Scrum “Master” Has to Go

Scrum Master has to be the most un-Agile term.

I mean really what do scrum masters do?


  • Facilitate dialogue, brainstorming, interactionfacilitator
  • 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.


He’s a master: “These are not the developers you’re looking for”

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

He's a master: Totally not trying to be on his team. "And WILLLLL update jira!!!!"

He’s a master: Totally not trying to be on his team. “And now….you WILLLLL update jira!!!!”

  • 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.


He’s a master: “Have those unit tests complete when I return from the hunt.”

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.


Saturday Morning Rant OR Trophy Acronyms

I’ve been doing the contracting thing now since 2008. Meaning I’ve either been on a commercial-to-government or commercial-to-commercial contract as a member of the software provider team.

In this sphere I’ve met other like minded project managers; and we have secretly shared our horror stories about how things are just done wrong.

Acquisitions Officer accepts CMMI Level 3 apple from certified Big Integrator PMP. "Yes, YESSSSSSS My pretty!!!!"

Acquisitions Officer accepts CMMI Level 3 apple from certified Big Integrator PMP. "Yes, YESSSSSSS My pretty!!!!"

Personally I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been all excited to start working on a contract that fully employs Systems Engineering Technology (SETA) or CMMI level 2 or 3 environment only to be horribly dissapointed with the reality on the ground; places where questions like “can I see the change management process documentation?” brings blank stares, or tidbits like, a year into the project, “We haven’t baselined the schedule” is overheard.

I mean, people, why do we have methodology!? Why are we spending all this money to get people trained; we have ITIL, PMP, SETA, INCOSE, CMMI – Pick one! Lots of certifications flying around, and yet every time I take on a new project I always find the same sad story; a process in name only.

Here are some stories from my own experience and those of my buddies to chill your methodology bones, just before Halloween.

1. CMMI Level 2 Organization: An Integrated Baseline Review (IBR) on a project that doesn’t have a baselined schedule. How can you have an IBR without a baselined schedule?

2. Major System Integrator who advertises as a CMMI Level 3 organization: On a multi million dollar project, the baseline just keeps on moving. This is not – ‘oh we’ve finished so let’s plan the next iteration’, this is ‘oh-let’s keep moving the durations of the stuff we haven’t finished.’

3. Major System Integrator who advertises as a CMMI Level 3 organization, and whose PM had a PMP leaves a project with grade-school documentation. An application tied into senior level decision making has to have the functional requirements document, test scripts, configuration management, production support model all written from scratch by a new contractor.

4. Microsoft Gold Certified software reseller builds a system for clients without doing any business analysis because they don’t know how. They don’t understand what business analysis is. Client eventually sues.

5. PMP Director of Projects builds project reporting tool for a PMO based on sales; in other words, the projects are rated green, yellow, red based on how much the PM can upsell to the customer.

6. CMMI Level 3 organization pulls late nighters for a bid and ‘makes up’ their development methodology to win the bid, because they had not documented their existing methodology, then laughs about it the next day.

This is common. This is the reality. The organizations who are doing software development correctly are so few and far between that I suggested to a training organization that they train acquisition officers how to ask probing questions of contractors to see if they really take their methodology seriously.

This is most egregious in the public sphere. Acquisitions officers are getting hoodwinked by big and small organizations alike; sold on the acronyms and unable to discern truth from outright falsities. There are audit organizations that contractors are scared of – the dreaded Defense Contract Audit Association (DCAA) – for example, gets ’em shaking in their boots. But they only look at contracting and procurement, not software development methodology.

We need to expand the capabilities of audit organizations so they can  audit for truthfulness and soundness in software development methodology. Certifications are not an indicator of ability to produce good software and they are fast becoming trophies gained to win contracts, rather than assurance of organization’s commitment to good process.

Some References:

Glen Alleman is always a source of great content.  He points to the Open Process Framework’s list of common development  issues such as:

“Development organizations are not implementing the best industry practices and are sometimes even implementing known worst practices.”

Here’s some real life proof.  Lockheed has missed 19 of 32 requirements in EVMS reporting.  Read “Pentagon Action Against Lockheed Part of Larger Crackdown on Contractors”.

