Agile Management is Servant-Leadership

Agile Work holds that process improvements are most effectively planned by those who perform the work. So, what happens to the manager role when we empower teams to self-organize? I recently turned up this old email, outlining how Scrum, an Agile project management method, reframes management responsibilities…

Wanted: Cat Herder

One of the methodologies in which I am trained, and which I teach to others is Scrum Project Management. The team lead in this approach is called the “ScrumMaster” (tongue firmly in cheek) or sometimes referred to as “the sheepdog” because he or she must care for the team, keeping out intruders and distractions. At the beginning, some folks have a hard time wrapping their mind around this role, because it feels to them like the old Project Manager role, but with strange twists. Here is an excerpt from an email conversation with an apprentice, in which we discuss how the ScrumMaster can be accountable without having authority. It starts with something written by the co-creator of Scrum, Ken Schwaber:

> Subject: Day in the life of a Scrum Master, according to Ken
> 1. Ensure everyone is doing what they have agreed to do;
> 2. Determine where this iteration is compared to where it could be
> and update your work-remaining tracker ( & task board, if used);
> 3. Work the product backlog (list of work for next iterations);
> 4. A dead Sheepdog is a useless Sheepdog; and,
> 5. Use all of your senses, including common sense, and remember
> that you have no authority.
> (from the CSM methodology v5)

after which the apprentice asked:

> No authority sounds rather scary!…in what context?:)

My reply:

The Team is FULLY responsible for the outcome of the work, the product, what is demonstrated to the Customer at the end of the iteration. It is in this context that the ScrumMaster is not a performer, and has no authority (i.e. to say ‘we should do this’ or ‘here’s how to approach it’ or ‘you missed that’.) The ScrumMaster must keep the team aware of this fact, so they have motivation to solve problems themselves in a ‘whole team’ manner, and not a CYA manner.

How to deal with this? Try ‘I’ve noticed…’, ‘have you missed that?’, ‘I have an idea – what do you think?’ ‘It’s up to you’, or asking an OPEN question: ‘I’ve noticed we have Requirements in 5 places. Do we need all of these?’ At first people find this threatening, assuming I am passive aggressively saying we DON’T need these. No, it really is an open question, and you can assert that all you want, but the best way is to show it – ask them and REALLY let them tell you – no answer is wrong. For example: During the Requirements discussion, I saw BL tense up when another team member asked “do we really need to write JUnit tests?” So I asked “BL, what do we lose if we get rid of them?” and from his answer, the questioner quickly realized that quality and thrashing is at stake, and the issue died right there. Now that they have discussed it THEMSELVES they will hopefully continue to manage that issue themselves. If not, another question may be in order.

The ScrumMaster is the remover of obstacles (looking ahead, taking them out of the way, but not too far ahead in case of YAGNI: you ain’t gonna need it). This includes getting things ready for the team, in time: room, needed materials and tools (computer, markers, paper, whiteboards, chocolate, DBA, lunch, meeting rooms, onboarding etc.) This is why the ScrumMaster should start work before the team, so they can hit the ground running.

The ScrumMaster is responsible for facilitation (getting people to play nicely together – oh my gosh, is this a challenge some days!! ­čÖé But it is also rewarding, when you look and everyone is quietly collaborating and putting their best skills into the work.

The ScrumMaster is responsible for having the big picture (not of the work itself – the team is responsible for that) but the big picture of the Working of the team – the process. This includes stakeholder relations: getting things off on the right foot and letting the team handle it from there.

The ScrumMaster IS responsible for herding the cats in the right general direction (have you seen that wonderful EDS video ad about cat herders? It’s hilarious!

Thanks for the good question. Hope this is helpful, or raises more good questions.


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