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The Scrum Master who Sold his Authority

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Maris Prabhakaran gave a talk at Agile Tour Bangkok titled “The Srum Master who Sold his Authority” in which he examined a variety of common mistakes he has seen Scrum Masters make and suggested some ideas and tools needed to be effective in the role.

He started by listing the leading sources of failed agile projects, from the VersionOne stage of agile survey.   These are:

  • Lack of experience with agile methods
  • Company philosophy or culture at odds with core agile values
  • Lack of management support
  • External pressure to follow traditional waterfall process
  • Lack of support for cultural transition
  • A broader organizational or communications problem
  • Unwillingness of team to follow agile
  • Insufficient training

He then listed the common points of failure:

  1. Ineffective use of the retrospective.
  2. Inability to get everyone in the planning meetings.
  3. Failure to pay attention to the infrastructure required.
  4. Bad ScrumMasters.
  5. Product Owner is consistently unavailable or there are too many owners who disagree.
  6. Reverting to form.
  7. Management gives ‘checkbook only’ commitment.
  8. Teams lack authority and decision-making ability.
  9. No evangelist on site for remote locations.
  10. Culture does not support learning.
  11. Denial is embraced instead of the brutal truth

He used a “join the dots” metaphor to explain key elements he feels are important for success in the Scrum Master role.

Servant Leadership

He discussed servant leadership as a critical perspective for anyone taking on the responsibilities of Scrum Master.  Key personal characteristics for success in the role include being skilled in active listening, having the courage to speak truth to power, being a counsellor when team members need this type of support, understanding how to apply influence without power, and being adaptable in leadership style – situational leadership.

He presented this image of how the Scrum Master supports the team and Product Owner.

Scrum Master as Servant Leader 

He presented a checklist of questions for Scrum Masters to ask themselves and assess their servant leadership perspective:

  1. Do people believe that you are willing to sacrifice your own self-interest for the good of the group?
  2. Do people believe that you want to hear their ideas and will value them?
  3. Do people believe that you will understand what is happening in their lives and how it affects them?
  4. Do people come to you when the chips are down or when something traumatic has happened in their lives?
  5. Do others believe that you have a strong awareness for what is going on?
  6. Do others follow your requests because they want to as opposed to because they “have to?”
  7. Do others communicate their ideas and vision for the organization when you are around?
  8. Do others have confidence in your ability to anticipate the future and its consequences?
  9. Do others believe you are preparing the organization to make a positive difference in the world?
  10. Do people believe that you are committed to helping them develop and grow?
  11. Do people feel a strong sense of community in the organization that you lead?

Motivating Others

He discussed the importance of motivation in creative work, and how existing motivational models no longer apply.  He referenced Motivation 3.0 which presumes that people have drivers which go beyond simple monetary “carrot and stick” rewards.  These drives are

  • to learn
  • to create
  • to contribute to a better world

Effective Delegation

He discussed the importance of having a framework for delegation and how agilists are “benevolent anarchists” – self organization requires self responsibility in the team.  He presented the Delegation Poker cards from Management 3.0 and took the participants through an activity where they selected the level of delegation that would be appropriate for different decisions in a team.

The seven levels of delegation are:

  1. Tell: You as the manager make the decision.
  2. Sell: You make the decision but you try to persuade others to buy into it.
  3. Consult: You get input from team before still making decision.
  4. Agree: You make a decision together as a team.
  5. Advise: Your team makes the decision, but you try to influence it.
  6. Inquire: Your team makes the decision and then tells you about it.
  7. Delegate: You offer no influence and let team work it out.

Kata – Deliberate Practice

He emphasised the importance of consciously practicing the leadership techniques and having an adaptive mindset – being prepared to learn and change your attitudes and behaviours based on ongoing discovery.  He referenced Carol Dweck’s work and neuroplasticity.

Create your own Facilitation Strategy

He referenced the work on Situational Leadership and linked the four leadership styles to the selection of a facilitation style based on the needs of the team at a moment in time, as shown in this diagram:

Facilitation Strategy

He ended his talk by showing how the various skills and capabilities complement each other and are needed for success in the Scrum Master role.

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