Okay, so they served a purpose, sort of, temporarily. The concept of servant leadership, stewardship, is a wonderful one. And it cannot, with integrity, be implemented by people calling themselves “masters”. Servant leadership requires humility and stillness, not the busy-ness we see in the typical ScrumMaster, with his plethora of software tools, spreadsheets, charts, metrics, sticky notes, and schedules, attempting to “master the Scrum process”. Oh, dear!
But it isn’t just the name, or the nonsense activities expected of people in that role. It is the idea that teams of knowledge workers need a leader at all, or even someone to mitigate their problems for them. It is flawed. They don’t. They need idea-guidance, they need business dialog, and they need inspiration. In almost all the implementations of ScrumMaster I have seen these characteristics are glaringly absent.
The ScrumMaster role is intended to “shield the team”. I claim this is counter-productive to team and organizational health. Workers need to take personal responsibility for their work, for their environment, and for their relationships with others. Without that, we create a paternalistic culture. The old dysfunctions will continue to churn, and will reappear time after time, until it is rightly assessed that “Scrum didn’t work”.
ScrumMasters tend to be one of the following:
- Project Managers seeking a better way to manage projects
- Line Managers seeking better ways to manage people
- Tech Leads thrown into a role they don’t understand
- Rare individuals with coaching and counseling skills
The first three types are not useful, not even in the short term. The fourth type, the coach, has merit. This type of ScrumMaster is skilled in release, and can help an organization see its folly, and take steps to change. People fitting this fourth type are, sadly, few and far between—they are the exception that prove the rule. The wise ones drop the term ScrumMaster altogether, preferring the designation of coach or guide.
I believe the concept of ScrumMaster has done more damage to our industry than it has aided in change. It has been a way for individuals and organizations to jump on the Agile band wagon, in a mostly painless way (discounting severe certification costs) and continue to do much as they were doing before, except now using an “Agile tracking tool”, playing mind-numbingly futile planning poker games, and having daily status meetings. Sorry guys, it’s what I see.
If you are a ScrumMaster, evaluate your worth. Dig deeper into why you do what you do. Are you truly serving the goal of profound change? Are you rocking the system, making yourself vulnerable, or are you just putting on a new, cool hat while continuing to comply with the status quo? Yes, it’s a confrontational question. We need more of those.