During one of the recent training sessions, a participant posed an intriguing question: "What are some lesser-discussed skills that a Scrum Master should possess?" To be frank, this is among the most interesting questions I've encountered recently, and it got me thinking.
Once I began outlining these skills, I found myself motivated to explore this topic further and (potentially) write a series of posts. In these posts, I aim to share my insights and experiences regarding skills that are often overlooked in discussions but hold significance in becoming an effective Scrum Master.
When discussing Scrum Master skills, the immediate concepts that arise include coaching, facilitation, teaching, empathy, and the like. While undoubtedly crucial skills, they only scratch the surface of a Scrum Master's work. There are skills that we rarely talk about, yet they play a pivotal role. These are the skills that set apart a skilled and efficient Scrum Master from someone who works solely at the team level.
In this post, I want to dive a little deeper into the subject of Change Management. Yes, we always mention that Scrum Master is a Change Agent but in my subjective point of view, we do not get deep enough into the domain of Change Management. Before we proceed, let's address a significant point. In the English language, two terms describe the concept of being in charge of something: accountability and responsibility. Throughout this post, I'll be examining things primarily from an accountability standpoint. So, whenever the term "accountability" is mentioned, it pertains to the degree of accountability. This signifies taking responsibility for the outcome without implying that the Scrum Master must personally handle every aspect.
Let's take a step back and delve into the accountability of the Scrum Master, as outlined in the Scrum Guide:
The Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. They do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory and practice, both within the Scrum Team and the organization.
The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. They do this by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework.
Let's examine the initial point more closely, delving into the realm of Change Management. First and foremost, let's address a question we rarely ask ourselves before going any further: Why should an Organization adhere to the Scrum Framework as outlined in the Scrum Guide?
During training sessions, I always ask the question: "Should we adapt Scrum to fit the Organization, or should we introduce organizational changes that would enable us, with help of Scrum, to reach our objectives?" Naturally, the correct response is to implement changes within the Organization to fulfill its goals. Ken Schwaber, one of the co-authors of Scrum was convinced that Scrum does not help us solve our problems, it illuminates them beautifully and makes them transparent. Scrum allows us to see exactly what adjustments are necessary to mold the organization into an adaptive entity, focused on delivering Value in each iteration. In a different light, the accountability of the Scrum Master, as framed in the Scrum Guide, lies in ensuring that the organization achieves its objectives through the application of the Scrum Framework. The implementation of the Scrum Framework equates to change, and who better than a Scrum Master is adept at implementing organizational changes?
Let's now explore the essence of Change Management.
Over time, numerous definitions have emerged. For the purposes of this post, let's adopt the definition from the University of Michigan, as it best encapsulates the contemporary understanding of Change Management:
Change management is a process of overseeing and facilitating change at any level where it occurs.
On one hand, this definition is remarkably broad, but it shows the essence of implementing changes in Organizations. Even if we implement changes in a single part of the Organization, their effects, both evident and concealed, impact throughout other areas. Now, let's focus on specific factors that aid the Scrum Master in enacting changes within the Organization.
In my role as a Scrum Master, I have drawn considerable inspiration from the works of Peter Senge. Therefore, to ensure that my service at the level of the Organization are effective and the changes are long-lasting, I adhere to four essential prerequisites:
- There must be a compelling case for change
- There must be time to change
- There must be help during the change process
- As the perceived barriers to change are removed, it is important that some new problem, not before considered important or perhaps not even recognized, doesn't become a critical barrier
These four points, at their core, establish the foundations for a successful change. Let's delve into them and explore their intricacies in greater depth.
There must be a compelling case for change.
I believe many of you have encountered instances of change being implemented simply because "it's trendy" or due to the fact that "others have already done it" ... Is that truly the motivation to implement change? I have my reservations about that. When change is undertaken without a distinct purpose, we inevitably encounter the following consequences:
- A lack of shared understanding regarding the necessity of these changes
- A lack of understanding of the direction these changes should take us
- A failure to engage people in the process of change implementation
- A lack of ownership of these changes
Let's conceptualize the organization's operational way of working as a product—just for a moment. I believe it's universally acknowledged how crucial a clear vision is for any product. Around this vision, strategic and tactical plans for product development are built. Hypotheses are conceived, and experiments are structured accordingly, all adhering to an iterative-incremental strategy to attain these objectives.
