Meet Sam, Sam is a Scrum Master.
It is often misunderstood what Sam does all day. So let’s take a look at what drives Sam, who he is, what he does and what his responsibilities are, and why Sam is such a busy man.

Well let’s simply start with his role. Sammy the Scrum Master, Sammy the Master of Scrum. What does this entail. Mastery is defined as expert skill.. or knowledge. So this means he is the expert on the topic of Scrum. He is THE ONE that knows it all when it comes to using Scrum. To master Scrum Sam first had to learn, and learn a lot about the topic. Like a wise man once said, to become a master one must first become a Student. Sam was smart, Sam followed a training first. Before he was able to successfully practice this role, he had to gain knowledge about the why, what and how of Scrum. Being a master also means that he continuously needs to improve on this skills and knowledge to stay on top of the game. To remain a master, he needs to grow his experience by practicing in real life, but also be continue learning about everything in his domain.

One of Sam’s core responsibilities as a Scrum Master is to share his knowledge with everyone around him. Sam is a Teacher! Sam teaches Scrum to everyone in the organization that he has a connection to. He teaches them the essence of an empirical process, the scrum values, the roles, events and artifacts. One can only apply Scrum correctly if one knows the foundation. Therefore Sam also tries to be an expert in embodying Agile. He tries to lead by example and practices living by the Agile values. He knows the value statements and the underlying principles by heart, because he has them embedded in his heart. Sam is a credible teacher when it comes to being Agile and practicing Scrum, because he continuously improves himself. He feels comfortable in role as a teacher for anyone who wants or needs to listen.

That’s right, anyone and everyone in the organization. People who don’t know Sam very well, often think his only concern is the Development Team, but those people underestimate the range of responsibilities Sam has. He firstly focuses his services on his Development Team, but also on his Product Owner, however Sam also services the rest of the organization. Sam teaches how everyone can make the most of applying Scrum as a framework and Agile as a mindset. In the end the true value is in the bigger picture and the shared goals of everyone in the company. Something that Sam understands in his role as teacher.

Let’s zoom in on the Development Team. First and foremost his goal towards the team is self-organization. He guides the team through this process, since a team is not magically self-organizing overnight. He helps the team to continuously improve itself by means of inspection and adaptation. He enables the team to learn and grow by giving them the support they need to make their own decisions, removing their impediments and stimulating collaboration with the Product Owner, the business and other teams and stakeholders. In the beginning Sam will focus on explaining how the team should make effective use of Scrum, by elaborating on what their role entails and what the purpose of the events and artifacts is. Over time, when the team understands the deeper meaning of the framework he will move away from this tell and sell way of explaining and towards a consult and advise method. Since like becoming a teacher requires being a student first, you first have to follow the rules to break the rules.

To the Product Owner Sam also is a trusted adviser. He is there to help her to maximize the value delivered. The Product Owner of course has a vision on how the product is going to delight our customers and knows best what is valuable to them. Sam does not need to teach her what is valuable, nor does he want to sit on her chair at all. Sam is is busy enough with his own responsibilities and does not have the in depth knowledge of the market and the domain that the Product Owner has. However, Sam does not need that knowledge to help. Sam supports the Product Owner to help her understand her new role and responsibilities within the bigger picture of the organization. He helps her understand what is expected of her in the Scrum Events and how she can provide focus for the Development Team. He supports her by explaining techniques and practices for proper Product Backlog management, clearly expressing Product Backlog items and forecasting and planning in an empirical environment.

To the rest of the organization Sam is primarily a change agent. He firstly helps everyone in understanding how to interact with the Scrum Team. For example by explaining that for certain requests they need to go the Product Owner and not directly to the team. That they can attend but never participate in a Daily Scrum. Or more generally speaking how they could help or hinder the Development Team. Secondly, he collaborates with other Scrum Masters to see if there are opportunities to share, learn and cooperate more between the teams. To see if there are changes to improve each other and add more value by creating synergetic relations. In doing so, Sam tries to get more and more value out of the Scrum way of working and the Agile mindset. However, Sam’s vision is not limited to product development. His view encompasses to becoming a more Agile organization as a whole. In other words, he is a change agent for other business units, managers and departments as well. He aims to help the entire organization to become responsive, revolve around the customers and is able to anticipate and react to the fast-pace of change in the market.

Sam is a busy bee, isn’t he. We started by saying that Sam is a teacher, but when we look at all of his services – he is much more than that. In the beginning, Sam’s focus is on teaching. However, when his team matures and organization becomes more used to Scrum as well, Sam starts to act somewhat different. Occasionally he will still teach the rules when the situation requires it, but in general he will become more and more of a Mentor. Spreading his wisdom and experience one-on-one, sharing war-stories to inspire. Consulting the Development Team and Product Owner on good and emergent Agile practices, like Specification by Example, pair programming or a continuous integration methods. When they face challenges or need advice, he is there to help. Or when they simply ask for his opinion.

One of the things people associate with Sam’s job is facilitating Events. You are right, that is also part of Sam’s job. Sam is a Facilitator. However, people often misunderstand what this entails. What people hear is, “Ok, so Sam books the rooms, makes sure the post-its are there, the Backlog Management tool on the computer is on. Sam makes notes, makes the agenda and invites the people that are needed in the session”. This is not what we mean by facilitating, Sam is not a scribe, admin or chairman. Above all he facilitates the empirical process by means of transparency, inspection and adaptation. Sam is the person that can structure and guide meetings to effectively reach a certain goal. Sam provides support and direction to enable true collaboration and making sure that everyone can contribute. Sam has a toolbox of formats depending on the context and the desired outcome that he can use to transform simple meetings into effective events.

The last stance of Sam’s role is the Coach. As a coach Sam is there to guide team members through hard times and deep conflicts. When he wears this hat, he has no agenda, he is not invested in the outcome, he just wants to help the coachee. He acts as a mirror to help the coachee see clearly. In times where the coachee is in doubt which path to follow or does not even see which paths he could chose, Sam is there to shine some light in the dark. He only gives advice when explicitly asked by the coachee. Effectively he then switches briefly and explicitly towards the Mentor stance. After the advice was taken in, he switches back towards the Coach stance. For Sam this was very difficult in the beginning, and Sam needed to practice this very much. However training helped Sam to become a trusted adviser and a professional coach.

Sam dances between these stances as needed. In general, if Sam does a good job towards the people around him, they need him less and less. On the one hand this is a good thing, but on the other Sam’s manager might wonder why Sam is still around if his goal is to make himself obsolete. The team still needs Sam, but they need Sam in a different manner. Sam does not need to be in the spotlight directing the team to be effective, but is more like the invisible presence to coach the team and the organization from the back of the room. We feel Sam’s presence, and it’s a warm fussy feeling.

Yes, it’s true, when the team and the organization matures, Sam has more time on his hands. In this situation Sam could always take on a second team, or focus even more on the organization as a whole. But hopefully now Sam’s manager understands that he is not just a scribe, an admin or a chairman for the Development Team, he also understands that for Sam to do his job properly simply takes a lot of effort.

Sam sums all he does up in one term by saying: “I am a Servant Leader”. What he means is: “I am there for others, I am there to serve the Product Owner to become the best value maximizer possible, to serve the Development Team to be self-organizing and constantly improving towards greatness, and to serve the organization towards Business Agility. I lead by example and leave no one behind, I need no credit for my success, but I want the people I serve to become successful.”

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