December 12, 2016

Scrum Master – Facilitator and More

Written by Jannette Brace

When I am out providing Agile classes, the topic of what Scrum Masters do all day comes up pretty frequently. Attendees ask questions like; “How many teams can a ScrumMaster be part of?”, and “Do Scrum Masters just run meetings?”. As a veteran of Scrum, I am still surprised at how little organizations understand about the ScrumMaster role. But let’s face it, attending a 2 or 3 day Certified ScrumMaster course provides only an introduction to the Agile Framework, Scrum Events and Roles. Experience and a desire to truly understand what it means to be Agile and how Scrum embraces these principles takes time. It’s an ongoing learning that extends beyond just getting certified.

So let’s start with the basics. The single word most often used to describe the ScrumMaster role is “Facilitator”. Here is the Merriam-Webster’s definition

Definition of Facilitator:

one that facilitates; especially: one that helps to bring about an outcome (as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision <the workshop’s facilitator kept discussion flowing smoothly>

How does a ScrumMaster facilitate while being “indirect or unobtrusive”? First, you need to understand where your team and organization fit on a scale from just starting their journey to practicing best practices as a highly performing team. I say this because new teams do need a little more “hand holding”, than teams that have been together for a while, and are experienced following Scrum. The ideal goal is to get the teams to work via self-organizing, while motivating them by ensuring they have the right tools and support. ScrumMasters promote the team’s work, not their own work.

The Scrum Guide (see http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html) lists three groupings of work for the Scrum Master: 1. Service to the Product Owner 2. Service to the Development Team 3. Service to the Organization. This requires that the ScrumMaster have several skills they can call on at any time depending on where the need is. Nowhere in the Scrum Guide does it say the ScrumMaster is the boss, the secretary, or the project manager of the team.

So, let’s go back to what it means to be a facilitator by looking at a scrum event. ScrumMasters do typically organize getting all the scrum events set up. Ideally scrum events are on a cadence to occur at the same time, and in the same place whenever possible. ScrumMasters facilitate events by ensuring the space is appropriate for the job at hand, all needed supplies are available, and that the appropriate attendees have been invited. The following is an example of how Sprint Planning is facilitated by the ScrumMaster:

Sprint Planning
The goal of Sprint Planning is to identify what can be delivered and how the work will be achieved.

The Scrum Master ensures all stories being presented in Sprint Planning meet the Definition of Ready by working with the Product Owner in advance of the meeting.

The ScrumMaster provides the container for the meeting, and turns it over to the Product Owner to work with the team providing the sprint goal and a conversation to promote a thorough understanding of the stories proposed for the upcoming sprint.

The team moves on to designing how they will do the work and tasking the stories, while the ScrumMaster listens and watches to ensure there is a shared understanding and that the team members have an equal voice. The ScrumMaster can facilitate by ensuring the team stays focused and doesn’t get stuck by asking questions, inviting others with specific technical expertise to join the conversation, and managing the time box of the event.

The final step is when the ScrumMaster calls for the team to commit to delivering the work.

There are many great web articles that list things a Scrum Master does. Here are a couple of good ones:

https://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/agile/scrum/scrummaster
http://agiletrail.com/2011/11/14/42-tasks-for-a-scrum-masters-job/

Aside from facilitators, ScrumMasters are also the team’s protector, an overall evangelist and enforcer of the Scrum method, and a coach.

Surprised? What does the ScrumMaster do in your organization? Are there improvements that can be made? I welcome your feedback, questions and comments.

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