Considering the operational way of working as a product, what inherent value should it provide to the Organization? In my perspective, the answer is quite straightforward: our operational approach is a tool that empowers the Organization to reach its objectives. The initial stride towards constructing a "compelling case for change" is the vision of the type of Organization we aspire to become. It's crucial to emphasize that the organization's mode of operation should never serve as the ultimate goal in itself. Rather, it serves as a supplementary element that "enables" the organization in the pursuit of its objectives. This, in turn, gives rise to the necessity for change, marking the starting point of the entire process.
A clearly expressed need for change (or the response to the question "Why exactly?") opens the gateway to the subsequent consideration: how should our Organization function to realize its goals? This is what we refer to as the Ideal State. Once we've defined the Ideal State of the organization, we can precisely articulate the exact optimizations required, alongside the pivotal indicators we will employ to monitor our progress throughout the change process. The Optimization Goal acts as our compass, guiding the direction of change or indicating precisely what adjustments need to be made. It's imperative to exercise caution here, as we often fall into the trap of quick decision-making. When executing changes, it's advisable to adopt a deliberate, methodical approach—essentially, to think deliberately and systematically. Systems Thinking stands as a primary tool for both the Scrum Master and every participant involved in the change initiative. While this post won't delve extensively into the intricacies of Systems Thinking (perhaps a teaser for future content 🙂), its significance couldn't be entirely omitted. In order to clearly formulate the Optimization Goal that genuinely steers the course of change, it's crucial to thoroughly comprehend your present circumstances. For instance, if your Optimization Goal revolves around adaptability, what precisely is your current level of adaptability? If your aim is to minimize T2M (Time-to-Market), what are your existing Lead Time and Cycle Time measurements? Few things hinder change as significantly as an Optimization Goal that solely relies on "wishful thinking" without a solid foundation in empirical data. A precisely defined Optimization Goal operates on a strategic level, propelling us to the stage where we construct specific hypotheses and devise corresponding experiments. This will bring us closer to achieving the ultimate Optimization Goal.
In practical terms, here's how the Scrum Master can assist the organization:
- Helping in defining the Current State and Ideal State of the Organization
- Establishing an intermediate result that will bring us closer to the Ideal State
- Assisting in formulating hypotheses (aimed at approaching the Ideal State) and developing tangible experiments aligned with them, with concrete results for assessment
- Facilitating the creation of a "Change Team" and securing management support
- Effectively communicating the necessity for change across all hierarchical levels
- Ensure that the experiment is conducted in a secure environment. Remember, the essence of an experiment is that the outcome might not meet expectations — and that's perfectly fine. It's through this process that we learn and acquire empirical data.
There must be time to change.
In relation to this aspect, I'd suggest approaching it from two equally crucial angles that play a pivotal role in change implementation:
- Allocated time for adapting to the change and for assessing its outcomes.
- Assessing the readiness of individuals and the organization as a whole to embrace and enact the changes.
Let's begin by addressing the initial point - the designated timeframe allocated to assess the outcomes of the changes. I think that it is no secret that every change represents a substantial investment. We like to see results immediately and often we are quite impatient and over-push to achieve results right away. When implementing changes, we need to determine how much time we can give ourselves to see the first results. Consider this question from a different angle - how much time can we realistically dedicate to training and conducting initial experiments, recognizing that our effectiveness might not be as optimal as we desire?
This deliberation also provides the Organization with an opportunity to weigh the merits of further scaling the implemented changes. As the encountered challenges come into focus, mechanisms to address these issues can be formulated. By revisiting the Optimization Goal and reinforcing it with concrete data about the present state, it becomes feasible to determine the timeframe required to progress towards the Organizational Goal. This also highlights the significance of transparency, as it shows the evolution of this transition. Inevitably, questions will arise at this stage.
On the other hand, considering the timeframe allocated for changes, a significant aspect is the readiness of both individuals and the Organization to adopt these changes. More than once I tried to push the Organizations to take certain steps for which they were simply not ready. More often than not, the outcomes were far from favorable. Therefore, we must respect the pace that is acceptable to the people in this Organization and the Organization itself. Here again, our guiding principle is the Optimization Goal. Throughout the change journey, numerous intermediate and specific goals should be established, signifying the tactical dimension of change. These goals serve as focal points for "alignment," ensuring agreement among all participants involved in the change initiative, including both management and teams. Such intermediate goals also serve the purpose of transparently showcasing progress and achievements. It's crucial to remember that implementing change is similar to running a marathon. And looking back, it is always better to have clearly described and understandable results, on the basis of which you can make further decisions. Don't push people into something they're not ready for. Respect the pace of change in your Organization.
