3 Mistakes Teams Make When Choosing a ScrumMaster
One big cause of agile project failure is choosing the wrong person to be your ScrumMaster. While a bad ScrumMaster is a problem for any team, it is particularly bad for teams new to agile, as the people on the team won’t know they are being led down the wrong path.
Here are three mistakes organizations make when choosing ScrumMasters.
1. Transitioning project managers to ScrumMasters
A ScrumMaster is not a project manager. Unfortunately, many organizations assign their existing project managers to the ScrumMaster role when moving to agile.
The problem is that most project managers are used to managing a team, not serving it. The distinction is subtle but important. In agile, teams makes their own decisions about the process they follow, the tools they use, how much time it will take to get work done, and who does what work in sprints. The role of the ScrumMaster is to facilitate the conversations that allow the team to make good decisions and to remove barriers to progress.
Telling a team what to do is a ScrumMaster’s last resort, used only when a very experienced ScrumMaster sees the team is about to make a decision that will cause irreparable harm. This unlikely scenario aside, the team is empowered to make decisions, learn from the inevitable mistakes they make, and continuously improve their capabilities.
While it is certainly possible that an existing project manager has the servant leadership style necessary to be a successful ScrumMaster, don’t assume this is the case.
2. Making technologists ScrumMasters
Agile relies on collaboration among everyone on the team much more than traditional software development. A good ScrumMaster has strong communication skills they use to get everyone collaborating, to facilitate discussions, and to keep everyone on the team in the loop.
While it is tempting to promote a strong technical leader into the role of a ScrumMaster, do so with caution. Having a technical background is definitely an advantage, as they are able to dig into issues and understand them better, but this should not be the overriding priority. Technical personnel are often introverts who are great problem-solvers but don’t have the communication skills or aptitude to effectively lead collaboration efforts with a team.
Putting someone in the ScrumMaster role who does not communicate well will often result in a significant amount of rework, redundant work, and frustration on the team.
3. Hiring junior ScrumMasters
There is no such thing as a junior ScrumMaster. I’ve seen teams where the most junior (and nontechnical) person on a team is the ScrumMaster, and this never works.
A good ScrumMaster is part coach, part mentor, part facilitator, part motivator, and sometimes even part therapist. Individuals capable of playing this role are those with lots of leadership experience who know how to best handle a wide variety of personalities, situations, and challenges. If you hire a junior ScrumMaster, all you will get is someone who checks boxes and asks for status updates, and that doesn’t add any value to the team.