Glen lists all of the OPF issues on his post on problems that need to be addressed.

And finally, the Federal Contractor Misconduct Database tracks contract violations in government contractors. The good guys?  Mantech and MITRE with zero violations.

Saturday Morning Rant: Just Follow the Process

I’ve been crazy busy.

I’ve missed at least two #follow friday on Twitter.  Not a good state of affairs for blog chick.

However – I’m learning a lot, working for the first time with a 5 year integrated master schedule.    I think that the IMS/IMP is not as hard as I thought it was.  I think that if you’ve read the PMBOK, all the steps are there and that the IMS/IMP development is a flavor of this basic sequenece:

  • Define Scope
  • Create WBS
  • Define Activities
  • Sequence Activities
  • Estimate Activity Resources
  • Estimate Activity Durations
  • Develop Schedule

I think where most projects fail is this:  Project Managers try to build the schedule without spending the time to get down to the nitty gritty of neat, definable and measurable units of work.   This rings true regardless of methodology, agile, scrum or iterative. In fact, scrum is all about getting real about the activities first, before you think about who does what when.

When they built St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was the same set of processes, when they built the Eiffel Tower, it was the same set of processes, when they developed the Hubble Telescope it was the same set of processes, and I bet when Google built their search algorithm it wasn’t a hap hazard, hey let’s do the schedule and then figure out the work type of thing.  Nope, the most probably used the same sequence.

So this is just a friendly reminder to get back to basics.  One of the things I like about Glen Alleman is that he is always bringing it back to basics, re-interating and clarifying theory, because, really, winning in the creation of a good project is simple, just follow the process.

Glen’s presentation on the Performance Measurements Baselines (don’t be scared by the title) really breaks down the components of developing a great schedule. This is something anyone can pick up and understand and is a great refresher for Project Managers.  Take the time to read through, you’ll be glad you did.

One cool thing to note – Check out slide 19.  He suggests that once you’ve defined your work, you can assign an indicator of the confidence you have in the duration estimate and the effort estimate.  With these assigned values, you can then add them together to pull out areas of higher risk.  If you have low confidence in the duration estimate and the effort estimate, that’s something to keep monitoring.

Happy Scheduling Trails to you!

Project Management is Stressful

Sometimes, life is pretty darn stressful.

I think that as Project Managers we don’t really take into account just how much is really on our shoulders, and how being a PM creeps into our everyday life, maybe to an extent only experienced by senior executives in organizations (but without the executive pay).

On Time and On Schedule!

On Time and On Schedule!

Does this sound familiar?

1.You wake up in the middle of the night and the first thing on your mind is an issue with the project schedule.

2. Your workday starts with a plan that dissolves within the first five minutes due to project issues.

3. You wind up doing what you were going to do during the day, at night and on weekends.

I don’t know about you, but I find that I have to turn off “Michiko as Project Manager” consciously, as soon as I walk in the house.   This week my task junkyness has run amok with a wake up at 3am scenario just to finish up a WBS and Schedule for a proposal that cropped up suddenly. This lead me to post to my facebook status “I am not my career” in subconscious revolt.

Somehow, there’s got to be balance.

So I started reading and found a good book on the PMI 24X7 book site (if you’re up to date with your PMI membership dues, you get this site for free – lots of good stuff). “Essential People Skills for Project Managers” by Steven Flannes and Ginger Levin. This is an easy read with lots of honest good info, but in particular their Chapter on Stress Management for the Project Manager is filled with solid recommendations for dealing with stress.   They’ve diveyed up sources of stress which makes it a bit easier to understand.

Essential People Skills for Project Managers

Essential People Skills for Project Managers

Stress From the Position These are stressors inherent to being a project manager, meaning before you’ve even lifted a finger you’re first day on the job – you can count these things to stress you out. Things like ultimate responsibility, dealing with people issues, finding resources, leading without driving everybody crazy. It’s not like you get to sit around and wait for stuff to happen, or someone to tell you what to do. You’d better drive the train or you’re out of a job. Even if the world was perfect and people ran around singing like Disney characters, the job itself would still be stressful.

