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What Does a Scrum Master Do Anyway?

Scrum mastering is weird. You could even say uncomfortable. In most organizations, you have a lot of responsibility and not a heck of a lot of control because you probably aren’t anyone’s boss. You can’t just say “do this or you’re fired!” But on the other hand, even if you could do that — essentially give commands — it probably wouldn’t even be ideal.

If you’re leading a team, you want to help establish the goals for the team and then (as much as possible) step out of the way to let them work. Let them use their own smarts to figure out solutions for the goals and problems they are tasked with doing. It’s the difference between “command & control” versus “self-organization”. Teams that are self-organizing will almost definitely outperform teams that are more “command & control”.

If you’re the Scrum Master or agile coach or team lead, you’ll want to think about how to engage with your team so that you foster that spirit of self-organization. For a lot of people, it doesn’t come naturally so you’ll actually have to think about it.

And that brings us to a discussion of the sport of curling.

Curling and Scrum Masters

To understand the role of a Scrum Master, let’s first talk about curling. Yes, you read that right: curling. That Olympic sport played on ice. In curling, two teams play on a narrow, long sheet of ice, aiming to get their stones as close as possible to the center of the target.

Each team has eight stones, and they take turns throwing them towards the target. The thrower releases the stone, possibly with a spin, and then it’s up to the sweepers. The sweepers, without touching the stone, brush the ice in front of it to subtly adjust its direction and speed.

The Scrum Master as a Sweeper

So, how does this relate to Scrum Masters? Well, think of the Scrum Master as a sweeper. They don’t command the team, but guide and help them without giving any specific instructions.

In Scrum, there are three roles: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Development Team. The Product Owner is the closest thing to a boss, providing the vision and the goal. The Development Team then self-organizes to deliver the goal.

The Scrum Master is there to help the team be creative and productive. Now thinking about creativity or productivity, it’s pretty much useless to command someone to be creative or productive. Screaming “BE CREATIVE!” isn’t likely to yield creativity and in all likelihood will probably cause creativity and productivity to crater.

So. That scrum master (just like any other person) can’t command someone to be creative. Also, if you’re standing over their shoulders telling them every step of every last thing you want them to do and how they should do that thing, it’s probably not fair or useful to then say “well, just figure it out” and expect great results.

Commanding creativity doesn’t yield creativity. Micromanagement doesn’t yield creative solutions. Constant surveillance doesn’t yield productivity.

The Scrum Master’s Role

So, what does the Scrum Master do? They help the team to be productive and use their creativity to deliver done, working software. They lead through influence, not command. Just like the sweepers in curling, they subtly guide the team towards the goal without actually touching the ‘stone’ (the team).

The Scrum Master is not a manager, but they are a leader. They have to figure out how to lead without ordering anyone to do anything specific, as that would decrease the team’s innate creativity and ability to self-organize.

Wrapping Up

In a nutshell, the Scrum Master’s role is to guide the team and help them be productive and creative. They lead through influence, not command.

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