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Who Should be The Scrum Master?
Jeremy Bower, VP, Engineering
Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Your organization has announced a massive, multi-year digital transformation initiative. You’ve hired a large consulting firm to guide your journey. At the kickoff meeting, you find yourself in a room full of project managers, team leads, and people managers. The excitement grows as the consultants have you break into your job role, project managers (PMs) in one corner, leads in another, and people managers in another. 

Just like Oprah, the consultants from the opening story look at the PMs and say, “Now you’re a scrum master, and you’re a scrum master, everybody is a scrum master!”  Then they turn to the team leads: “Now you’re a product owner, everybody is a product owner!” Lastly, they look at the people managers, puzzled, and finally mutter, “Um, we’re not sure what we’re supposed to do with you, but yeah, scrum!”

I have the impression that at many organizations, not much thought goes into assigning new roles during an agility transformation. It’s like the proverbial shuffling of deckchairs on the Titanic: action for action’s sake that accomplishes nothing meaningful (and may actually make everyone’s job harder).

As I discussed in my last blog post, leaders owe it to themselves and their teams to set their teams up for success, for as John Maxwell often says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” In this installment, I’ll dig deeper into what a leader is accountable for in staffing a team. 

 

Understand (just enough) what key roles entail

As a leader, you don’t need to know the ins and outs of doing the job of a product owner, scrum master, or engineer. However, you owe it to your staff to invest in understanding what skills and characteristics are good indicators that someone can be successful in those roles. 

Additionally, you should be able to articulate what each role does and be able to direct questions to the responsible role. Escalations are going to come to you, and you will want to redirect to the correct role where the best-informed decision can be made. This is only possible with an adequate understanding of each role.

 

Choose the right fit

In contrast, I assume in most organizations when your team members were originally hired they went through a meaningful process for determining if they were a fantastic fit for the position. That same thoughtfulness should go into assigning roles for your digital transformation. It’s completely reasonable to craft new, thoughtful job descriptions, encourage people to apply for roles, and interview them as though they were external candidates. 

And of course we want to honor our existing staff and provide opportunities for growth and reskilling, evaluating person by person, not department by department.

 

The last step: evaluating competency

If you, the leader, have an understanding of the roles, and your organization has a meaningful process for finding the best fit for each role, then – and only then – can you move on to evaluating competency.

You will now have specific job descriptions that describe accountabilities and lead to measurable goals. You also have development plans that detail the reskilling necessary for each person. From there it should begin to look like familiar territory where you must have the discernment, compassion, and fortitude to make the decisions necessary to help people grow in their roles or move them on to where they can flourish.

 

Without this foundation, the bad decisions can pile up, making it difficult to find the root cause of your sinking ship - leaving the team and your organization to ultimately pay the price. That’s an avoidable failure of leadership that could have been avoided with a bit more thoughtfulness, and a little less deckchair shuffling.

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