Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What does a Scrum Master do during ceremonies?

I was recently asked the question, "What does the SM actually do in Scrum meetings, apart from facilitating" - so here is my view. It coincides with what I do, not with an absolute stance of "This has to be like this".

As Scrum Master, there are different modes I take during a ceremony. My "mode of operation" depends on the team's condition. My indicator of choice is maturity, which I consider a mix of ability, autonomy and motivation.

Teams of low maturity

Understanding of ceremonies is low. I'm lucky when the team even understands why we have the meeting, much less what is an effective way to get the necessary outcome.
Maybe I even need to start with a detour, explaining the purpose of the meeting, the approach and intended outcome. As facilitator, I dig into my stash of facilitation tools to keep the audience both focused and engaged.
Engaged groups don't need to be whipped into action, so my most important job becomes timekeeping. I like to give strict timeboxes on each activity, furthering the mindset "It's not about coming up with a perfect plan - it's about doing the best thing we can do within the available time."

For really immature teams, I will facilitate everything. I "give the voice" to people who want to say something, I sum up the outcome, provide a photo protocol and ensure that someone takes accountability of decided follow-ups.

In cases, where teams even have less subject matter expertise than I have (indicating that they are "stone age"), I might even involve in discussions by providing potential alternatives they can explore and cutting off rabbit trails.

From a leadership perspective, I will provide clear direction on the ceremony form and necessary guidance on content.

Slightly advanced teams

When teams already have a basic understanding of the ceremonies, I don't need to state the obvious. I might use a Refocussing Question, "Why are we doing this ceremony?" as an opener to start the ceremony and raise awareness within the team.
At this level, I don't facilitate as much as I moderate - providing a proper environment for the ceremony to take place and ensuring that the team has the necessary means to reach their goal.

I still take control over keeping the agenda by applying moderation techniques that help the team to reach the next point autonomously. I will hardly intervene. My main intervention will be an occasional thought provoking question to open up different alternatives.

From a leadership perspective, I will provide guidance on the form and support on content.

Matured teams

A matured team doesn't need me to do things for them anyways, so why would I? They own the meeting.
Of course, they might ask me to actively facilitate - for example - hot topics they can not reach consensus on. In these cases, I will support based on pull-principle. Other than that, I will sit back during their session, reflecting on the meta-situation.

I will mostly be looking for things happening that those who discuss are not aware of - such as people suddenly withdrawing, someone taking control over the meeting, elephants in the room and things. The insights I gain may or may not be necessary to help the team grow. It depends. When I observe a severe dysfunction, I might intervene with a question like, "Is there a specific reason you've abandoned Tim's idea?" and otherwise leave the field to the team.

After the meeting, my insights provide the basis for reflection among the team, either on an individual or collective basis.

From a leadership perspective, the meeting is fully delegated to the team - I provide vital support on demand or when inevitable.

Side note on leadership

The underlying model is direction-guidance-support-delegation, moving further with increasing autonomy/ability/motivation.


What I do depends on need. I spend time not only to conduct the meetings with the teams - I also invest into transferring understanding and ownership towards the team. The team themselves needs the outcome and when they have learned effective ways to obtain that outcome without assistance, there is no need for the Scrum Master to impose anything. Over time, the Scrum Master becomes more of a reflection beacon than an actor.

Getting to that point can take a long time. In an orange organization, this is definitely much harder to attain than in a Teal Organization.

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