Learning from our failures is the key to achieving a continuous learning mindset. This blog throws light on the mistakes I have made when I transitioned from a Project Manager to a Scrum Master. Avoiding these pitfalls not only helps us to be better servant leaders of the teams we serve but also unearths the practice of self-reflection, so that we can learn from our mistakes in the true spirit of inspect and adapt. Failure is learning in disguise. Avoiding these mistakes or pitfalls could enlighten us to improve our craft of Scrum Mastery. I am calling my failings as syndromes.
I have taken a 2-day course, cleared the CSM exam with 40 questions and now I know everything to be a Scrum Master. I am certified, what else do I need to know? I know everything under the sun to make sure, my team follows Scrum and I will make sure Scrum is implemented on my teams by the letter of the law. Certification doesn’t guarantee or validate skills, but it shows their dedication to the occupation. Keep in mind there is more to this job than a 2-day class and getting certification under your belt.
Project Manager Syndrome
To unearth the true benefits of agility, traditional command and control style of management needs to give way to servant leadership. There were times on multiple occasions I noticed I was deviating to command-and- control when there were pressure situations or dependencies for Cross-ART impacts. The PM in me was taking over and I was becoming a deterrent for my teams that prevented them to self-organize. The voices in my head used to tell me, you have to make it happen. You are responsible. You have to make sure “the team lives by its commitments”. You have to make sure, “your team is predictable”. We are going to look bad in front of stakeholders and senior management. I learnt pretty quick that I cannot manage my team but I can inspire my team.
Agile management is more shepherding and less directing. Managers have been trained to control events. SM is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. We as Scrum Masters should make sure that, the team adheres to Scrum Practices while staying true to the Scrum Values. Explain ‘Why’ behind the ceremonies.
When you make decisions for your team, you are unknowingly training the team to look up to you, whenever a difficult decision is to be made. Now I facilitate decision making, I don’t make decisions for the team. I ask probing questions which help them get to a decision instead of making a decision for them.
Task Master Syndrome
During my initial days as a SM when I had few off-shore team members, who used to report that they have completed their stories and we still have 3 or 4 days left in the sprint and they were used to wonder what to do next; there used to be uncomfortable silence and no-one from the development team utters a word, I used to feel compelled to suggest what they can work on next; instead of asking probing questions and let them work with their team mates to pick up the next set of tasks to achieve the sprint goal. This behavior of mine was making the team dependent on me and was also massaging my ego that I am very important.
Scrum Master is there to protect the team from outside influence and to act as a liaison to the outside world if team needs help or some information but this doesn’t mean they cannot get up and talk to another developer or Scrum Master or Product Owner of another team. There were times I told my team, come to me, I will be the bridge to the outside teams and to our PO who is in Richmond. I will get all your questions answered. This resulted because of my conditioning of inventing work for myself and acting as a conduit or communication channel between the team and the stakeholders and other teams. SM should not become a communication barrier.
Scrum of Scrums Self-Consciousness Syndrome
During the initial days I used to have an OCD to educate the stake-holders and other audience present on the status of tasks my team has completed and how are we marching towards our Sprint goal. I wanted my updates to be valuable and crisp and few on occasions I have zoned out and not paid enough attention to what other Scrum Masters or team representatives are reporting, this behavior of mine prevented me to realize, discuss and avoid impacts with other Scrum teams, is my team in their way or is their team in our way etc. Scrum masters are “giving status” on the team’s tasks instead in Scrum of Scrums focus on discussing and avoiding impacts with other scrum teams.
No PO – No Problem -Syndrome
Once in a while there can be gaps, sometimes it takes some time to fill the roles on a team. In the past I agreed to Scrum teams which did not have a dedicated Product Owner. This is a recipe for disaster. PO needs to have time to support the team. There were times I had PO’s just on paper, they couldn’t
support the team as they had multiple teams, the worst was having one person who was the PO for 4 teams or PO’s who had another day job in Operations. The result was not well- refined or prioritized backlog. Product backlog refinement session & Sprint planning sessions without the PO. It had put unnecessary burden on the team to figure out “what” needs to be done in-addition to “How” it should be done.
Pseudo-Self Organization Syndrome
Teams will not self-organize until everyone from outside stops giving them instructions. For a long time, teams were conditioned to follow orders and it has made it to their muscle memory. Not coaching the over-enthusiastic team leads to refrain from directing the team all the time. We as SM’s have to make sure that how we can help the team get away from being order takers. Once ‘What” needs to be done is identified and prioritized, how do we empower our teams to realize that they own the, “How” piece. Trust your team to take care of the “How”. Pure self-organization assumes that a leader will emerge. This requires a leap of faith for the manager/SM or team lead, and it can be scary. This is not to say that the manager abandons their Team – rather, the manager needs to change their style of interaction, and constantly signal to the Team that they are now the ones who are responsible.
Delivery Manager Syndrome
The PM in me used to be bogged down by “When” are we delivering this feature. Will we meet our commitments? It took some time to start focusing on “Why” are we delivering it and the more I concentrated on removing the impediments or blockers coming in the way of “How” it helped my teams deliver quickly and increase the flow. Support your team, get out of their way
Learn from our mistakes and from the mistakes of others. Keep in mind we are changing culture, we are moving from command and control to a more trust based culture. We are the agents of organizational change.
As a Scrum Master or Coach, you are an encourager, a positive force throughout the company. This means you have strong listening and observation skills and can engage with your team when necessary to promote inclusion and build connections. This means your presence helps bring out the best in others and creates an atmosphere where people are excited to come to work. If you enjoyed this post, give it a thumbs up and comment about your own mistakes or learnings on your Agile journey.