Sunday, February 23, 2014

Qualities of a Good ScrumMaster

There are multiple descriptions of a ScrumMaster role, my personal favorite being Ken Schwaber's. When I assumed my responsibility of an Agile Coach, I was asked to draft a role description for a ScrumMaster. I used my own experience, multiple scrum sources including The Scrum Guide, and numerous job descriptions I found on the internet. Below (in blue) is the result:

Summary of role: A ScrumMaster is a team leader focused on bringing continuous improvement to the Agile Team and the Agile Community of Knowledge. The ScrumMaster helps the Scrum team and the organization adopt Scrum.  The ScrumMaster is accountable for the ability of the team to deliver the sprint goal / deliverables.  The ScrumMaster is responsible for ensuring that the Scrum team adheres to Scrum values, practices, and rules.
Responsibilities: A ScrumMaster:
1. Creates a motivational, transparent, collaborative, fun, open, and trustful environment where a Scrum team can work efficiently and the business can deliver high-quality products quickly;
2.    Prevents team distractions, identifies and leads the impediments-solving process, and escalates risks and issues if necessary;
3.    Organizes and facilitates (or works with a designated team member to conduct) effective product backlog grooming, sprint and release planning sessions, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews (demos), and retrospectives;
4.    Creates and maintains an electronic repository for the team’s historic information and collaboration space on ongoing topics including but not limited to sprint summaries (demo decks), links to document repositories, impediment log, and the list of retrospective action items and their status;
5.    Garners respect from the team and leads the team towards hyper-productivity; promotes self-management and self-improvement to grow team efficiency and velocity; monitors team’s velocity and suggests corrective actions at a Retrospective, if relevant;
6.    Maintains metrics related to velocity and other metrics as agreed with the product owner and advised by the Agile Coach;
7. Promotes self-organization and cross-functionality within the team; relinquishes command and control style to involve the team in decision making ; promotes effective conflict resolution on the team and outside of the team;
8. Regularly attends and actively contributes to Scrum of Scrums and to the Agile community;
9.    Reports non-resolved impediments to the Impediment Removal Team (IRT) and participates in resolution;
10.  Assists the team in making appropriate commitments and supports the team in standing up for their estimates; responsible for working with the team to ensure that their team is realistic in their commitments;
11.  Creates, updates, and leverages quality information radiators including but not limited to release and sprint burndown charts, task board, working agreement, and other relevant artifacts to create transparency around the team's velocity and progress against its current sprint or release;
12.  Enables the team to focus on high-priority items and increases team accountability for the deliverables by removing impediments, scheduling all ceremonies and facilitating them effectively (or partnering with other team members to ensure effective facilitation), and following up on the action items agreed upon by the team;
13.  Coaches the team on how to be more productive and produce higher quality products by ensuring the health of the process and adhering to Scrum principles;
14.  Facilitates the involvement of shared, fractional, and cross-team resources with the Scrum team; reports cross-team dependencies in a cross-team dependency list and updates the status regularly at Scrum of Scrums and in the appropriate repository; respects other teams and successfully collaborates on shared goals;
15.  Promotes open and transparent communication and alignment with other functional areas, including Finance and Operations; acts as a liaison with other departments within the organization;
16.  Ensures that all deployment activities are in compliance with the established process; and coordinates deployment activities and resources with other teams as applicable;
17.  Helps surface whether the product backlog is not "execution ready" for release planning or sprint planning;
18. Assists the Product Owner with product backlog maintenance and Roadmap creation; ensures that there is a Roadmap and release plan available to every team member.
19.  Leads the Scrum team and its adoption of Scrum by communicating Agile principles and sharing team success in efficient sprint review meetings.
20.  Understands the values, practices, and rules of Scrum and other methodologies and proactively seeks out opportunities to grow this understanding by attending internal and external trainings, reading relevant materials, or achieving professional certifications; educates others on the team and throughout the company; 
Skills: A ScrumMaster:

  1. Is a Hands-on Leader: Garners respect from his/her team and is willing to get their hands dirty to get the job done while staying calm and focused.
  2. Is Communicative and Social: Communicates well with teams and management.
  3. Is Assertive: Ensures Agile/Scrum concepts and principles are adhered to, must be able to be a voice of reason and authority, make the tough calls.
  4. Is Facilitative: Promotes open communication on the team.
  5. Is Situationally Aware: Is the first to notice differences and issues as they arise and efficiently resolves them.
  6. Is Enthusiastic: Enthusiastic about the deliverables and the process.
  7. Strives for Continuous Improvement: Continually grows one’s craft learning new tools and techniques to manage oneself and a team.
  8. Resolves Conflicts: Able to facilitate discussion and facilitate alternatives or different approaches.
  9. Has an Attitude of Empowerment: Leads a team to self-organization.
  10. Has an Attitude of Transparency: Desires to bring disclosure and transparency to the business about development and grow business trust.
  11. Is solution focused, proactive, collaborative, and intellectually curious about Agile.
  12. Translates technical to business need in demo and translates business need to technologists.
  13. Distills important details of sprint for demo in cooperation with the Product Owner.
  14. Strives to gain subject matter expertise in the products built by the Team.