Stress from the Organization
But the world is not perfect…
Organizations have their own dysfunctions; leaders who don’t like each other, entrenched silos, values that may be a little askew or even unhealthy. As the PM, you don’t get to watch peacefully, grab some popcorn and enjoy the reality show. No, somehow you’ve got to dive right in and pull out whatever good you can from the muck. No armchair quarterback for you, buddy.

Stress from People
And people are not perfect…..
Sounds like a truism, but you will face toxic people that you have to lead, that you have to report to, that you have get resources from. There will be bullies, and narcissists, and wimps, and perfectionists. And guess what? Whatever traits that you have (because you have some things that get activated too), will interact with traits of others for quite interesting and colorful combinations.

Bottom Line: Project Management is stressful

Over the years I’ve found that we all have expectations in these three areas; job expectations, organizational expectations and people expectations. Usually, we carry more unrealistic expectations in one area than another.

For example, I always have unrealistic people expectations. For some reasons, maybe because I watched a lot of musicals as a kid, I think that the world is Kumbaya and why can’t we all get along. Then when someone shows their colors I’m like so shocked!!

I’ve never had a problem with job expectations – in fact, I sort of relish the responsibilities and stress of the job itself. Organizational dynamics don’t faze me either. But I’ve had friends who really have a hard time dealing with the responsibility of project management (“God, I hate having to always tell people over and over again why we are doing this project.”) or with the organization (“I cannot believe all these people care about around here is making money, that sickens me!”).

What to do about stress?

Level Set I would say, first thing, get real about the job. Make sure your expectations align with reality. Then you can go in with an appropriate level set in your mind and not be shocked when crazy things happen.

Explore why things bug you If you get bugged out about something, ask yourself why. Do a little introspection. How do you view yourself? What happens to you when your view of yourself gets messed with?

Develop a well rounded life I think this is the most important piece. We are not our careers. Martin Seligman and the Positive Psychology folks at UPENN suggest developing “holistic fitness”, that is not just physical fitness, but fitness in our emotional, social, spiritual lives. The Army has picked up on this and created a whole program around it called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF).

CSF Poster

CSF Poster

The idea is that when you develop ‘holistic fitness’, you are more resilient and can transform bad happenings into positive outcomes. There’s lots of good material on this like ‘The Resiliency Factor: Seven Essential Skills fo Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles’ by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte. Or check out the CSF page on Facebook for more available tips like these 10 Ways to Build Resilience:

1. Make connections.
2. Help yourself by helping others.
3. Maintain a daily routine.
4. Take care of yourself.
5. Give yourself a “news” break.
6. Have a plan.
7. Prepare a security kit
8. Nurture a positive view of yourself.
9. Keep things in perspective.
10. Maintain a hopeful outlook.

I used to thing these kind of things were kind of corny – like I had more important things to do, like updating my change control lists, and preparing executive briefs.  But hey, if soldiers are doing this, then maybe its not such a hokey thing after all.  I’m starting to learn the value of a day at the museums with the family.  And ironically, I’m learning that it’s this well rounded life that helps us to be great project managers.

Saturday Morning Rant: Attack of the Unknown Unknown

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.  Lost resources to other projects, locked my keys in my car, had to walk home in the rain, 4 hours of commuting time on the metro in a 24 hour period, got caught in a rumor mill, yadda yadda yadda.

I can see the future and its full of...unknown...unknowns.

I can see the future and its full of...unknown...unknowns.

Ok so what I want to talk about is Don Rumsfeld, again, because he’s the one who talked about the unknown unknowns.  Remember that?  He caught a lot of flack and I thought he was just making excuses for really poor decisions at the time.

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.”

Sounds like BS.     But, and this is my life’s theme that past few weeks,  you can’t really understand what the heck this little bit of truth means until you’ve actually live through an appearance of the unknown unknown.

The problem with the unknown unknown is that there is nothing you can do.   They will just slap you upside the head one day.    I mean, PMs are like psychics, we like telling and planning for the future, and  we say “this is going to happen, and then that’s going to happen.  And this is going to happen, and then that’s going to happen.”

