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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Help! My Scrum Master is Running the Sprint!


“Hi, I had a question.  Our Scrum Master is acting like a manager, running all the meetings and assigning work.  This is what they did before Scrum.  I thought Scrum meant the team did this stuff?” - A developer

The values of Scrum apply here.
Scrum! Scrum! Scrum! Scrum!

The sprint is the team’s commitment to a goal.  True commitment to the game and continuous improvement requires a level of ownership, otherwise it’s an environment of compliance and people don’t engage as well with that.

The barrier to allowing ownership is fear.  I often hear the micro-managing Scrum Master’s fear of what will happen if the team doesn’t follow their leadership.  "They might fail!", they cry.   There is often an underlying suspicion that others on the team are not competent because they'll make mistakes.   The news is that competence doesn't mean you don't make mistakes!

Allowing teams to make mistakes and safely fail from time-to-time requires trust and courage.  Trust requires respect.  A lack of trust and respect is a cultural root of evil.  When I see locked supply cabinets, dictated core hours or time-sheets, web filters, people referred to as “resources” etc. I know that the true adoption of Scrum will be a bit harder.

How can this be done?
Courage is required
Shifting from a mindset of individual compliance to team commitment requires courage all around.  The Scrum Master and the team must summon the courage to take chances and fail every once in awhile.  Emboldening the team to find this courage is more challenging than micromanaging via a task spreadsheet, but it’s also more fulfilling.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but trust and respect can be grown.

Scrum Masters can start with some simple things:
  1. Silence yourself! Stop doing all the talking.  Learn to allow awkward silences.  The team will fill the silence with their own ideas and solutions.
  2. Ask questions, even when you know the answer.  Teach them to catch fish rather than giving them fish to eat.
  3. Be courageous.  Demonstrate respect and protect the team.
The development team assumes a part of this challenge as well.  It’s often hard for them to shift from being assigned tasks to accepting responsibly for planning and executing their own work.  Respect and openness among each other is critical.

For example: if an artist is having problems getting code to work with a model, the entire sprint goal is threatened, but the team's focus on their shared goal should guide them to solve this problem on their own.   There is no need to blame the artist for not solving their own problem.  There is no need for someone wearing a manager’s hat to assign an engineer to fix the problem.

Does this mean managers/producers should be fired?
Don't expect leadership to
be overthrown, but leveraged
An underlying fear from managers or producers jumping into the Scrum Master role is that they should continue doing what they've been good at in the past or they'll be let go.

In the ten years that I have been training teams to use Scrum, I haven’t seen this happen.  I’m not saying it never will, but most stories I hear reflect my own as a manager in a studio that adopted Scrum.

I found that as teams became more self-organizing, there was a growing part of my time that needed to be filled with other things.  Eventually, about half my day was freed up by not micro-managing.  This wasn’t bad because the work that teams took from me was never the work I enjoyed doing.  So, I joined a team as their product owner and ended up enjoying the work far more as I was closer to the game and the people making it.

This might not be the path for every manager.  Agile should lead a studio to ask what practices and roles are benefitting their games and the people making them and what parts are not.  Again, this can threaten the status quo, which is why a lot of larger, established studios have a harder time adopting agile.

"Now I can make cool movies about
monkeys taking over the world!"
The bottom line is that these values have to win out for you to have full success with agile.

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