Luis Goncalves
Last updated on | Scrum Master

7 ScrumMaster Antipatterns That Every ScrumMaster Must Understand

by Luís Gonçalves
ScrumMaster Antipatterns

7 SCRUMMASTER ANTIPATTERNS

Greetings; In a previous blog post, I touched on Product Owner Agile Scrum Anti-patterns. This blog post will be dedicated the common ScrumMaster Antipatterns. Like before, I will point out problems and suggest small steps take to correct those problems.

Scrum Master instead of project manager

This problem is quite common with persons that are old Project Managers. Being a Scrum Master is a completely different role than Project Manager, therefore the way the individual acts must be completely different.

Typical Project Managers tend to organise the work of people instead of allowing them self-organisation. They tend to say how, by whom, and by when the work must be done, not giving much space for people to think on their own. The result of this usually teams full of robots instead of people thinking on their own.

Solution
First of all, the Scrum Master must be aware of his behaviour to be able to correct it. It is not easy; usually these persons worked for several years in typical Project Manager positions and simply deleting this behaviour will take some time, but being aware of it is the first step.

A great Scrum Master is one who allows the team to create the “How” part. I usually say that the Product Owner mentions “What” should be done, and the Scrum Master helps the team to create the “How” part.

Some weeks ago I wrote a blog post about what characteristics a person should possess to become a great Scrum Master: “Scrum Master as a Servant Leader“.

Some years ago I read a book that became part of my top most recommended books to everyone: “Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition.” If you are serious about changing yourself from typical Project Manager into a fantasticScrum Master, this book is a must.

Role Mixed with Product Owners

I see this problem in organisations where trust is not present, where everyone is trying to do everything to look good in front of management. This is not always the case, but my experience tells me that it is quite common. This leads to big problems, as people do not understand what is/should be their role, so confusion emerges and the productivity of the team goes down.

During my life, I have seen several teams not performing like they should because the Product Owner and Scrum Master spent more time discussing roles and responsibilities than helping teams to produce value for their customers.

Solution
Above I mentioned that typically I see this issue in companies where trust is not present. I will not define any solution for that element as workplace culture is something so complex that it cannot be tackled in such a small blog post.

Instead, I will help those who have this problem because they are simply confused about their role within the team/organisation.

Some time ago I wrote a blog post about the tasks and responsibilities of a Scrum Master; I think that blog post will provide a lot of ideas about what a Scrum Master is responsible for; it can be found here.

Lack of Understanding of Focus

Based on my experience, this is one of the most common problems that Scrum Masters face in their daily activities. Every day I see teams picking up dozens of features into sprints, sometimes as many features as team members. The same problem is seen during scrum dailies where I see developers picking up their stories, not caring much about work in progress.
As a result, the team ends up having as many stories on going as total developers. Of course, this is quite a critical issue, because teams that work like that are not focused, and as a result, they will take longer to deliver anything.

Solution
I have been coaching Scrum Masters for quite a long time on this topic. The solution here is to demonstrate to the Scrum Master and the team how important it is to work on one single topic at a time. There are several games that explain to people how context switching creates delays; I think this is a good place to start, to begin by explaining and making people understand what the problem is with this approach.

After that, Scrum Masters must help the teams in their daily activities. This can be achieved by paying constant attention to the number of features that are taken into the iteration and to the total amount of stories that are ongoing.

Ideally, a single team works with one single feature during an iteration and with one single story during the day. Of course, this is not always possible, but this is the ideal situation. The Scrum Master should facilitate this process by asking the team if they can or cannot take just one single feature into the iteration.

The same should happen every day in the daily when a member of the development team wants to start a new story; he should ask if all the tasks from other previous stories are closed. If they are not, he should pick whatever tasks are still open to close the story as soon as possible. I believe this will increase velocity and focus of the team

SCRUM MASTERS DO NOT COACH THE ORGANIZATION

This antipattern is quite common in companies that make the agile transition but do not understand the role of Scrum Masters. They believe the Scrum Master´s job is to take care of teams and nothing else. Unfortunately, this is completely wrong.

Their role is much more complicated than we can think of! One of their significant responsibilities is to coach the whole organisation in their agile transition. Some time ago, I wrote a blog post, which describes a Scrum Master job description. This post creates a better understanding of Scrum Master´s responsibilities.

Solution
Companies that want to succeed with Agile should understand the crucial role that Scrum Masters play in their Agile transition. I want you to be aware – good Scrum Masters are scarce in our society!

In my opinion, a good Scrum Master should be able to answer to most of the “32 Scrum Master interview questions“ in a positive way. As you can see, there are lots of things that a Scrum Master should do, however, it is quite common that companies do not have these kinds of people within their organisations, unfortunately.

