Luis Goncalves
Last updated on | Agile General Knowledge

Scrum Master as Change Agent, everything what you need to know…

by Luís Gonçalves
Scrum Master as Change Agent

Hi guys, hope to find you well and relaxed after your summer vacation. I did not write posts for quite some time, but now I am back. I cannot promise you that I will write every single week, but I will try, and if you follow my newsletter, you know that I will have a lot of help (from guest bloggers) in the upcoming weeks.  This week I have an advanced topic for you. Even if you think it is a simple one, I believe it´s  more complicated than it seems I wanna talk about Scrum Master as Change Agent.

“Scrum Master as Organisational Change Agent”

If you take a look at the Scrum Guide, it says: 

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

•   Leading and coaching the team in its Scrum adoption;

•   Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;

•   Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;

•   Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,

•   Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

The Scrum Guide does not mention the words Organisational change Agent, but I believe it is the part of the Scrum Master role.

 How many of you believe that this is the part of the Scrum Masters´role? As I mentioned, I believe in it, but not in the way how companies usually do it. Share with me, how do you perform this role at your business?

Let me guess, you as a Scrum Master, facilitate the Scrum artifacts and at the end of the sprint you have one of the most important ones: “Agile Retrospectives.” You as a good Agile Retrospective facilitator can identify several issues to be tackled for the next sprint. Without no surprise, you realize that most of these matters are coming up over and over again because they are organizational problems, and you cannot solve them inside of the team scope.

 What do you do then? Well, simple. You, as a corporate change agent, talk with your boss and try to convince him and the rest of the managers why it is important to solve all these issues. Assuming that your manager and his colleagues are excellent Agile Managers, they will pick up the problems and answer! Does this happen?

 Of course not, everyone knows that unfortunately most of the times the problems do not get solved because they get lost in the political, organizational crap.

 Your boss and his colleagues try their best, but like Deming said many years ago:

Doing your best is not enough. First, you need to know what to do; then you can do your best. Click to Tweet

Most of the times managers want to help you and your team members, but it´s just too difficult to navigate all the political current.

 Craig Larman believes that Scrum Masters should report to the CTO. This idea is quite good, and it enables the CTOs to understand what are the organizational issues the company is facing and is possible to solve them.

 Well, to be honest, most of us have great ideas, this does not mean that excellent idea is realistic or even possible. Let´s leave the fantasy world and come to the reality. How many of you, Scrum Masters, report or could even report to a CTO? I believe very few unless you work for a StartUp. This idea is great, but from my point of view completely unrealistic. 

 So what can be done?

 We do not need to have the Scrum Masters reporting to the CTOs (not saying this would not be highly desirable), what we need to do is to create a way to build visibility to the Executive management about the organizational problems. As you can see from the picture below, most of the executive managers do not have a clue about what´s going on in the organization.

 The solution is not having Scrum Masters reporting to CTOs, the solution, in my opinion, is to build a system where Executive Managers have access to the problems of our organizations.

 If you follow my work, you saw me talking about an impediment team board. The impediment organization board is a simple Kanban board that collects all the difficulties of a group, in a single place.  In a previous blog, I explained in detailed what an agency board is, you can find all the information here: “Organisation Impediment Board – How to manage Scrum Impediments.

 In my opinion, this board is a requirement that must be done for scrum masters to succeed as Change Agents within the organization. 

 How can you start this board

 In previous companies, I started this board as part of one of my Agile Coach tasks. Some companies do not have Agile Coaches and if they have, get his support to ramp this up. So do not get demotivated!

Most probably you are not alone (you as a Scrum Master) within your organization, so get together with your colleagues and try selling them this idea. I believe they will buy it. Like you, they have the same problem, they struggle with daily politics, and their impediments do not get solved (exactly like yours).

 After getting them on board, create a simple board, like the one that I described in my previous post (“Organisation Impediment Board – How to manage Scrum Impediments”) At this moment I would not make the board visible, I would keep it just for the Scrum Masters.

After that, I would meet with all Scrum Masters and would ask everyone what are the problems that do not get solved and cannot be solved by the team. Be careful, do not try to cluster them, unless they are the same problem or they have the same cause. My experience tells me that if we do this, we end up with big topics, which makes our life much more challenging because it will be difficult to find specific solutions for specific problems.

After identifying and collecting the impediments, you will need the help of team members. My suggestion is simple, for each impediment get together with a group of people that you believe are the right people to assist you with the solution.

 When you have a solution, do not stick to one single approach. In my original blog post, I explained that each solution should have two variables: cost and impact. When you get together with your group, ask them for different options and measure them based on cost and respective impact.

