The Scrum Master Who Cared Too Much, Part 1

By Andrew Keener

Question: Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who cares about creative collaboration, engineering craftsmanship, and sustainable pace. If my team seems not to care, should I even bother?

Should you care when no one else does? Maybe not.

            Attempting to care on behalf of others is a recipe for burnout. Newly minted Scrum Masters can receive a wide variety of false expectations.

            At one end of the spectrum, they may be promised that simply facilitating special meetings, for a small team, with a mix of skills is all that they need to do. The magic of the Scrum ceremonies will take care of the rest.

            At the other end of the spectrum, the Scrum Master believes they are loaded with innumerable responsibilities that took years to master, even as a specialist. From DevOps tool chains to quality automation, there are specialists. From systems theory and office decoration, to arm-chair psychology and professional coaching, there are specialists. For every topic promised to this image of the Scrum Master, there are specialists.

            The Scrum Master, in contrast, specializes in facilitating. Always keep in mind these principles:

Respect for People and Culture:

            Imagine if you attempt to force your political, social, or religious views on people in the workplace. Would you be surprised by resistance (and a reprimand)? No. In the same way, do not crusade, picket, or host rallies when it comes to lean-agile. Why? It is polarizing and distracting. Instead, focus on common concerns and cares while trying to alleviate pain points.

            Perhaps you believe you have the best JIRA workflow ever created in history. Maybe you believe it self-evident that Scrum is superior to Kanban. Or maybe you feel certain that GitHub will revolutionize your workplace. Excellent. Strong opinions and great ideas abound, and each one needs a champion. Try this thought experiment—if you wanted to convince someone to try a new flavor of ice cream, a flavor you believe to be the best, how would you go about it? Would you find a group of like-minded people and corner unwitting victims and force-feed them Cookies-and-Cream? No. Better that you set up a little stand with a sign and offer free samples. Would you rush into quiet rooms uninvited and begin shouting at people about the merits of Chunky Monkey? No. Better that you create posters and brochures and newsletters and have influencers on social media proclaim the joy that is your favorite ice cream. Would you trick everyone into attending a movie, only to lock the doors and make it mandatory to eat a pint of Neapolitan before permitting their exit? No. Better that you throw a party in a conspicuous place and invite everyone.

            All of your favorite principles and practices of lean and agile and devops are like your favorite ice cream, once you describe the benefits, the need fulfilled, the pain relieved, and invite people to join you, there is no advantage in going further and forcing people.