The Scrum Guide (2017) states that ScrumMaster helps the team understand the Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values. One might think that meeting the requirements of this role is straightforward, and possibly easy to do. However, the fact is that performing the role of the ScrumMaster presents many challenges and requires this individual to have the necessary knowledge regarding how work gets done in the respective organization (i.e., corporate culture).

Pitfall #1

Trainer Steve Spearman of Agile for All states that a common ScrumMaster pitfall is failing to overcome past tendencies, such as opting to take a command-and-control project manager approach. The Scrum Guide is clear that the ScrumMaster should take a servant leadership role, and not one where orders are barked to the Dev Team at the beginning of each day. Given that many new ScrumMasters come from the waterfall way of doing business, it’s common to treat Scrum meetings as status sessions. In other words, they will expect the Dev Team to provide an update regarding the work performed and are ready to provide direction on what to do next. As you can tell from this discussion, this directive approach where there are sprinkles of Scrum practices falls short of creating a truly committed and engaged Scrum Team.

Pitfall #2

Spearman notes that another common ScrumMaster pitfall is failing to understand the true intent and power of the role. As noted earlier, the ScrumMaster is a servant leader to the team. For example, the ScrumMaster serves the Product Owner by doing the following: (a) finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management; (b) making sure the Product Owner understands how to order the Product Backlog in a manner that provides maximum value to the customer, and (c) understanding and practicing agility, such as welcoming change and delivering frequently.

The ScrumMaster serves the Dev Team in the following ways: (a) coaching the team to be self-organized and cross-functional; (b) helping the team as necessary to build high-value products, and (c) removing impediments that negatively impact the intended progress. An impediment is defined as anything that limits the productivity of the team, including the situation where a team member is pulled in too many directions.

Pitfall #3

Spearman states that another common pitfall is when an organization either fails to support or actively undermines the ScrumMaster’s role in changing both the team and the organization. An important point here is that many organizations struggle with the adoption of Scrum, which means the ScrumMaster should take the lead in coaching the organization in this effort by engaging in the following actions: (a) help the employees and stakeholders understand and enact empirical product development; (b) causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team, and (c) working with other ScrumMasters to identify best practices to increase the effectiveness of Scrum within the organization.

Key Takeaways

The adoption of Scrum in any organization requires a change in mindset. The traditional command-and-control approach is counterproductive to business agility. The ScrumMaster must overcome common pitfalls to ensure the Scrum Team is highly-productive and provides maximum business value to the customer.