Last summer I decided to learn more about what being a ScrumMaster was all about because at ESI we were in the process of launching a full 8 course Agile Practitioner Program. So, I enrolled in a Certified Scrum Master course. In a credentialed crazed world I thought I could kill two birds with one stone: learn about Scrum and pick up the CSM credential from the Scrum Alliance. And, that’s exactly what I did.
It wasn’t hard. In fact it was surprisingly easy. Sit in a class for two days and take a test. I didn’t have to “pass” the test. I just had to “take” the test to earn the credential. Odd, but that’s how it worked. If they did that when I was in high school, I would have gotten better grades. The Scrum Alliance has since instituted a passing grade (more here).
Scrum, as many of you know, is one of a variety of approaches to implementing Agile. Scrum is not a software development technique; it is a project management framework. The Scrum method is largely attributed to Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber who developed the approach in the early to mid 1990′s.
When we reached that part of the course where we were learning the various Scrum Team players, our instructor said there were the following roles:
- Business Analysts
- Quality Assurance, etc.
And then he stopped talking.
There was an eery silence in the room. Up shot some hands. He called on one guy who asked, rather dolefully, where’s the Project Manager? Our instructor said there is no Project Manager in Scrum. No Project Manager? Some in the room went apoplectic. He went on to say that the ScrumMaster was sort of the Project Manager but not really because in traditional project management the Project Manager is a command and control type of position, where in Scrum, the ScrumMaster is more of a facilitator.
The ScrumMaster is there to make sure that Scrum practices are followed, and that no one, especially management, interferes with the team’s activities, among some other duties. He also threw in the term “servant leader” as to how the ScrumMaster actually behaves. In Scrum, the idea is that the team manages itself; in other words, it’s self-organizing. The idea here is that when teams are responsible for themselves the morale is generally better and they’re more productive.
I could tell that many people had difficulty with the notion that the traditional project management role doesn’t exist in Scrum. Our instructor also asserted that not all traditional project managers really make the best ScrumMasters; it’s an entirely different skill set. This prompted much discussion because there were many project managers in the course, folks who had spent years executing waterfall-type projects. However, their companies now wanted to try Agile/Scrum to get products to market faster and to just be more successful.
What many people don’t realize is that Agile/Scrum is not just another “method.” It is based on some radical and subversive beliefs (at least for its day) about the best way to bring people together to develop software. This is why I have read repeatedly that if you want to adopt an Agile approach, you can’t just “do” Agile, you have to “become” Agile.
While that may sound like new-age, pseudo-scientific blather, there’s a lot of truth to it. All this to say, if your organization is headed into the Scrum world and you’re a project manager you might not be one for long.
And, by the way, organizations don’t become Agile by just training ScrumMasters. The most effective technique is team-based training so everyone learns together. Training just the ScrumMaster is akin to just training the quarterback on a football team and letting everyone else just learn from experience. No team ever made it far with that approach.