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The Scrum Master as a Change Agent

April 15, 2016

The role of a Scrum Master is one of many stances and diversity. A great Scrum Master is aware of them and knows when and how to apply them, depending on situation and context. Everything with the purpose of helping people understand the spirit of Scrum and hereby apply the Scrum framework better.

In a series of blog posts, I will share the different stances I consider to be relevant for the Scrum Master. This blog post is about the Scrum Master as a Change Agent. I'll describe the most common definitions, the characteristics of a Scrum-friendly culture and the Scrum Master as a Change Agent.

Earlier blog posts in this series are:

What is a Change Agent?

Some good definitions about a change agent are:

  • "A person who helps an organization transform itself by focussing on organizational effectiveness, improvement and development."
  • "People who act as catalysts for change."

Within the context of Scrum, Geoff Watts describes the role of the Scrum Master as a change agent as:

  • "A good Scrum Master helps a Scrum team survive in an organization's culture. A great Scrum Master helps change the culture so Scrum teams can thrive." [Scrum Mastery]

Characteristics of a Scrum-Friendly Culture

The short answer to describe the characteristics of a Scrum-friendly culture is to refer to the Agile manifesto. Although I acknowledge these values and principles as valid characteristics, I also consider a Scrum-friendly culture to be an environment that:

  • Values team success over individual success

  • Stimulates team members to hold themselves and others accountable

  • Promotes continuous improvement and experimentation

  • Appreciates everyone for their unique talents and skills

  • Values behavior over achievements

  • Puts the customer at the center of its operations

  • Considers the act of planning more useful than the actual plan

  • Supports stable team composition over a longer period to increase performance

  • Invites and inspires employees to get the most out of themselves.

  • Thrives on self-discipline where trust and ownership is given to employees

  • Helps employees succeed by giving support, trust, and guidance

  • Replaces temporary, comprehensive documentation with face-to-face communication

  • Values products instead of projects

  • Delivers business value by small, co-located, cross-functional and self-organizing teams

The Scrum Master as a Change Agent

To enable a culture in which Scrum Teams can flourish, the Scrum Master should act as a change agent. The Scrum Master helps to create an environment that allows the spirit of Scrum to thrive. The Scrum Guide defines this part of the Scrum Master role as serving the organization in:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization. [Scrum Guide]

As a change agent, the truly great Scrum Masters will become visible. These are Scrum Masters that know how to shift the status quo and help create a more suitable environment. They know when to be disruptive and when to be careful. They understand organizational changes can take a longer period of time. However, their willingness to change acts as catalysis to drive the organization forward. The strength of Scrum is making bottlenecks and problems visible, great Scrum Masters create support within the organization to truly resolve these dysfunctions. Everything with the ultimate goal of creating a culture in which Scrum teams can thrive!

Wrap Up

What do you think about this part of the Scrum Master role? Have you worked with Scrum Masters that fulfil the role of a change agent? Or even better, are you such a change agent yourself? I would love to learn from your experiences!

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