ScrumMaster Overview - Part 1

July 13, 2006 — Posted by Jim Trott

Listen to the podcast An Overview of ScrumMaster - Part 1

I was in a meeting last week with a number of Chief Information Officers. One of the speakers, talking about Agile and Scrum, used the term “Scrum Master” and got a lot of blank stares. They had no idea what she was talking about.

This is a fundamental role in Scrum, one of the better approaches for Agile software development. There have been some good articles and books written about ScrumMasters and there is formal Scrum Master Certification by Net Objectives course available. Yet, the term seems to get in the way of understanding the role.
Note: Net Objectives is not affiliated with the Scrum Alliance.

This is because the terms “Scrum” and “ScrumMaster” were chosen because they were essentially value-free. Thus, the developers of Scrum were free to “pour” their own meanings into the terms. This has proved to be both a blessing and a curse.

"ScrumMaster" is probably a good term, within the context of Scrum. In particular, "ScrumMaster" is not a “Project Manager”, which is loaded with so many concepts as not to be useful and yet seems a bit stronger and more connected than a “Facilitator.” To me, it seems more equivalent to a Green Belt in the Six Sigma sense.

The ScrumMaster role is fairly unique. It is a servant role – someone whose focus is the health of the team on their ability to produce product as quickly as possible. Usually, this means they must sacrifice their own desire to create code so that others can do so. They must be trusted and trustworthy, able to listen, and tenacious in representing the team to the outside.

Where do ScrumMasters come from? They can come from anywhere in the organization. We have seen a lot of good ScrumMasters come from the QA department – they seem to have the right mindset. Project managers can be good ones, but it often requires them to readjust their thinking.

To get a handle on this, I had a conversation with Doug Shimp, a former senior consultant and Certified ScrumMaster Trainer with Net Objectives.

I decided to break my conversation with Doug into two parts to make it easier to listen to.

In Part 1, Doug covers these issues around being a ScrumMaster:

  • Where did the term “ScrumMaster” com from?
  • The qualifications and personality types and organizational origins of good ScrumMasters (approachable, people-oriented, detail-oriented, politically-savvy. They have to have the right mindset.)
  • How many teams one ScrumMaster can serve
  • Impediment removal. One of the main jobs of the ScrumMaster is to help remove impediments to progress but it is not (always or even often) her job to remove them. She must help prioritize the effort to remove them, track progress, and help the team decide when to fight and when to work around it.

In Part 2, I continue my conversation with Doug, covering these issues:

  • Examples Doug has seen of both good ScrumMasters and those that have challenges
  • The partnership between the ScrumMaster and the Product Owner. He is a partner with the entire team, both developers and the Business. The ScrumMaster has to help the Business think about the product and the problem they are trying to solve, and the questions they should be asking.
  • How to become a ScrumMaster. This involves a learn-by-doing approach very similar to the Six Sigma Green Belt process, involving training, experience in running a project under a coach, and coaching a project, making a report out.
  • Why every team member needs to take the ScrumMaster Certification training. Helps the team understand what scrum expects of them and what they can do to help the ScrumMaster help them do their work
  • Budgeting and project management and the ScrumMaster
  • Tools and infrastructure you need to know

Doug lives in the midwest and I am in Seattle. So, I did this interview on the telephone (I got his permission first!). But what do you think? Does this sound OK to you? Is it irritating? Drop me a note and let me know what you think.

Recommendations - Training by Net Objectives

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Recommendations - Tools

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About the author | Jim Trott

Jim Trott is a senior consultant for Net Objectives. He has used object-oriented and pattern-based analysis techniques throughout his 20 year career in knowledge management and knowledge engineering. He is the co-author of Design Patterns Explained: A New Perspective on Object-Oriented Design, Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility, and the Lean-Agile Pocket Guide for Scrum Teams.


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