Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Scrum Master -- Artist and Clown?

I'm reading The Anatomy of Story, by John Truby. I'm reading it because I like to write and have this vague ambition about writing something worth reading someday. Thus far, I'm published on Twitter and Blogger.

The Anatomy of Story provided a new appreciation on how stories are constructed. This appreciation can be applied to movies, books and people. I was struck by the similarity between the Artist and Clown archetype and what makes a good Scrum Master. I talk about the importance of the Scrum Master in Scrum Master Selection--Critical Success Factor?

Truby describes the strengths of the Artist and Clown:
  • defines excellence for a people to positive effect
  • defines what doesn't work to negative effect
  • shows beauty and a vision for the future or shows what is beauty but is in reality ugly or foolish
And weaknesses:
  • can be the ultimate fascist insisting upon perfection
  • may create a special world where all can be controlled
  • simply tears everything down so that nothing has value
The Scrum Guide discusses the Scrum Master role as embodying the following activities.
The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules. 
The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team.
In "Agile Methods: The Good, the Hype and the Ugly" an ACM Webinar by Bertrand Meyers discusses as ugly, the Coach and Method Keeper (e.g., Scrum Master) as a separate role (around 44:50). He says this leads people becoming a political commissars and creates a class of people who wash there hands of the result.

I'll suggest that the Scrum Master Meyer's is thinking of embody the weaknesses of the artist and clown. Those in the Scrum Guide embody its strength. Of course, Truby describes these strengths and weaknesses in the context of a character that embodies this archetype.

I selected Artist and Clown as the archetype of a good Scrum Master primarily because a good Scrum Master should encourage learning -- show the way but provide room for learning and, importantly mistakes. I wrestled with the notion of a Scrum Master as Clown but ultimately concluded that Clowns can have positive effect as well.

If you are a Scrum Master and you have lost your Scrum Team I wonder if looking at the archetype you embody provides insight on where you might be going wrong.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Scrum Master Selection--Critical Success Factor?

I am a firm believer that a separate Scrum Master role, as required by Scrum, is good for a team. The rationale for separation is documented in the Scrum Guide. I agree with it's intent, but like most of Scrum it's hard to get right.

In "Agile Methods: The Good, the Hype and the Ugly" an ACM Webinar by Bertrand Meyers discusses as ugly, the Coach and Method Keeper (e.g., Scrum Master) as a separate role (around 44:50). He says this leads people becoming a political commissars and creates a class of people who wash there hands of the result.

The separation described by Meyers' is a Scrum smell whose origin lies in the natural tension arising from the Scrum Master's role to ensure that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices and rules and the Development Team's need to be self-organizing. The problem arises when this natural tension turns into conflict.

This conflict manifests itself whenever the Development Team runs into situations where the theory, practices or rules conflict with what they perceive as the correct way to organize themselves. If the Scrum Master views this as a lack of buy-in instead of part of the learning process there will be trouble.

A common refrain is that if you aren't following the theory, practices and rules of Scrum than you aren't doing Scrum. You need to worry when you hear this sort of thing. It's problematic on at least two fronts.
  • It implies the process has over taken the deliverables in terms of importance. Carefully consider whether perfecting the process is beneficial to the customer deliverable before you place a great deal of importance on such statements.
  • It implies the natural tension arising between the Scrum Master's role and the Development Team's role has turned a corner and may be heading towards the sort of conflict that hurts everyone. Conflict can be good, especially in an environment that promotes constructive criticism and learning but it can be unhealthy in an environment where positions and opinions have become inflexible.
It takes a special person to be an effective Scrum Master. A good Scrum Master has:
  • a precise and wide-ranging knowledge of Scrum theory, practices and rules.
  • wide experience in applying Scrum theory, practices.
  • patience and ability to allow teams to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
  • humility and understanding both in terms of the Scrum Master's and Development Team's abilities.
In a world where everyone is looking for quick and easy answers to hard problems it is natural to gravitate to something the promises a way forward. The thing to remember is that Scrum is hard to get right because it deals with people and challenges them in ways that they may not be used to. 

Sorting out these challenges isn't something that comes with a certificate from a course you paid a few thousand dollars for. Its a mixture of experience, personality and wisdom that only comes through experience.