And then we plan for the known unknowns and we call them ‘risks’ and we say “ok, just in case this one shows up with do that.  And if this one shows up we’ll do this. And if that one shows up we’ll do that.”

But what about the unknown unknowns?    Is the unknown unknown not the nature of the universe?   Chaos theory says the natural state of the universe has origins that appears chaotic but eventually out of which order appears.  So we may assume that we have some type of ordering of activities, and they may get done. But are we ultimately fighting against a force that implies chaos and diversity and growth and reorganization according to its own source, for which we are completely unaware?

And not only that, when these unknown unknown appears, quantum physics says that how we observe things affects how they appear; how they manifest themselves into physical reality.  So my realization to this unknown unknown that appears chaotically in the environment is going to be completely different to yours.    That will affect the behavior or manifestation of the unknown unknown.   Paradoxically, our mixing of perceptions is going to clash and cause conflict which will cause more chaos.  It’s like a thousand rubber balls in motion in a racquetball court…try tracking one of them.

Just Calm Down!  I have it ALL under control!

Just Calm Down! I have it ALL under control!

My initial thought is, ya can’t control for that.

Ya just kind of have to go “there are going to be times when the unknown unknown appears. And it will appear chaotic and it will cause conflict, and what you are going to do is…….learn.”

And what you are going to put on the risk log is ‘the laws of the universe are going to affect my project at some point.’

And this has been my lesson this week.  Let me tell you, because there were unknown unknown that came up for which I had a completely different observation than my powers that be, for which I had a completely different reaction than my powers that be, and for which, ya know….I’ve learned.

I can’t go into detail, cause It’s classified and I’d have to kill you, but it has not been easy.  My bad. I made some mistakes.  I apologized for them.

But still…really? How can I account for the fly ball from left field, the chaotic hit ya upside the head, the diversity of observation of the same phenomena?

Finally it makes me think about the team formation cycle; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing.  I think there’s some fundamental truth in that cycle.  Because from forming you go straight to storming, and that’s because you hit the unknown unknowns every single time.

Just my Saturday Morning Rant.

Saturday Morning Soapbox – Thank God for the GAO

My army admiration has extended to the GAO because every piece of advice I have every written (ok so that’s not really a lot since I’ve only been writing for a few months) is here in this amazing pot of gold>>>>>  gao-bpr-guide.pdf <<Good Stuff Good Stufff

Honestly,  stop and don’t proceed further until you’ve read this guide.  If you are like me you’ll be nodding your head and talking to yourself saying ‘yeah’ and ‘right’ and ‘exactly’ and wondering out loud how the government can have such amazingly pure, simple, wise guidance at its fingertips and the rest of us didn’t know about it.   And I work on a government contract and I can bet that most people working on government contracts are not aware of the gold mine that exists, publicly, from the GAO.  But wait…there’s more!

Where have you been all my life????

Where have you been all my life????

I particularly like the Defense Acquisition University site which provides a clear path through visuals from the Clinger –Cohen act through Information Assurance, Business Process Reengineering, Portfolio governance and Management etc. on their IT Center of Practice site.

How to Use this Information

Understand what you are looking at:

The government doesn’t really invent things.  The government follows policy.  So this represents the set of rules and regulations that the government has to follow concerning how it implements and manages IT.    You are looking how the rules for how its done, the map, the set of instructions for IT.

Understand what this means to you:

This means that if you are working on a bid for the government or working on a government contract, you already have a clear set path to follow on your projects that you can reference with your clients to indicate why they should listen to you, and why they should implement what you are talking about.   This is the magic mantra that you reference as the reason for why they should follow you.  Your client doesn’t have to support compliance to private IT Maturity models like CMMI but they do have to follow the Clinger-Cohen Act and its directives around IT portfolio management.

So here’s a tip…learn this stuff.  And reference this stuff on, in and during your contract engagement.

