Tobias Mayer, who I respect very much, recently put his thoughts about ScrumMasters into a blog post. The post that can be summarized best by its title: Delete [ScrumMasters]. The strongest point of the post goes as follows:
“I believe the concept of ScrumMaster has done more damage to our industry than it has aided in change. It has been a way for individuals and organizations to jump on the Agile band wagon, in a mostly painless way (discounting severe certification costs) and continue to do much as they were doing before.”
It isn’t a surprise for me that the post gained a lot of traction. Many experienced leaders in our community have quickly supported Tobias’ crusade.
I agree with vast majority of what Tobias has written. I like the diagnosis he makes. I even believe we should be told such things by our thought-leaders. Yet I don’t jump on the bandwagon of spreading the epiphany: we don’t need ScrumMasters anymore.
One of stories that instantly pops into my head whenever I hear about the role of ScrumMaster is the one John Cieslik-Bridgen, who used to be a ScrumMaster at Lunar Logic, shared with me once:
“We were doing a “design your ideal team” exercise. In this exercise, I liked the fact that I wasn’t referred to as a ScrumMaster, rather ‘a John’, as in, “we’ll need ‘a John’”. I think the use of the word “coach” much better reflects what I try to do.”
On a side note: I’d love to have “a John” as a title on my business card someday. After all, many teams need a John.
By this point you may wonder, which part of Tobias’ post I haven’t understood, as the story is totally aligned with the article. Well, I have understood the post. John’s story, however, is just one side of the coin.
The other is that few organizations are mature enough to hire, or promote, a John. Conversely, many companies lose their Johns, these great coaches and counselors, because they don’t have a named place for them. What’s more, organizations often need some kind of framework to even allow a role of a John. This framework very often happens to be Scrum and the role is called ScrumMaster.
I don’t say it is a magic pill that solves every problem in an organization. I just say this step is often very helpful in moving to the next level for both the org and for a John.
And yes, I can think of other, arguably better, means to an end of organizational and personal improvement, but I find this one working surprisingly often. To quote Tobias once more: “Sorry guys, it’s what I see.”
I actually see much value if a John blossoms and eventually leaves the organization because it just scratches the surface and doesn’t really introduce agile values. At the end of the day we still have one more great guy on the job market.
While I agree with the argument that the ScrumMaster role is often abused and I don’t really like how it is defined, I still consider it one of the valuable options for organizations. The option that may end in preservation of status quo, but also in creating a space for people who will take the org to the next level.
Does it mean we should throw away the role as a whole? Well, in mature organizations, where there is a good understanding of the reasons that ScrumMasters were introduced and what they are supposed to do, I see no reason to cultivate the role or the title.
On the other hand I still see the ScrumMaster role as a tool that can create space for change agents (I hate this name too) and catalyze improvements. After all, would there be a John without a ScrumMaster first?
Have I just written a post in defense of the ScrumMaster role? Oh well…