There is a popular myth that the scrum masters accountabilities ends with the scrum team and may not be required when the team becomes matured. As a result, many organizations limit the role of the Scrum Master to the team level. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this article, we’ll explore the scrum master’s accountabilities beyond the team in the service of the overall organizational agility and bust this myth once and for all.
Let’s start from the Scrum guide: “Scrum Masters are true leaders who serve the Scrum Team and the larger organization”. In addition to serving the Team and the Product Owner, the Scrum Master also “serves the organization in several ways”.
In terms of definition, Organizational Agility refers the ability of the organization to respond predictably to customers changing needs. Note that this is not always about speed. It’s about the ability to change in tandem with or ahead of the changing market conditions driven by changing customers’ needs and technological capabilities.
How can the Scrum Master become that True Agile Leader, helping the organization to become more Agile (increase Organizational Agility)?
In one of my engagements, a Scrum Master observed that the Sprint planning was taking a lot of time, sometimes beyond the half day time box for a 2-week sprint. The team decided to invest more time in Product Backlog Refinement and invite Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), from the other parts of the organization, to help clarify the needs. The SMEs did not see this as part of their job and were always not available. The Scrum Master helped the Product Owner to establish a system view that shows the impact of teams work on the overall success of the organization. With this understanding the SMEs were able to prioritize support for the team.
On a general note, here’s what the Scrum Master accountability journey may looks like over time. As the team matures and the team focus decreases, Scrum Masters shift focus organizational processes that impedes organizational agility.
- Understanding Scrum: This is probably the first step for most Scrum Masters, helping everyone on the team to understand Scrum and speak the same language.
- Scrum Team Maturing – cross-functionality and self-managing. Achieving cross-functionality and self-management requires intentional steps and behaviour by the Scrum Master to help teams identify and remove impediments towards these ideals. Training and coaching leaders to encourage experimentation and take servant leadership approach are few examples.
- Engineering excellence is something not often mentioned but highy important for organizations to become more agile. In a software environment, this includes upgrading the development stack, architecture fitness, automation of repetitive tasks/activities, adopting DEVOPs etc. The Scrum Master does not need to be a technical expert, but needs to be able to help teams identify engineering practices that are hindering agility. In many cases, the Scrum Teams require organizational support to adopt new technical practices.
- Product Management Practices – The Product Owner is the Product Manager on the Scrum Team, not the team scribe nor backlog writer/composer. The product owner needs to adopt sound customer/market discovery techniques to help find a market fit for the product, prioritize the product backlog to ensure team is always focussing on the most valuable work items, as well as ensuring that the Scrum Team gets direct feedback from the customers, stakeholders or end consumers.
- Organizational processes – The Scrum Team does not exist in isolation. It has to interact with other parts of the organization. According Evan Leybourn, paraphrasing Eliyahu Goldratt Theory of Constraints, “An organization can only be as agile as its least agile division!” Internal Audit and Control, Legal and Compliance are few processes that are outside of the Scrum Teams. The scrum master help these other areas interact effectively with the Scrum Team and also to adopt Empiricism in their operations
In conclusion, the Scrum Master plays an important role in enabling organizational agility. Limiting the Scrum Master to the team level, in itself, is an impediment to overall organizational agility and needs addressing.