Part Three: Look for a “Natural” ScrumMaster
In the previous installment of this blog series, we looked at what might happen when moving our managers or team leads into the ScrumMaster role. Now, we'll discuss the value of choosing a "natural" ScrumMaster.
When I visit my clients onsite to give them private Scrum training, the attendees spend a fair amount of time doing group exercises. The purpose of these exercises is two-fold. On one hand, while some lecture is necessary to cover the basic concepts of Scrum, I think most people learn best by doing. I can explain the characteristics of a good user story all day long, but it is often more effective to let my attendees simply start writing user stories themselves. Group exercises like this give attendees direct experience in the activities they will perform in their real Scrum projects.
There is another—and rather sneaky—reason I have them spend so much time working together. While they are working together, I am watching them. One of the things I am specifically looking for is anyone who displays what I would call “natural talent” for a role.
I especially like to do this with ScrumMasters. Particularly for my clients who are just getting started with Scrum, getting the right people into the ScrumMaster role can truly make or break an agile transformation. And, interestingly, many if not most of the people who I single out as “natural” ScrumMasters are rank and file team members.
A few months ago, I was training a client that was completely new to Scrum. They had decided to start their agile transformation with one Scrum team, as a pilot. When the time came to pick the ScrumMaster, I asked if they had someone in mind. “Yes. It should be Susan. She’s our project manager, so it seems like a natural fit”.
There was just one problem: from what I observed in class, Susan would be a terrible ScrumMaster. She was a very task-oriented person, and gravitated towards doing everything herself instead of helping others be successful. In the Daily Scrum, her team could barely get a word in edgewise. She did all the talking. Asking questions and making observations were definitely not her strong suits.
“Hmmm”, I replied, “May I make a suggestion? Consider Julio for the ScrumMaster position. Based on what I saw in class, he has a natural affinity for the job.” Julio, who was in the room, initially looked surprised and shocked, but then said “Yeah, actually, I would really like that.” In class, Julio gave his team just enough guidance when they needed it, and otherwise focused on keeping impediments at bay and getting the team what they needed to be successful.
These “natural-born ScrumMasters” can come from anywhere. Often, they are simply team members. And I will tell you another fascinating thing I’ve observed: when I chat with them about their work history, many of them come from a military background (Julio, from the example above, was a Marine.) It seems to me that one thing military personnel must learn to do well is work effectively with people from many different backgrounds and experience levels. I also think they have to learn to work with people whom they may not particularly like. These skills will serve them well as they move into a career as a ScrumMaster.
Now, a question for you: who was the best ScrumMaster you ever worked with? What made that person so effective in the role? Post your thoughts in the Comments section below!