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The Scrum Master and Product Owner as leadership partners

After a recent large organizational change that resulted in a number of new teams formed, a product owner (PO) approached me looking for some help. He said, “I don’t think my new Scrum Master is doing their job and I’m now carrying the entire team, do we have a job description we can look at?”

I can already imagine how a version of me from a previous life would have responded, “yes of course let’s look at the job description and see where the SM is falling short of their roles and responsibilities”. But as I considered my response, my first thought was that focusing our attention on roles and job descriptions was a doomed route to failure. Pouring our energy there would likely just extend the pain the PO, and likely SM, were going through.

Sure we have an SM job description in our organization, and it clearly documents how the SM provides service to the organization, team and PO. But reviewing this with the seasoned SM didn’t really make sense to me; they were very well aware of the content of the job description and what was expected of them.

At the same time that this was happening, another newly paired Scrum Master asked for my help regarding their PO. From their perspective the PO was “suffocating” the team. The PO was directing the team in many aspects of the sprint that they felt was stepping beyond their role. “I don’t think the PO knows their role, maybe you can help me get them some training?” was the SMs concluding comment.

Over the course of the next few weeks this scenario played out again through more POs and SMs sharing similar challenges. Surely this was not a sudden epidemic of previously performing individuals who now needed to be reminded of what their job was?

Recognizing the impact of change

A common pattern was emerging from all of this, change was occurring and each individual was relying on, and to some degree expecting, old patterns to continue to work with their new situation. Their old way of working in Scrum seemed to work very well; so it was everyone else around them that was not meeting expectations.

The core issue however was that change was not being fully confronted: the product was different, the team competencies were different, the stakeholders were different, the expectations were different and finally the team dynamic was different all the way down to the relationship between the SM and PO.

Scrum as a form of Change Management

I looked for the solution from Scrum itself, at its heart a method for teams to use to adapt to and thrive with change. Was there enough transparency, inspection and adaptation going on between the SMs and POs in these situations? I would argue, not enough.

A pattern was becoming clear: nobody was fully disclosing their challenges to the other, they hadn’t fully confronted and understood their new situation and hadn’t come up with new approaches that would improve things. Said another way, they hadn’t inspected their new circumstances sufficiently and transparently enough so that they could adapt their role to fit the new need.

One thing that many successful SMs and POs recognize is that they are both leaders dependent on each other, and for their teams to be successful they need to figure out how they will work together in partnership. It doesn’t matter whether the terms of that partnership gets hashed out over a few chats over coffee or through a facilitated chartering workshop. What matters is clarity around how you agree to work together as partners meeting some shared goal.

As an SM or PO, here are some sample questions whose answers you may wish to understand and align on:

  • Do we both understand and support the team’s mission and goals?
  • What are the product goals?
  • How can we best help the team achieve those goals?
  • Are there any conflicts between the team and product goals?
  • When our goals or methods are in conflict, how will we resolve them?
  • In what ways will I be supporting your success as an SM/PO?
  • How will we keep each other informed and engaged?
  • Should we have a peer/subordinate/other relationship?

So if you are an SM or PO, and it’s unclear to you on the answers to some of these questions, you may just want to tap your leadership partner on the shoulder and say “let’s talk”.

Dec17-368b

Martin Aziz
Blog
@martinaziz
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The ScrumMaster is Responsible for What Artifacts?

Organizations like to have clear role definitions, clear processes outlined and clear documentation templates.  It’s just in the nature of bureaucracy to want to know every detail, to capture every dotted “i” and crossed “t”, and to use all that information to control, monitor, predict and protect.  ScrumMasters should be anti-bureaucracy.  Not anti-process, not anti-documentation, but constantly on the lookout for process and documentation creep.

To help aspiring ScrumMasters, particularly those who come from a formal Project Management background, I have here a short list of exactly which artifacts the ScrumMaster is responsible for.

REQUIRED:
– None – the ScrumMaster is a facilitator and change agent and is not directly responsible for any of the Scrum artifacts (e.g. Product Backlog) or traditional artifacts (e.g. Gantt Chart).

OPTIONAL/COMMON:
Obstacles or impediments “backlog” – a list of all the problems, obstacles, impediments and challenges that the Scrum Team is facing.  These obstacles can be identified by Team Members at any time, but particularly during the Daily Scrum or the Retrospective.
Definition of “Done” gap report, every Sprint – a comparison of how “done” the Team’s work is during Sprint Review vs. the corporate standards required to actually ship an increment of the Team’s work (e.g. unit testing done every Sprint, but not system testing).
– Sharable retrospective outcomes report, every Sprint – an optional report from the Scrum Team to outside stakeholders including other Scrum Teams.  Current best practice is that the retrospective is a private meeting for the members of the Scrum Team and that in order to create a safe environment, the Scrum Team only shares items from the retrospective if they are unanimously agreed.  Outsiders are not welcome to the retrospective.
– Sprint burndown chart every Sprint – a chart that tracks the amount of work remaining at the end of every day of the Sprint, usually measured in number of tasks.  This chart simply helps a team to see if their progress so far during a Sprint is reasonable for them to complete their work.
– State of Scrum report, every Sprint – possibly using a checklist or tool such as the “Scrum Team Assessment” (shameless plug alert!).

NOT RECOMMENDED (BUT SOMETIMES NEEDED):
– minutes of Scrum meetings
– process compliance audit reports
– project administrative documents (e.g. status reports, time sheets)

NEVER RECOMMENDED:
– project charter (often recommended for the Product Owner, however)
– project plans (this is done by the Product Owner and the Scrum Team with the Product Backlog)
– any sort of up-front technical or design documents

The ScrumMaster is not a project manager, not a technical lead, not a functional manager, and not even a team coach.  There are aspects of all of those roles in the ScrumMaster role, but it is best to think of the role as completely new and focused on two things:
– improving how the team uses Scrum
– helping the team to remove obstacles and impediments to getting their work done.


Affiliated Promotions:

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