Cause Change by Learning & Growing Together as Scrum Masters

By Christiaan Verwijs, Professional Scrum Trainer, Scrum.org

Scrum Masters are often understood mostly as “team coaches”. Yet, their role is vastly more important. The Scrum Guide emphasizes that Scrum Masters are responsible for leading and coaching organizations in the adoption of Scrum and causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team.

And this makes sense; Scrum Masters are in a perfect position to see how missing skills, red tape, external dependencies, and other organizational impediments impact the ability of Scrum Teams to deliver working software every Sprint. Like car mechanics who try to fix cars by only looking at the tires while ignoring the broken engine, Scrum Masters who only focus on the team will miss the bigger, more important changes.

“Like car mechanics who try to fix cars by only looking at the tires while ignoring the broken engine, Scrum Masters who only focus on the team will miss the bigger, more important changes.”

What’s the point of trying to deliver working software every Sprint if product roadmaps dictate yearly releases? What’s the point of self-organization if the team composition is changed by HR every month? What’s the point of Product Owners if they have no freedom to make decisions about how to spend the budget?

Scrum Masters should be able to take, and have, the responsibility to change the whole system, not just individual parts. Incidentally, if Scrum Masters are allowed and encouraged to this, the sometimes-dysfunctional need for Agile coaches evaporates.

“Scrum Masters should be able to take, and have, the responsibility to change the whole system, not just individual parts.”

But how ….. ?

This is a tall order. Thankfully, Scrum Masters have two powerful instruments at their disposal; transparency and community.

Scrum Masters represent a novel paradigm in organizations. No role that came before does what Scrum Masters do. And therein lies the confusion that turns them into ‘team coaches’. The novelty of Scrum Masters is that their purpose is to actively reflect back to organizations what the consequences to empiricism are of how work is organised. And to do so, they need to be able to see the whole system.

Scrum Masters lead organizations towards agility by using the very empirical process they are helping organizations implement. They make transparent what is happening in organizations, and specifically what is holding back Scrum Teams from delivering completed software every Sprint. And by doing so they — often painfully — illuminate what needs to be fixed right now.

While creating this transparency, Scrum Masters encourage the necessary inspection and adaptation. They bring together the people needed to change how work is done so that impediments can be removed on whatever level of the organization. Thankfully, they have many potential partners to work with. From other Scrum Masters in the organization to Product Owners, to members of their own Scrum Team and to managers who want to achieve valuable outcomes.

The power of communities of Scrum Masters

Barry Overeem and I are Scrum Masters. We visit and work with Scrum Masters from many different organizations all over the world. We see their challenges, their successes, and their occasional desperation.

Where Scrum Masters actively seek each other out, more effective change is achieved.

We also see the power of communities. Where Scrum Masters actively seek each other out, more effective change is achieved. They can build on each other strengths, learn together and drive change where one Scrum Master is not enough. These communities also offer a place to recharge, to vent frustrations and to creatively discover new solutions to hard problems. This is also why we encourage Scrum Masters to find each other and work together in organizations and to learn together. We have facilitated ‘learning journeys’ at KPN, ANWB and other organizations. Scrum.org also offers a nice overview of what such a learning path can look like.

A recent meetup of The Liberators Network, a community of Scrum Masters to support each other and grow together

But we believe we can do better. As Scrum Masters, we want to create a community where Scrum Masters from many different organisations and backgrounds can work together to drive change in their respective organizations. By bundling our creativity, intelligence and experience, we believe we can help Scrum Masters make a bigger impact. That is why we decided to start a public Scrum Master Learning Journey, and we happily invite you to join.

Here’s how we want to help

We will kick-off the Scrum Master Learning Journey on September 17, 2019, in Amsterdam. This workshop is intended for Scrum Masters who are excited about improving their ability to make a change in their organization (or the organizations they work for). Together, building on our shared intelligence, we will design a year-long learning journey. What skills, practices and techniques are necessary? Where do you want to grow and develop? Where can you find help? You will then tailor this journey to your needs. How will you make progress? Obviously, we will make good use of the Scrum Master Learning Path.

Participating Scrum Masters start their journeys during this workshop. If you are a Scrum Master for an organization with an internal community of Scrum Masters, you can either join with all of them or join with a few representatives to design that journey for your group and start it afterward.

After the workshop, Barry Overeem and I will host frequent, bi-monthly meetups and 1- or 2-day deepening workshops to encourage participating Scrum Masters to learn & share experiences and find novel solutions to persistent challenges. The meetups will have the characteristic of a Retrospective where we share experiences and give and get help. We will also try to add virtual meetups to create connections throughout the world.

The workshops are connected to crowd-sourced themes and offer opportunities for deepening skills, developing strategies and learning new techniques (e.g. ‘How to create a developer-friendly culture?’, ‘Dealing with conflict in teams’ and ‘Automate those deployments’). We are currently in the process of bringing in highly experienced practitioners from all over the world — like Daniel Vacanti, Julie Huffaker, Karen Dawson, Fisher Qua, Anna Jackson, Peter Gotz, Thomas Schlisser and many others — to be a part of, and contribute to, this learning journey. We are also planning to host Professional Scrum Master II– and Professional Scrum with Kanban-classes as part of this journey for those wanting to go deep and/or getting a PSK or PSM II certificate.

Eager to start your learning journey? You can sign up here for our public learning journey for Scrum Masters in the Netherlands. Or work with local Professional Scrum Trainers from Scrum.org to plan similar events in your area. We happily support & connect the journeys taking place throughout the world.

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