Scrum Master has to be the most un-Agile term.
I mean really what do scrum masters do?
- Facilitate dialogue, brainstorming, interaction
- Demonstrate good positive people behaviors like cooperation, lack of blame, fact based conversations and encourage the team to do the same
- Manage team adminstrivia like updating systems (or bugging/reminding their teams to do so) or handling reporting up the SAFE chain
- Provide top cover aka removing impediments and preventing distractions
Mountain Goat software describes the role like this:
The ScrumMaster is there to help the team in its use of Scrum. Think of the help from a ScrumMaster as similar to a personal trainer who helps you stick with an exercise regimen and perform all exercises with the correct form. A good trainer will provide motivation while at the same time making sure you don’t cheat by skipping a hard exercise. The trainer’s authority, however, is limited. The trainer cannot make you do an exercise you don’t want to do. Instead, the trainer reminds you of your goals and how you’ve chosen to meet them. To the extent that the trainer does have authority, it has been granted by the client. ScrumMasters are much the same: They have authority, but that authority is granted to them by the team.
The pervading wisdom, common knowledge says that Scrum Masters are ‘Servant-Leaders’ who ‘Carry Water’ for their teams.
Further, Agile is all about Self-Organizing teams with flat hierarchies, where team members are encouraged to be accountable, to work together to determine the path forward, to take work without being told to. They are groups of self-directed people, not without leadership but not with total command and control.
So why, why, in this world of Servant-Leaders who Facilitate and Bring Water to Self-Directed teams do we still use the word scrum MASTER?
Master has all kinds of connotations and I can only think of one that’s positive. Here’s my list:
Master Negative Connotations
- Master and Slave as in the American Slavery Experience
- Master and Servant as in the English Aristocracy Experience
- There’s another one bought on by the acronym SM but this is a G rated site and I’m not going there
Master Positive Connotations
- Someone whose skill is at a superior level
The positive connotation doesn’t really fit in our definition of scrum master. If it did, then we’d be saying in effect that scrum masters were people who are incredibly skilled at scrum. Yet scrum is agile and should be open to the input of a self-directing team. So even if I master our scrum process today, that doesn’t mean that after the next retro I’ll still be the master of that process.
But I don’t think that’s what was intended with the word scrum master anyway.
I think what was intended was probably to step away from the term Project Manager and invite the idea of something of a call player from Rugby, which is where the ‘scrum’ term originated. But I can’t find a ‘scrum master’ role in Rugby, so I’m really not sure here. I’m guessing. Maybe someone can inform us in the scrum lore as to why we all call the scrum master the master.
Anyway – The negative connotations of master are enough to throw the term out the window. A slave master? Sorry – I’m not gonna be part of that process. An English Lord, well maybe, if I could live in Downton Abbey.
Master is not the energy we are reaching for in scrum or agile.
People, can we get a new term here?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Team Facilitator
- Team Mediator
- Scrum Coach
I’m sure there are many more. Feel free to post them here or on twitter.
But seriously, scrum master – that’s gotta go folks.