A solution? A good possibility to solve this problem is to bring external coaches for some months to teach Scrum Masters to become a great team and organisational coaches. I know this is not the cheapest option, but in the long term, this is something that will save millions to any company.

SCRUM MASTER IS JUST A SECRETARY

Many people think this way… In such situation, I get extremely worried, because it means that people do not know what a Scrum Master should do.

In the previous case, I explained how companies do not understand how the Scrum Master is important to all organisation; even though this is not acceptable, but at least it´s understandable.

Nonetheless, when people think the Scrum Master is just the guy booking meetings, facilitating dailies and serving the coffee to their colleagues, this is when things get very dark, and unfortunately, this is very common. I´ve met several Scrum Masters that described these tasks as their daily duties…

Solution
Some time ago, I wrote a blog post that describes “The Scrum Master as Servant Leader“. This is exactly what a Scrum Master should do.

The Scrum Master has dozens of different roles and hats, but this is far way from the Secretary job that most of the companies associate Scrum Masters with. Teach, recruit and coach people to be what I mention on my blog and you will grow Scrum Masters into true leaders.

SCRUM MASTER DOES NOT COACH THE PRODUCT OWNER

Throughout my career, I´ve seen this happening quite often; it´s super normal to see the Scrum Master focusing on “team tasks” and forgetting the business part.

When I say he forgets the business part, I do not mean that he should do the PO´s job, but he should help the PO to build a product that brings the maximum value to the company. The Scrum Master should coach him with product backlog topics and help him to understand how can a team bring the maximum amount of value with the minimum effort.

Solution
One thing that I saw working very well during my career was when the Scrum Master invested some good time in studying about Product Management to understand the PO role much better. For example, it could be a good idea to have the Scrum Master taking the Product Owner training course or read a couple of Product Management books. See some of the ones that I recommend below:

The Scrum Masters that I coached and who follow this advice became very powerful Scrum Masters. They were able to help a team to grow and at the same time help the Product Owner find the most value out of the team.

SCRUM MASTER IS NOT RECOGNISED BY MANAGEMENT

In this case, I define management as middle management. I saw too many times that middle managers think they are the ones able to change the organisation, and Scrum Masters are only secretaries.

Middle managers are very important to any agile implementation. They are the ones that can help a company to succeed tremendously and create fantastic Agile and lean companies. On the other hand, they are the ones that can destroy any attempt to change anything. Unfortunately, in my experience, the latter one is the most common.

Solution
Like I explained before, Scrum Masters are very important to the organisation, and their importance should be recognised. In the end, they play a big role in teams´ growth, agile implementation in all organisation and Product Owners coaching, allowing them to produce products that customers love. In the first place, managers need to understand “What is an Agile Manager“, they need to understand that this job is different than in traditional companies.

The next step is to understand that nothing can be achieved alone. Managers need to understand that Scrum Masters are their partners of success and their life is much easier if they support them since the beginning. They need to understand and be aware of “The different levels of Agile Coaching“.

At last, I would suggest that senior management should hire external coaches. In this case, professional coaching will not only help the Scrum Masters but also middle managers who are then able to see how important they are and how much they need to empower the Scrum Masters to succeed in their role.

CHANGE SCRUM MASTER ROLE OFTEN

Changing the Scrum Master role within the team is something that I sometimes hear, fortunately not that often. The defenders of this theory claim this is beneficial for the team and different team members. The assumption here is that if people change the role of Scrum Master, the whole team can understand what are the difficulties and challenges of a Scrum Master and therefore be more understandable with colleagues.

Some people argue these ideas are possible because the role of Scrum Master is to make him disposable. Therefore, if teams do not need him, they can change the place. In my opinion, this argument is strange! Of course scrum master´s role is to make him disposable, but to reach that level, the team must be quite mature. And if the team reaches that level, Scrum Master is not necessary at all. Thus, there is no need for rotation as there is no need for the Scrum Master.

The big problem with this idea relies on the fact that every time a person within team changes, the interaction between people change. People that are aware of the four phases of a team: The Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing, know that these phases are all necessary and inevitable for the team to grow, to face challenges, to tackle problems, to find a solution, to plan work and to deliver work. Every time a person within the team changes, the team goes back to the beginning of these four phases, forcing some reset to the team.

Solution
The basic idea behind all these suggestions relies on the fact that people feel the need to share knowledge, however, changing the Scrum Master role often is by far not the best option.

I truly believe that knowledge sharing is something important, I think if “you do not create a knowledge sharing culture you will die“. So to share knowledge, you have several ways I present here.

AGILE RETROSPECTIVES PROGRAM

A complete self-study program where you will learn anything that you need to become a great Agile Retrospectives facilitator

Subscribe Me

Rate this post:
Luís Gonçalves

About Luís Gonçalves

http://luis-goncalves.com/

Luis is not simply a consultant, he helps people and businesses grow. He expects to deliver 10 times more value than what you’d actually pay for. As an Agile retrospective expert, customer happiness and client success are his biggest drivers!