Saturday Morning Soapbox about Capabilities or More Army Admiration

Capability Rant  Ok, I’m excited about the capability talk that I’m seeing in the blogsphere. I’ve posted on the problem of Intent Failure, or questioning the feasibility of a project before it gets of the ground based on environmental variables such as silos and turf wars. But now, folks are starting to talk about project value in terms of what the project enables the business to do; specifically using the word ‘capability’.

This is not the sort of capable I'm talking about

This is not the sort of capable I'm talking about

I like the word capability a lot better than value. Its just more descriptive and allows for better conversation. IT valuation – the word value itself has a connotation that implies difference and subjectivity. When I like something, I value it. So when we use the word value to describe the benefits of an IT project, it can be personal. Sales might place a higher value on a new CRM system than accounting. Value also has a price connotation as in ‘the value of the new software in the long term is X dollars.” But when you frame the discussion using the word capability, its not as personal, and there aren’t so many definitions. You get straight to the facts. So while a new CRM system provides good value to the sales team, what they really need is the capability to quickly and repeatedly reach out to various groups of leads. The solution may be to hire a college intern.

Now that I’m working on an Army project, I’m around a lot of DoD folks and I swear they are a little ahead of the curve on a lot of things. The DoD was first to enforce desegregation through policy, and now they are encouraging a more active approach to mental health through the Comprehensive Solider Fitness program. CSF considers five dimensions to a soldier’s health; spiritual, emotional, physical, social and family.  This is a long way from the old slogan ‘An Army of One’ which indicated a severe stand-alone type of mentality. I have never been in a major corporation that officially sanctioned the importance of Mental Health, but that is indeed what the Army is now doing. I think that other organizations, large and small, will start to build in processes to mimic the CSF program because something about the Army doing it applies a vaneer of cultural acceptability for the rest of us.

Screw Your Head into That  I digress slightly but only to reiterate the point about the DoD being on the leading edge because they put in place a capabilities based assessment process back in 2002. In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld was frustrated. He sent out a nicely worded memo that sent everyone into a skizzy

Memo from the Don

Memo from the Don

This led to a significant change. DoD would now start “describing need in terms of capabilities” instead of ‘requirements’.

One of the major frustrations of the previous requirements processes was that solutions were introduced to the system without any higher-level rationalization. The intent was to replace statements such as “we need a more advanced fighter,” with “we need the capability to defeat enemy air defenses.” The latter statement provides the rationalizationfor needs, and also allows for competition among solutions. Capabilities Based Assessment User guide

The DoD institutionalized capabilities thinking into policy, processes and procedures called the Capabilities Based Assessment (CBA). And they even created a friendly user guide for the new guy or gal coming in from the front to quickly get up and running. This guide rocks on another level in that it provides excellent leadership and PM guidance, its like a PM brief that gives you all you need to set up and run your CBA shop in one easy read..but that ‘s for another post.

Cool New Capabilities Tools  Capabilities thinking during project initiation seems to be the direction a lot of folks are heading in. Take Dennis Stevens for example. In his post Capability Analysis – Start with the Business value he writes:

We need focus on the right projects and features – in a way aligned with our business model and how we create value for our customers. We need to have a forcing mechanism to overcome the tendency for everything to be a number one priority.

Stevens suggests the use of a full capability analysis model that enables a business to determine which capabilities are key, which then structures the determination of which projects are key.

Similarly, Niel Nickolaisen’s Purpose Alignment Model is a very cool tool that enables also gets to the capabilities discussion through asking two key questions; what do I need to be able to stay gainfully in business – these are the ‘mission-critical’ projects. The second question asks what the business needs to:

.. be better than our competitors at these processes and their functionality. To sustain our competitive advantage, we must constantly innovate how we perform [these processes] and deliver [this functionality]


Making it Usable  I’d like to see more emphases on capabilities thinking in the PMBOK. We see nascent capabilities assessment in the PMBOK’s emphasis on connecting to a strategic management objective during project scoping. But I’m thinking now that including a capability assessment within a scope document relegates the assessment to a much smaller part than it needs to play. I’m thinking now that perhaps capability assessment needs to be its own step in the initiation process, its own chapter in the PMBOK, with its own methods, tools, outcomes, processes.