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Understanding scrum roles:
The 8 Stances of a Scrum Master

Coach, Scribe, Teacher or a Superhero…

The scrum master is a highly versatile role. A seasoned scrum master should be quite well-versed and have a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience. All this diversity is reflected in the scrum roles (stances) or "hats" of the scrum master.

What shouldn't a scrum master be like?

  • Scribe — takes down the minutes of all meetings, plans all events, puts them on the calendar, layout the sprint plan instead of the team, and sends out all the follow-ups after every event.
  • Secretary — a scrum master, who plans all the events on the calendar and sends invitations to the team.
  • Policeman — not only knows the Scrum Guide by heart but mentions it in every situation, even if it is inappropriate.
  • Team boss — makes decisions for the team, hires and fires staff. Administrator — knows every workflow, Jira master.
  • Chairman — comes to the daily meeting with the feeling that he/she has to write the status update and pass it along.
  • Superhero — solves all the problems of the development team, whether they need it at the moment or not.
  • Coffee clerk — brings coffee to the team at almost any time. No, there is nothing wrong with grabbing coffee for colleagues once or twice. But if it becomes your main task, you are missing out on something.
Okay, we've worked out what a scrum master shouldn't be. What makes a good scrum master? Barry Overeem described this role in his paper and highlighted eight scrum positions.

1. Scrum Master as a Servant Leader

The Scrum Master acts as a leader-servant and serves on three levels. He serves the Product Owner by helping to develop the product in an experiential way, the Team by helping to reach self-organisation and cross-functionality and the Organisation by implementing the Scrum in such a way that the objectives are achieved.
Scrum Master as a Servant Leader

  • Setting up Scrum as a servant process, not a commanding process;
  • Guiding the Development team towards self-organisation;
  • Leading the team through healthy conflict and debate;
  • Teaching, coaching and mentoring the organisation and team in adopting and using Scrum;
  • Shielding the team from disturbance and external threats;
  • Helping the team make visible, remove and prevent impediments;
  • Encouraging, supporting and enabling the team to reach their full potential and abilities.

2. Scrum Master as a Coach

As defined by Sir John Whitmore, the essence of coaching is to "unlock a person's potential to maximise their effectiveness. It doesn't mean teaching a person, it means helping them learn".
Scrum Master as a Coach
There are three perspectives of Coaching:

  • Coaching the Individual (way of thinking; behaviour)
  • Coaching the team (continuous improvement)
  • Coaching the Organisation (collaboration with Scrum Teams)

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3. Scrum Master as a Mentor

Who is a mentor? The simplest definition is as follows: "A mentor is a wise and trusted advisor or teacher".

In the context of mentoring, it is appropriate to mention Alistair Cockburn's concept of Shu-Ha-Ri. Shu-Ha-Ri is a technique for learning new skills that comes to us from oriental martial arts and describes the stages a student goes through in the process of learning a skill.
 Scrum Master as a Mentor
Stage 1 — Shu(守) — Follow the rules
The first Stage is strict following and obeying of the rules. At this stage, team members are required to follow all the rules of the Scrum Master in order to learn.

Stage 2 — Ha (破) — Break the rules
At this stage, the student begins to move away from the rules, to change and experiment. He/she becomes aware of the processes and is ready to analyse, compare and draw conclusions.

Stage 3 — Ri (離) — Be the Rule
At this stage, a Scrum Master can step back and let the team, a well-functioning and productive organism, perform at their best. Students no longer need rules, they understand all the principles and know when to use a particular practice.

The Scrum Master should realise that not all team members are at the same level, and that it is often necessary to take an individual approach and work with each team member individually.
What is the difference between a Coach and a Mentor?

The terms 'coaching' and 'mentoring' are used as synonyms. Of course, they have a lot in common, but there is one key difference: you do not need to be an expert in a particular field to coach a session, but if you want to teach something, then expert knowledge is a must. Lissa Adkins, in her book "Coaching agile teams", wrote that by combining coaching and mentoring in your practice, you could achieve much more with your team.

4. Scrum Master as Facilitator

A facilitator is a person who ensures successful group communication. His or her main task is to help a group of people to become aware of their common goals, and to support them in achieving these goals by taking a neutral position during the discussion.
Scrum Master as Facilitator

  • Designs and leads a meeting with the responsibility to help the team reach its goals and objectives;
  • Facilitate the Scrum events to be purposeful and effective
  • Asks powerful questions to provide new insights and perspectives;
  • Listens to understand instead of listening to act;
  • Creates a strong team instead of creating strong individuals;
  • Helps things to happen instead of making things happen.

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5. The Scrum Master as an Impediment Remover

Gunther Verheyen in his book described an obstacle in Scrum as a factor that blocks the development team in creating a valuable piece of software in a sprint, or restricts the team in achieving its intrinsic level of progress. We can add to this the fact that the obstacle often cannot be solved at the development team level.
The concept of obstacles is clear, here are some examples of possible obstacles:

  • Issues with the tooling of the Development Team
  • Scarcity of skills
  • Conflict between team members
  • Restrictions to the team environment
  • An indecisive Product Owner
Removing impediments is a crucial topic because there are always impediments, but it's not always clear how to solve them. Below you will find some techniques that we use on a daily basis:

  • Stop spending time and effort in solving the wrong problem
  • Understand the organisation
  • Don't wait until the Daily Scrum to raise an impediment!
  • Use a Sprint Goal.
  • Improve transparency by using an 'Impediment Board'.
  • Be brave and creative in removing impediments.
  • Collaborate with the Product Owner.

6. Scrum Master as a Manager

A manager is an individual who is in charge of a certain group of tasks or a certain part of a company. Don't forget that there is a difference between a 'management' and a 'manager'. Management is an activity, a manager is a role. The role of the scrum master is to make sure that the scrum is effective in your organisation.
As a manager, a scrum master is responsible for:

  • Managing impediments, eliminating waste. Removing impediments that limit the efficiency and progress of a Development Team in areas that are beyond the reach of self-organisation of a Development Team.
  • Managing the process. Support the team in optimising their process. Facilitating teams. Keep the Scrum events to be purposeful and effective. Ensure that people, teams, and the organisation realise the highest benefits from using Scrum.
  • Managing the boundaries of self-organisation. A Scrum Master manages the boundaries that Scrum provides to augment self-organisation; time boxing to limit risk, focused efforts, cross functional collaboration, releasable results, validated learning.
  • Managing the culture. Making room for failure. Managing the cultural change necessary to give the teams the opportunity to flourish.

7. Scrum Master as a Teacher

A teacher is someone who helps others learn new things. In order for Scrum to work, every team member should understand what Scrum is, know the rules, practices and values. The job of the scrum master is to teach them.
What does a scrum master teach?

  • What is Agile and Agility?
  • Teach the basics of Scrum.
  • Teaches the team about creating a common identity.
  • Teach the team about self-organisation and cross-functionality.
  • Teach the organisation about Scrum.
  • Teach the team to have fun!

8. Scrum Master as a Change Agent

A change agent helps an organisation transform by focusing on organisational effectiveness, improvement and development. He acts as a catalyst for change to enable a culture in which scrum teams can flourish
Characteristics of a Scrum-friendly culture
To create Scrum-friendly culture, the Scrum Master:

  • Leading and coaching the organisation in its Scrum adoption.
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organisation.
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development.
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team.
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organisation.
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