Unreasonable expectations of my Scrum Master? 

 December 9, 2021

By  Anthony Amos

The scrum master has a job to do, but what that job is can get confusing. I was recently asked the question, “am I being unreasonable in the things I have been asking my scrum master to do (but are told not his role)”

Is it unreasonable to ask my scrum master to:

Q: Push the team to move things forward and achieve the sprint goal.

A: A Scrum Master does not establish the Sprint Goal, and is not responsible for its achievement. The team is responsible for both setting and achieving the goal. Missed goals are a learning experience for the team so that they learn how to set and defend realistic goals. The SM teaches teams how to manage their goal setting, but does not cause the team to achieve the goal.

Q: Actively get involved to resolve issues. E.g. if someone says they are blocked, actively work with them to unblock it

A: You should expect the Scrum Master to facilitate clearing blockers. Blockers may require escalation or collaboration with others, or they may be a limitation within the team. Your expectation that the SM will work with teams to clear blockers is realistic. When possible, a good SM will push the team to solve the problem themselves before jumping in, but the team must see and trust that the SM is there to help clear blockers.

Q: Provide me with status updates on the progress of the team, and forecast whether we are on track to hit deadlines

A: Status and progress updates are an abomination to Scrum. They are not an ineffective use of time and are commonly obsolete by the time they are published. This is why we have a daily stand-up and a Scrum Board. The team, along with the Product Owner, manages the Scrum Board, not the SM. You should be able to go to the Scrum Board at any time and see the real-time status as the work progresses. The SM teaches the team how to manage their board and holds them responsible for maintaining it. Some teams use a physical Scrum Board and others use virtual boards in products like Jira and Notion. The team is also responsible for their own forecasts in collaboration with the Product Owner. The Scrum Master does not produce reports or projections.

Q: Make sure our Jira is tidy and used properly. E.g. story point estimates on everything, junk cleared out

A: Ah, so you do use Jira. If it is being used properly then you don’t need your SM to provide status updates and projections. They are part of Jira and can be updated by the team in real-time. You are correct when you expect the SM to make sure your Jira is used properly, but it is the Product Owner’s job to ensure it is complete and accurate. The SM may build displays within Jira for teams to effectively present information to stakeholders.

Q: Am I being unreasonable in my expectations? According to engineering, all of the above is the job of my product owners rather than the scrum master.

A: You are not totally unreasonable, but some of your expectations are not consistent with Scrum. In those cases, the SM should rightfully push back. At the same time, the SM is responsible for educating people in the organization on Scrum. So if there are expectations that are inconsistent with Scrum, the SM should take the lead in helping everyone to gain an accurate understanding of WHY scrum works the way it does. Oh, and don’t let your SM get away with just referring to the Scrum Guide as the reason for doing things a certain way. The SM must understand the underlying principles that make scrum teams successful, and that is much more than an 11-page guide.

Read more about managing Agile Teams here.

Anthony Amos

Anthony started creating software in 1981 when he curiously picked up the programming manual for a Wang OIS Word Processor while deployed with the US Navy. He had never seen a computer before, but he taught himself how to write programs that made his Navy work easier and more accurate.
After his honorable discharge in 1986, he began creating financial and analytical software for diverse organizations including Verizon Wireless, JP Morgan Asset Management, GoldenTree Asset Management, NASDAQ, Prudential Insurance, AT&T Capital Corporation, Lehman Brothers, Ernst & Young, and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of New Jersey.

Demonstrating his commitment to the principles and values of Agile Software Engineering, Anthony is a recognized SAFe® version 5 Program Consultant and holds many of the most challenging and difficult to attain Agile certifications. His practice is grounded in Agile Frameworks as he leads clients to implement Scrum, Kanban, Scrum with Kanban, Scaled Scrum with Nexus, and Scaled Agile Framework. He believes in using the framework that best fits the organization's cultural and business direction while maintaining disciplined processes.

Tony Amos

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