As you can see, this role description is a combination of ScrumMaster role expectations in Scrum and organization-specific policies and rules, such as information repositories, mandate for having Product Roadmaps, and operational procedures. There are also pain points that are obvious from here, such as Product Backlog quality and residual command-and control management style. 

Let me ask you a question: what do you think is the level of Agile maturity of an organization where this role description has been written?

I bet you guessed right: this description fits well an organization which is in the start of its Agile transition. In this case, it is transitioning from Waterfall to Agile, and it takes time to change organizational culture and people's minds, so everyone is striving for the clear and detailed explanation of their roles and responsibilities.

What is supposed to happen in an organization later, as it moves further towards its Agile maturity, learns how to inspect and adapt, and move beyond every letter of a job description? How is the ScrumMaster role changing at this time?

My hypothesis is that in a mature organization, this detailed description of a ScrumMaster role is no longer needed. What is more needed is the description of inspirational examples of how ScrumMasters resolved a difficult situation or made a difference by suggesting a new process or a creative idea for their teams, how they helped the team members grow professionally and feel heard and respected, and how they helped the team mature in achieving the new horizons in productivity, quality, in becoming successful in working together and being a team. In a mature Agile organization, I would expect a list of bullets to change into a list of "stories" that will guide and inspire many generations of ScrumMasters and Coaches.

Let's write this description together. Please share the stories of ScrumMaster success that will help and inspire others. And I’ll share mine in the Part II of this blog.

Rererences: ScrumMaster Mug image 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Does a Scrum Master bring value to the organization?

Have you ever dealt with a skeptic in your organization who does not think that scrum masters bring value to the team? Who thinks that all that scrum masters should do is schedule and facilitate ceremonies, and everything else that scrum masters do - removing impediments, protecting the team from distractions, improving the process - the members of cross-functional teams would do without any problem. He views scrum masters as creating more work for team members in order to justify their own existence. 

I know this is not the case. Without the scrum masters, team members will have to spend hours removing impediments, fighting with external distractions, and implementing improved processes on their teams. However, this is hard to quantify, unless we remove a scrum master from a team and measure their productivity before and after. But if we don't want to be that radical, what can we do?

The more I have been thinking about it and trying to quantify Scrum Master value, the more I realized that the best scrum masters are not those who are highly visible and vocal but those who are most supportive of their teams, who encourage continuous improvement, and make their contribution to the team almost seamless. This is similar to the race car mechanic who's not visible during the race but plays crucial role in the team success.

This thought did not help me with coming up with the proof of the Scrum Master value and an explanation that it won't be right to have team members protect themselves or remove impediments, such as coordination of development and deployment activities with other teams, changing priorities, and changes in team composition. So I posted the question on linkedin forum for certified scrum masters (got several great ideas and a lot of encouragement) and did some research. What I found is fascinating! I truly believe that this is what defines a great Scrum Master:

Tao Te Ching Written by Lao-tzu Ch 17
When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists. 
Next best is a leader who is loved. 
Next, one who is feared. 
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don't trust the people, you
make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn't talk, he acts. When
his work is done, the people say,
"Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!"
Credit goes to Jeff O.
While this is so true, it is hard to prove the value of something that is not always visible and never is obvious. To understand the value that scrum master brings to the team, a good starting point is the checklist of things the ScrumMaster can look at and work on.  Michael James from Danube has an excellent Scrum Master Checklist available for download.  Another great Scrum Master checklist was put together by Bernd Schiffer who cites Scrum Master manifesto in response to a common misconception that Scrum Master is not a full-time job: "We believe the Scrum Master is a full-time position for one person on one Scrum team ."

I would argue that the team won't achieve hyperproductivity without a scrum masters described in this checklist whose value is well defined by Bob Hartman. Both Bob Hartman and Michael James speak of intangible things - influence, sense of purpose, commitment - which translate into tangible outcomes which can be measured. Similarly, Len Lagestee speaks of "transformational leadership" - the role that scrum masters play on their teams supporting their path to greatness and about leadership code of a Scrum Master.

This type of value is not easy to quantify. I like comparison of a scrum master with a football coach standing on the side-lines during the game. A football coach doesn’t play a position but they are constantly looking at how the team are interacting with each other. They know if the defensive line is being held too high and how the team aren’t working together to achieve a common vision. After the game the coach helps the team look at their performance for strengths and weaknesses, they’ll identify actions for potential changes and implement them incrementally. Although a football team may be able to play 1 or 2 games without a coach, other teams may eventually overtake them in ability and effectiveness. 