Comments

Share your point of view

  1. Hi Luis, You have some good points in here about a variety of aspects of leading Scrum. I do have a number of concerns also.

    1. I NEVER use the term ScrumMaster as two words because there is no master or mastery in becoming one – just exposure to an interaction model – a paradigm. One becomes a master only through practice. Therefore, ScrumMaster is a coinage of a couple of guys (Ken & Jeff) that has a lot of value, has sold well in our industry and is recognized worldwide. It properly needs to be treated as a formal role in a Scrum context. That keeps it from being an object of ridicule and is simply what it is.

    2. I think coaching an organization is a wider role than ScrumMaster. That’s where the title Agile Coach serves better. And I agree it should include all the sills of a ScrumMaster.

    3. I think changing the team’s ScrumMaster periodically is not a problem as you describe – of course that depends on what you mean by “often” in your point. The forming, storming, norming, performing sequence is NOT essential and the reason for not changing who’s in the role. A well working team can have a member take on some or all of the responsibilities of ScrumMaster and grow that as a servant-leader skill in most if not all team members. Of course this requires they are trained OTJ and ideally in a class or coaching context. The coaching of management and perhaps product owners, needs additional skills that I’d like to think most people could learn if they want to. And then there’s removing impediments – a concept I think has been misstated from the beginning. If a team can remove an impediment, its an internal matter to the team. If the impediment removal requires the discretionary authority not held by team members, it’s probably also not within the discretionary authority of the ScrumMaster. Therefore, the ScrumMaster can only manage the impediment backlog and facilitate getting the people with appropriate discretionary authority over budget, people or policy to remove such impediments.

    I hope this helps bring more clarity.

    Jay

  2. A developer/QA person as a SCRUM MASTER
    I don’t know exactly how to put in proper words. I just explain my thoughts.
    Being a developer/QA person and acting a SM role, should have some bandwidth to manage both. There could be chances that he/she may not perform well being a SM but deliver quite well as a Developer/QA or vice versa.

  3. Hi,

    very good points indeed! I have to admit that I have stumbled into these antipatterns, like failing to coach our organization or PO. I tried and I knew I should keep trying but just let it go. Of course, there were moments of coaching but mostly I felt it was too difficult. Perhaps I didn’t have the necessary skills, courage or energy to try again and again. Perhaps my point is that it is a good start to know these anti-patterns but avoiding these might not be always easy!

  4. Hello,
    Do you mean pitfalls or antipatterns? A antipattern is an action you think will help, but in fact it is the opposite. I think you mean pitfalls. Meanwhile, I meet often this situation. Using supplier who are suppose to help. but in fcat they are not agile. They depend on heavy delivery process. hence, my project goes slower.

    regards and thanks for sharing your thoughs.
    Philippe

    1. Hi, no I mean anttipattern.

      Definition:”An anti-pattern (from the English , translated as anti-pattern ) in the software development a frequent apply bad solution to a specific problem.”

      Cheers,
      Luis

  5. I would also add an anti-pattern I have seen quite often. “The Ambitious Scrum Master” putting himself ahead instead of the team. Of course Scrum Masters are human beings too, but they should not “navigate” the team based on what they want to achieve for themselves. So a Scrum Master in my opinion should put aside personal ambitions and lower down the egoism a bit in order to promote the team’s health.

  6. Some months ago I thought like you wrote about Scrum Master role:
    “scrum master´s role is to make him disposable”

    But then I thought about this and I reach to the conclusion that let change my mind.
    As a Scrum Master I’m a Team Member of the Scrum Team and my Role is still valuable with a mature team too.
    I compare it with a great football team (or any other great sport team). A very good football team for shure can win a single match without his coach, but think about that great team a season without his coach. I will be shure the football team will get in troubles. The Scrum Team without a dedicated Scrum Master perhaps will not get into troubles, but for shure and at least they will stop in his development as a Team.

    So my opinion now changed about the Role of Scrum Master. I think every DEV Team should have a great Scrum Master independently of they maturity.

    1. Thanks for your opinion 🙂

      But I still believe, if they stop develop themselves they still have a long way to go, or maybe they simply do not have any strong vision where to get better 🙂

  7. I really liked your article. There is a common question that I heard many times: “Once the Scrum Master has resolved all impediments, his work becomes obsolete.” I wonder what your position on this question might be, because from my POV to anticipate, that the Scrum Masters role ends as soon as he swiped out all impediments is like saying “once a facility manager cleaned the whole building, no more cleaning will be needed in the future”. So I wonder if this question might a an anti pattern there as well.

[FREE]
[FREE]
X