Wednesday 7 September 2011

Agile Practitioner IL - 3rd Meeting

Sunday evening we met for the 3rd time. This time Roy Osherove discussed 10 mistakes team leaders make an updated version of the slides can also be found here.
During the talk Roy mentioned several books, out of those I really recommend Johanna Rothman & Eshter Derby, Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management. For me that book was a career changer. I recall reading it as a team leader and for the first time I felt someone actually wrote a book that explained to me what a team leader job is all about. Also the book is filled with practical techniques that can be applied as is. from planning to conducting one on ones. Just the sort of advice I needed at that time.

Scrum Master vs. Team Leader

Towards the end of the session a discussion rose regarding the place of the scrum master and about the amount of authority he as over the team.
On one hand we all know that a scrum master is not the team leader. and it is considered a bad practice to make the team leader into one. However, it is also clear that the Scrum Master as defined by his roles and responsibilities, should lead the team helping them to become better at what they do. and in fact in most cases the natural candidates for becoming the scrum masters are the team leaders.
So where does the line from leader to manager is drawn?
Actually I don’t have a good answer for that. My gut feeling tells me that a “good” team leader, will fit the role of a scrum master very easily. Yes there are some traps and pitfalls that he should avoid, but if he is “good” that should not be a problem. However, many team leaders are not “good” and there is a real danger making them scrum masters. While as a team leaders they might manage to still function, as scrum masters they are not equipped to handle an agile transition which by itself is hard enough. In most cases they just ruin any attempt at any kind of an agile process. In my eyes the job of a scrum master is so much harder and it take a more experienced person with the “right” state of mind to do a good job. Leading a team is much harder then managing it.

The “Good” team leader

the million dollar question is of course how to sort the “good” team leaders from the rest?
  • Are they the team leaders which demonstrate the best productivity in their teams?
  • Are the the one most liked by their teams?
  • are they the ones most appreciated by their managers?
  • or is it something completely different?
don’t really know.
The only thing I did found along the way, is that there is a strong correlation between team leaders exert minimal authority over the team to those who becomes great scrum masters. So when I see a team leader which doesn’t “tell” his team what to do, and instead asked them many questions I know that there is a good candidate for becoming a Scrum Master.


Anonymous said...

The good ones are the ones that helps team members rise up and become better at what they do. "Better" being a lot of different things.
A Scrum Master, to me, does the same thing but the individual being guides is really the team instead of an individual team member.
I don't see the Scrum Master as a leader in anyway. Initially, it might be a guide but as soon as you have working retrospectives and people get the "Agile idea", Scrum Master as the team and organisation matures more and more becomes a facilitator rather than executor.
If authority is needed, it sounds like there's some sort of conflict. Those are typically not always successfully solved simply by trying to figure out who has the highest authority within the problem realm, but rather by analyzing root cause and expected outcome of the conflicting propositions, and then picking one based on whatever long or short term criteria is politically thought of as most important for company success. YMMV. ;)

Rafael Viveiros said...

Can't agree more. I would say that the perfect SM is the one that the team feels confortable to work with.

MJ said...

I think the title "Team Leader" is not needed, but leadership is. It's up to each person on the team to provide leadership.

It just so happens that most ScrumMasters will be the person to provide leadership.

As John Maxwell says, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." Who provides it? I don't know. As long as someone steps up.

MJ Wivell

Lior Friedman: said...

I'm not sure i agree,I think that part of the roles of the SM, does define him as a leader (to some extend). and, since he is given no authority, his job is sometime a little more complex.
i do agree that the actual need for using that authority, does suggest that there is something deeper that is not working.
However, sometime the quickest way to move to a position in which the team is self managing, is to excert some authority.
Actually, thats what Roy described at his session as "being in Chaos". At this stage the team is so busy with handling the day to dayhe has no capacity for real learning. when that is the case the only way to move forward is by "telling" them. At this stage the role of the team leader, is to guide the team from that place into a better one

Lior Friedman: said...

cant that be said also about the team leader?

Lior Friedman: said...

I agree. Leadership is needed and ts only by chance that in many cases its the SM that does this.
I still think that most team still need a "team manager/leader" at least until the team reaches the point in which it is self managing. (but probably even then)

Fredrik Wendt said...

(I'm ceda, OpenID picked up this funny user name somewhere.)

Well, looks like we simply disagree then. :)

I think most teams needs external input after some time, in order to provide an "outside" view and get "fresh" ideas on how and what to improve next. But, I say it's essential that the team quickly starts getting self managed - early on - or they'll tend to not commit to tasks, not take on responsibilities without being "told", not listen in on daily scrums and care for the progress of the team.

So no - the Scrum Master might help the team come to these insights but should not tell the team what to do. Everything else is a short term solution which doesn't challenge the team or helps it develop.

I would really try to avoid the situation that @MJ mentions, where a natural leader also is appointed a ScrumMaster role. Single point of failure? Idol/icon culture?
No - for a team to work as a team, they all need to be able to step in and do whatever task is necessary. Acting as ScrumMaster eventually becomes one such task.

I myself and other colleagues have stepped in as Scrum coaches, acting as ScrumMasters and agile coach but also working with a team (real development). Initially, that has looked like 60/40 in my experience. After 6 months, I've been able to shift that to 0/100 and then look for a new team to help transition from "I'll do what I'm told to do" to "I'll do what is needed and I know what to do and how to do it".

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