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When Should a Scrum Master Step in and Take an Action?

February 1, 2020

As a servant leader, a Scrum Master focuses on the needs of others, before her/his needs. 

"Reveal, not resolve" mentality plays an important role in this context. Because any time the Scrum Master steps in and takes action on behalf of the team, this may create two negative impacts:

  1. The team may lose an opportunity to self-organise, learn & grow together.
  2. Scrum Master's solution may turn out to be a premature solution that'd cause even more problems in the future (Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions, one of the 11 Laws described in Fifth Discipline).

As a result, the Scrum Master, the person who is responsible to remove/help the team remove impediments, may end up being the impediment themselves.

Although showing patience and creating a space for the Scrum Team to make survivable experiments with which they fail and learn is significant to allow the team develop required skills to deal with complex problems, there are particular situations where the Scrum Master may have to step in.

Especially when Scrum Values, Rules and Professionalism are threatened.

As a group of people with different backgrounds, experience levels, cultures who work toward a shared goal, each modern company needs to have a clear boundary that defines "the behaviours expected from each individual in the organisation".

The Scrum Values, Respect, Courage, Commitment, Openness and Focus, do this work for the Scrum Team by functioning like a compass whenever they feel they are lost.

When we tolerate any breach against aforementioned values or common behaviours defined by the organisation, “trust” would be damaged. If there is no trust, the environment will lack the brave space that allows people to speak their minds, experiment, learn and grow. If there's no trust, there's no transparency. If there's no transparency, it's not possible to inspect or adapt. That would make Scrum Framework obsolete and turn it into Zombie Scrum, a set of internal task management activities that are not delivering a real value.

If that's the case, the risk is great. Because in the absence of trust, people would also hide bad news, and as mentioned in Fixing Your Scrum, an insightful book by Ryan Ripley & Todd Miler, we all know that bad news don’t age very well. It would cost money and damage the reputation.

One of the responsibilities of a Scrum Master is to reveal and prevent a scenario like this. Like a gardener, they make sure the environment is suitable for the Scrum Team to grow and become the best version of themselves. When there’s an impediment that would hinder that capability and that is not in the control of the team, they must challenge this situation and sometimes ask the management to help them remove it.

That might be someone higher in the hierarchy who walks into the Daily Scrum event and disrupts it or an unprofessional behaviour that's not been addressed due to political concerns in the organisation.

All in all, regardless of the context, whenever Scrum Values or any core human values that enable "trust" are threatened, this might be right time for a Professional Scrum Master to take an action to protect the team and maintain the integrity of professionalism.


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