 If you do this exercise right, you will have several organizational impediments, BUT not only that. You will have what Executive Managers love: “SOLUTIONS.” If you do this exercise together with your colleagues, you will show to the organization that you guys know what problems the organization has, but more importantly, you can provide several different solutions. You are not complaining about problems; you are creating transparency of what´s going, and you know how to solve them.

 Next step is one of the most exciting steps (in my opinion) because it tells you if you should look for a new job or not  

Let me explain… With all that data it is time to have a meeting with the CTO or any other Executive Manager with decision power. It´s time to get together with your colleagues and explain the problems the organization is facing.  It´s time to ask for support to have this board visible to the rest of the team. It´s time to ramp up a proper process that will enable the company to get rid of the problems (see details in my previous blog).

In countries like Germany, where the organization hierarchy is adamant, you might want to be careful. Your boss might be very upset if you jump over him to talk directly with Executive Management. For me, this is not a problem since I couldn’t care less with the hierarchy. I just like to get things done and not waste my time with political games.

The reason why I mentioned about staying at the current company or looking for a new job is simple if you do not get any support from Executive Management to ramp this kind of initiative up, it is a clear sign they are not interested in solving the organizational problems. And it´s a clear sign that you should not waste your energy, time and knowledge with people that are in companies just to fulfill their career path and personal interests.

To be very honest, I never got any Executive Manager refusing this kind of initiative, every time I explained this kind of action they were euphoric to support it. 

In my previous blog post, I provide you detailed information how to ramp this up in your organization. Take a look at it and if you cannot do it on your own let me know. Only use the contact form on my website, and I will come back to you. 

 Coming back to the original title of this topic… I believe that Scrum Masters are Change Agents within an organization, but most of the times they do not possess the tools to do a great job. I believe this tool is a fantastic way to improve the life of Scrum Masters. I believe this device can provide:

 Transparency

I think this is an excellent way to give clarity to the whole organization about challenges and possible improvements. One of the companies where I implemented this had the Improvement board right in front of the main office door. Everyone that would step into the door of the company would find a big kanban board on the wall with the title “ORGANISATION IMPEDIMENTS.” Can you imagine a better way to show openness about our problems? 

 Continuous Improvement

If the organization is serious about this tool, problems will be tackled on frequent basis allowing the company to get better little by little. A great tool to create learnings, continuous improvement and keep everyone involved. 

 Helping Managers to finally work within the company system

For me, this is one of the most important parts. Most of the Agile Managers are completely lost in their daily operations. When a corporation goes Agile, they do not have a clue what means to be an Agile Manager. They start creating daily tasks to keep themselves busy and end up causing more harm than good. Most of the managers and organizations that I coach still believe that the manager´s job is to manage people and help them grow.

 Unfortunately, they could not be more wrong, the manager´s job is to tackle the system and not the people. People that do understand about system thinking know that if you want to have a high performing organization, you need to create a great system where people love to work and are allowed to produce great results. The creation of this scheme is the real responsibility of management. This being said I believe this tool is a perfect mechanism to help management to understand the system and aid teams to improve it.

 Starting the creation of a learning organization

When you read my previous post, you will know that every impediment is written in the form of a hypothesis. The reason behind this is very simple. When you write the possible difficulty in a suggestion form, you are creating the space to learn. You have a hypothesis, you do not know if your solution will work or not, but you try it out. After implementing your solution, you can validate if it solved the problem or not. In any case, you can take some key learnings that will help you with future activities.

 After reading this post, I hope that I provided you with a couple of ideas on how to do a better job as Change Agent. Remember, you do not need to implement everything in the beginning, just see what makes sense to your organization and implement what you think it´s the best. If you have any questions let me know 

 If you liked this blog post, please leave a comment, I would love to receive some input to make this idea even better. 

Thanks,
Luis

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Luís Gonçalves

About Luís Gonçalves

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LuisGonçalves1979

Luis Gonçalves is an Entrepreneur, Author & International Keynote Speaker. He works with Senior Executives to implement his ‘Organisational Mastery’ system so they can greatly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their organisations; enabling them to become recognised and highly rewarded Leaders.

Comments

Share your point of view

  1. Great post.
    The way it is presented spread continuous improvement and turn managers to care about the system.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I actually was talking to the CEO who was my only boss until last week. For three years, I had the chance to explain him issues from the R&D, that grew from 10 to 51 person in 3 years. Even with that said, it worked for around 2 years and a half. Now he is going towards putting structure, little chiefs everywhere, and he will filter this info through them, and not me who was maybe a bit too munch transparent for him 🙂 Great article ! I relate to it completely.

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