August 24, 2020

What Role Should a Scrum Master take in a Sprint Retrospective?

An attendee of a course I delivered recently reached out to me post course to ask a question. [This is something that I always encourage, with new knowledge often comes new questions]

I have been a SM for 3 years for multiple teams and during Retrospectives I facilitate, but I also share a bit my thoughts as I consider myself part of the team. Is that a good approach? Or should I only focus on facilitating 100% without providing my personal observations or feedback? I usually try to keep it short, but I wonder if I should not be doing that at all.

Just talked to an Agile coach who told me I should not be doing that at all (only facilitating). But another coach told me previously that I am part of the team and I should also participate a bit because that is part of team continuous improvement. Very confusing
 

The question intrigued me, as I too have facilitated the Sprint Retrospective and also contributed to the session. What is the "right" approach to take?

I replied with the following, do you agree with me?

Question


....Thanks for taking me up on my offer of help and it is great question. 

Short Answer:

Quick question for you - When you offer your thoughts to the team are you helping them see new opportunities as a Scrum Team or anchoring them to a certain way of viewing things? If you are helping the team to move forward with Scrum, then carry on doing what you’re doing, however, always be aware that you may be anchoring the thoughts of the team, especially if they look to you as the Team Leader.

If you really want to actively participate in the Sprint Retrospective, then ask another person to facilitate it - another Team Member, or a another Scrum Master. I have done this and also been asked to facilitate other Scrum Teams’ Retrospectives. The team’s Scrum Master doesn’t have to facilitate every event.   


Long(er) Answer:

In the true sense of acting as a facilitator, you are a neutral actor who ensures that the other attendees understand the purpose for the meeting, keep people on track and ensuring that any expected outputs from the meeting are generated. So, the Agile Coach is correct, you shouldn’t express an opinion and should be passive. 

However, as a Scrum Master you are also part of the Scrum Team and it is the Scrum Team who participates in the Retrospective.  Within the Scrum Guide it says that the Scrum Master serves the other roles by  “Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed”. In particular about the Sprint Retrospective, it says that “The Scrum Master ensures that the meeting is positive and productive. The Scrum Master teaches all to keep it within the time-box. The Scrum Master participates as a peer team member in the meeting from the accountability over the Scrum process.”  It goes on to say  “The Scrum Master encourages the Scrum Team to improve, within the Scrum process framework, its development process and practices to make it more effective and enjoyable for the next Sprint.”

It comes down to this, if you’re helping them see an issue or potential improvement about the Scrum implementation, or process you can provide an opinion.  Also as a coach, of which a Scrum Master is, if the team are going to do harm to the product, to others, or themselves  –  it is your responsibility to intervene as a coach.  If it comes down to how to fix an issue with a tool / technology / platform etc… something which you have very little experience of, then it is best to keep quiet. 

In my experience it often comes down to the experience of the Scrum Team. If they are new to Scrum, or view the Scrum Master role as a Team Leader, I would  initially remain neutral and ask powerful open ended questions to guide them to see potential issues.  If they are highly experienced and understand the role of the Scrum Master, knowing that you are a peer and your voice is just one of many in the room, I would be an active participant.

 

What do you think?

 

My offer to you....

If you attend one of my courses, I'd like to offer you a complementary coaching session with me - so that you can experience a Co-Active coaching session.  Course details can be found at https://www.scrum.org/classes?uid=226040 

If you can't see a course that you'd like to attend please have a look at my profile page to see the courses I can deliver - it could be that you've just missed the course that you're interested in - https://www.scrum.org/steve-trapps.  

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