The first time I tried to ride my bike without training wheels it was a struggle. I remember my older brother pushing me a few times and it ended in a crash. A few more times and I started to get the hang of it. I had a similar feeling the first time I was a Scrum Master. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. After a few years of doing it, I felt better about how it should work. Through my mistakes and working with a few others, I have noticed some potholes that many novices run into.
I find some issues arise depending on the background of the new Scrum Master. These first two issues are prominent when the Scrum Master was previously a project manager. Where project managers are used to telling people what to work on this can thwart some of the agile practices. They miss the idea of self-organizing teams and leaving the ability to choose your work. The agile transformation seems similar to the work before to most of the team members.
Part of the main part of Scrum is to have self-organizing teams. The team should be allowed to weigh in on the many decisions that need to be made. Project Managers are used to making decisions for the team. This is part of the command and control paradigm central to traditional project management. Scrum Masters are there to coach and guide the team not decide for them.
Focus on Tech
Before getting deputized to be a Scrum Master I was a developer. So I suffered from a common affliction that hinders many technologists. I focused on the technology. I would be in a sprint planning meeting and dive right into thinking about how technology would work. I had other developers on our team that I should have let work on this. We have a hard time letting go of things sometimes. I slowly began to let the team handle this and focus on being a Scrum Master.
In the military, they have a term for people who disappear. This could happen to a new recruit in basic training or someone who is overwhelmed with war. AWOL stands for Absent without Leave. Sometimes Scrum Masters can vanish for periods of time and be hard to find. I am not talking about taking your daughter to the dentist. The cases I have witnessed are they could be in meetings all day or hard to find when their help is needed. Just as a football coach doesn’t leave during the game a Scrum Master should be present for most of the working day. Another concern is if they become unengaged. They find their work boring or repetitive and they go through the motions.
If you have watched a minute of reality television you would get the idea that there are a lot of drama queens(or kings). I can hardly stomach these but my wife occasionally watches the Bachelor. Every season they have a few that they find and cast or is it select. Thankfully these people are rarer in real life than a reality television show. I have seen one of these people on a Scrum team. They can be poisonous. They create divisiveness and fighting. If you find this problem on your team try to get rid of them or minimize their impact.
I met a business owner who mentioned how he likes to take prospective candidates to lunch. He always asks the candidate to drive. His hope is to get some insight into how organized the person is. From his experience, people who are well organized have a tidy car. If not you can guess what he has found. Scrum Master needs to be an organized person. If not things seem to slip through the cracks. Like having an unorganized wedding planner things don’t go off as hoped.
My brother-in-law is the “rules guy” for every board game we play. He reads every word of the rules which can take a long time. This is troublesome when you have a Scrum Master who is the rule enforcer. Part of the agile intention is to learn and adapt. A scrum team is allowed to deviate and adapt.