So I do not give up. I want to use Michael James' checklilst, testimonials from Scrum Masters and teams to educate the stakeholders on Scrum Master value. We also had a very good Scrum Master Forum discussion where Scrum Masters shared their success stories where something they did moved the needle for their team, removed a significant impediment, or motivated team members. This was a great celebration of Scrum Master value!

Monday, October 7, 2013

What does it take to start your own Agile meetup?

When we started our Agile/Lean practitioners meetup six months ago, I was wondering where it will take us. A small group of enthusiasts supported by company's management (we use company space and the company provides refreshments for the participants) with a good network in the local community and a lot of enthusiasm, willing to sacrifice one evening per month for Agile community knowledge sharing and fun.

And it's amazing where we are now with great presenters, 265 members, great conversations and networking happening, and great knowledge sharing which goes well outside our monthly meetings. Every meeting with presenters from Spotify, Google, Occum Group on topics related to test driven development, Agile coaching, Agile UX, Scrum Master role, Agile in education, Agile for non-software teams has been a great success, but the meeting this Wednesday is the one I anticipate with special excitement, and this is why.

My favorite presentations are case studies: this way we learn from someone's experience rather than hear about theoretical research and wonder whether it would survive reality check. My favorite speakers are the ones who openly share their thoughts, challenges, failures rather than lecture on the one-fits-all solutions.

I can't wait to have both the most engaging and open speaker and the most practical topic presented on Wednesday, October 9th, by our favorite Agile coach, John Baker. And - what's even better - I won't have to go anywhere because this is happening onsite at 395 Hudson as part of ALP NYC meetup. Please feel free to invite your friends - agilists and any technologists from NY area who may be interested in this topic - to this free community event. Everyone welcome! 

From the invite:
Come learn how "MasterCard Marries Enterprise Arch & Agile" at the Agile / Lean Practitioners Meet-up on Wednesday, October 9th,  6:30pm in NYC. John Baker  will share how MasterCard handles enterprise architectures with the Agile/Lean SDLC and also provide case studies of projects that have adopted this linkage that discuss problems encountered and benefits obtained.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Agile Events Calendar

My team maintains a calendar of Agile events in New York/New Jersey as well as webinars and other events and training opportunities available to Agile practitioners. Hope you find it useful. Please post any suggestions for improvement as well as any additional events  in Comments so that we can benefit from this knowledge sharing opportunities together.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Mastery of Lean Startup

The concept of Lean Startup introduced by Erik Ries is an amazing collection of common sense and  innovative ideas. If you have not seen his Google talk or read his book on Lean Startup, my advice for you is to stop reading this blog and watch this video instead. My Agile team at work has our own Book Club, and the last three sprints, we are reading Erik Ries' book, and each time we find a lot there to admire, and about as much to disagree with. Some ideas resonate with me (validated learning, minimally viable product, pivoting once your assumptions are invalidated - all makes perfect sense) while selecting a small group of customers to validate your product and make decisions based on this restricted subgroup does not.

I value contradictions. Primarily, I do so because I do not believe that they exist. I treat them as puzzles for us to solve. So when I got a qiestion whether I would want to go to Lean Startup Machine Training in New York, I said "yes" without hesitation, even though I had no clue what the training is going to be. And once I did, I found that it is all-weekend training which starts on Friday evening and ends of a Sunday evening, and goes almost non-stop for all three days. It is a hackathon-like experience for entrepreneurs and for anyone who wants to learn how to start building your product right. The concept of working through the whole week-end slightly scared me but not enough to pass on this exciting opportunity, so I rolled my sleeves, checked into a hotel in New York and started the 3-day marathon.

Now that the second day is over, I want to share my thoughts with you while the experience is still fresh.

First, it is worth doing! Learning about lean startup is nothing compared with going through it. Powered by a simple yet powerful product envisioning tool called validation board, my team started with building a fee-free tool for business professionals who need to find company after work hours while on travel (at that time, we were thinking of social activities or just a friendly chat) and after 5 pivots and a lot of interviews of potential customers, we have designed a VIP Travelers Club with a $5K/year membership fees. Interesting that our first idea had a very low conversion rate while the final one brought us an advisor who wants to introduce us to an investor. You never know your customers until you ask them directly! This is my learning experience #1. And the second one is similar: "go out"," "talk to the people". My two teammates - Hao and David - and I spoke a lot to the strangers and learned that the first product that we loved and voted for has limited business value while the final one has a significant business potential.

Why am I telling your this? - To encourage you to get out of the building, meet your end user, validate your assumptions and pivot as many times as you need until you find a perfect combination for your Minimally Viable Product (MVP). And once you did, validate and build over again. This is how all successful product owners create their winning products.