The Scrum Master accountability extends far beyond guiding the Scrum team through Scrum events and facilitating meetings as requested or needed. Scrum Masters are change agents who transform not just the team, but also the entire organization.
I once had the opportunity to collaborate with a Scrum Master who was facing an uphill battle. Their Scrum team was drowning in a sea of poor organizational processes that surrounded them. Management, with the best intentions, attempted to "assist" the Scrum team by measuring progress using velocity and insisting that team members close a specific number of tickets each day. This well-intentioned approach, however, was causing more harm than good.
Adding to the chaos, the customer failed to grasp the concept of incremental delivery, consistently insisting that tickets remain open indefinitely while requesting additional scope changes to those open tickets. This strategy was a clever way to bypass the authority of the Product Owner, who was responsible for ordering the backlog. The Scrum team members, on the other hand, were receiving a constant stream of requests from stakeholders for small changes that, when aggregated, accounted for a significant portion—often over 30%—of the Sprint.
The Turning Point: A Clash of Responsibilities
Frustration was mounting within the Scrum team, as they found themselves trapped in a cycle of ever-changing priorities and unrealistic expectations. I spoke with the Scrum Master about what was going on, and to my surprise, the Scrum Master felt that it wasn't their responsibility to address these issues. According to their perspective, their role was to coach the Scrum team itself - not the organization.
The Scrum Master's Expanded Role
This conversation highlighted a common misconception about the Scrum Master accountability. While it's true that for new Scrum teams, the Scrum team is usually the Scrum Master’s primary focus. However, the Scrum Master is not just a team coach; they are also a catalyst for change within the organization.
Improving Team Efficiency: To truly enable the Scrum team to thrive, the Scrum Master must address the impediments that hinder their progress. In this case, the dysfunctional organizational processes were significant impediments.
Coaching Stakeholders: Stakeholders, including customers and management, often lack a deep understanding of Agile principles. The Scrum Master must bridge this gap by coaching them on how to interact with the Scrum team effectively.
Facilitating Change: Agile transformations require buy-in from all levels of an organization. Scrum Masters have a critical role in facilitating this change by working with stakeholders, including management, to redefine their expectations and align them with Agile principles.
The Scrum Master is not merely responsible for the team but also for driving change that improves the overall effectiveness of the team and the organization.
As organizations continue to adopt Agile methodologies, the Scrum Master can act as a change agent, which becomes more important as the efficiency of the team improves. The Scrum Master should embrace their broader responsibilities, recognizing that they are not just coaching a team but reshaping the culture, processes, and mindset of the entire organization for the betterment of all.