What can you do as a Scrum Master:
- Providing a safe environment to implement changes
- Starting change implementation with volunteers—individuals who stand to benefit from the change — showcasing results to the organization, irrespective of their nature, and ensuring they are substantiated with explicit conclusions and subsequent actions
- Prioritizing transparency - whatever the results are, they should be shown to the Organization, and you need to make sure that these results are supported by clear conclusions and next steps
- Respecting the pace of change in your Organization - defining your starting point and identifying intermediate result you expect
There must be help during the change process.
A few years back, I found myself pondering the question, "Have I independently executed any organizational changes as a Scrum Master?" The answer was straightforward: no. I hadn't single-handedly carried out any changes. Instead, a group of people involving individuals from various levels of the Organization was always behind change implementation. A common pattern I notice among Scrum Masters is the desire to implement change single-handedly. More often than not, this approach does not end well. What I've come to understand is that my role isn't to take the reins and become a solo change agent. Rather, my role revolves around catalyzing organizational change. It involves aiding the Organization in comprehending the specific changes required to come closer to the Optimization Goal and subsequently assisting in the change's implementation. In essence, my role is to be a catalyst for change. To fulfill this role, we require support, active involvement, and competence in change implementation. Establishing a support framework is essential—forming a team dedicated to executing the change and securing the support of senior management within the Organization. In other words, you should have "Developers" — individuals directly engaged in implementing the change—and "Stakeholders" of the change — who are interested in it and receive certain benefits from the implemented change.
As a Scrum Master, your actions should involve:
- Identifying the key Stakeholders of the change—those who will reap benefits from the implemented change, not solely at the Organizational level, but also specific individuals within it.
- Prioritizing transparency and fostering effective communication with your Stakeholders.
- Working out strategies, tactics, approaches and tools to address Organizational obstacles.
- Ensuring you possess well-defined metrics that can aptly demonstrate the outcomes and impacts of the change.
- Establishing a secure environment to implement changes.
As the perceived barriers to change are removed, it is important that some new problem, not before considered important or perhaps not even recognized, doesn't become a critical barrier.
To me, this closely ties into the previous point about establishing a support structure. Constructing such a system involves several layers, each designed to navigate through obstacles and challenges that might not have been evident at the beginning of the change process (and I assure you, they will undoubtedly arise).
- The Optimization Goal should stand as a high priority for the entire Organization, or for the specific part within which you're introducing the changes. This is one of the main tools for empowering the position of the Scrum Master in the Organization. As aforementioned, the Optimization Goal should be supported by precise metrics that will make the journey toward its attainment transparent.
- Forming a cross-functional change management team is a necessity. This entails assembling a team with a diverse skill set, equipped to tackle various aspects of change implementation, all while securing the backing of management to facilitate these changes.
In addition to these two aspects, it's also important to incorporate Systems Thinking as a primary tool. This equips you with the ability to approach such challenges from a global perspective and identify the essential leverage points required to overcome them collaboratively with the change team and the support of Stakeholders.
Change Management is one of the key competencies that sets apart a Professional Scrum Master from merely a team-level facilitator. Without this competence, achieving effective Organizational changes becomes unattainable. The alterations made at the team level are unlikely to have a substantial influence on the overall organizational functioning. In this scenario, Scrum, as a Framework, remains a fun thing to "play around with" teams rather than being perceived as a mechanism that allows the Organization to move towards its Strategic goals. To be an effective Change Agent, take care of the following:
- Define a clear purpose "Why do we need change" - what exactly we need to be able to do as an Organization.
- Define a clear Optimization Goal for the Organization, choose metrics that offer insights into both the present state and the desired state you aim to attain.
- Use Systems Thinking as a tool to find the necessary leverages.
- Enlist the support of senior management and find people with the necessary competencies and willingness to dedicate their time to implementing change.
- Ensure transparency throughout the change process.
- Inspect & Adapt.
Finally, I will add a list of literature that, in my opinion, is mandatory for every Scrum Master who wants to be an effective change agent:
- The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization - Peter Senge
- Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World - John Kotter
- Leading Change - John Kotter
What other Scrum Master skills that we rarely talk about would you like to read about?