Liberators Network, a user group for Scrum Masters focused on peer-to-peer coaching, building networks, and the sharing of experiences, lessons learned, and useful practices.

Closing Words

In this blog post, we shared the outcome of The Liberators Network meetup in which Simon Flossmann raised the challenge: “How can a Scrum Master prove its value to the organization such that (s)he isn’t considered to be the first asked to leave in a crisis?”. We shared the experiments, practices, and strategies offered by the 55 participants and took the opportunity to include our own knowledge and experience as well.

If you have got any other ideas on how a Scrum Master can show its value, feel free to share them. We would love to learn from you as well!

Want to learn more about Scrum and how to become a more effective Scrum Master? Join our on-site Scrum.org Professional Scrum Master II course or the online edition. We guarantee a unique, eye-opening experience that is 100% free of PowerPoint, highly interactive, and serious-but-fun. If you need help, feel free to join our free meetup ‘The Liberators Network’ in the Netherlands.

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