The state of Scrum Mastering

As most readers will have worked out, I’m not a fan of Scrum Masters. Partly this is because I find it a very mixed up role to start with (see my “Hard Core Scrum” post), partly because the way individuals and organizations choose to interpret the role is so variable the title is meaningless but mostly because the Scrum Master certificate is not, despite its name, adequate to prepare people to be a Scrum Master. The certificate itself has problems, these problems infect the role.

Still, more and more people are getting jobs as Scrum Masters. And this doesn’t look good to me.

A few weeks before Christmas, out of the blue, an e-mail from a recruitment agency appeared in my mailbox. This Reading based company used to have a good reputation, then it got bought, the main man jumped and the company changed its name to something exceedingly stupid.

In the e-mail the recruiter – whom I don’t know and have never met – extolled the virtues of Dr R. An exceptional Scrum Master, and whose CV was attached to the e-mail. What kind of agent is this who spams people someones CV? Anyway, its an insight into what Scrum Masters feel they need to put on their CV to get a job.

(Dr R, if your reading, this isn’t about you. Given recruitment system you are within you did your best, it’s the employees and agents that made you do this. Except I recommend you choose your agents with more care next time.)

Lets look at some excepts from the CV:

“I am a highly motivated and experienced techno-functional Lead Scrum Master. I am responsible for the deployment of Agile methodology in four different multi-site projects.”

What is “techno-functional” ?

What is a “Lead Scrum Master” ?

And what has happened to the self-organization and servant leadership we read about in Scrum books? This guy is responsible, not the team, him.

Move on to his last job – in a notorious *Staines office:

“Agile Release and Sprint planning and execution of thousand (sic) Story Points (SP) involving ten developers, five testers, project manager, product owner, business analyst and test manager.”

Sounds like the Scrum Master did the planning, shouldn’t he have facilitated the planning?

A “execution of thousand Story Points” – wow, thats erh… big? small? (What is the Right Size for a Story)

10 devs and 5 test, that sounds like a quality problem, maybe he’ll say something about how he managed that – erh… no he doesn’t!

And obviously as a Scrum Master he failed to remove management, he’s got a project manager and a test manager. Sounds awful.

  • “Deployment of Agile methodology from the basic to remote Scrum team management. Established Mingle Agile tool and trained Scrum teams to use Mingle. Integrated Scrum Board and Mingle in a single view. Implemented best Agile practices including Avatar and Scrum Weather Report. Working along with release and delivery team, I delivered many E2E solutions.”

“Deployed Agile Methodology” ??? How does one deploy Agile? And what about “Scrum is not a methodology, Scrum is a framework” ?

I’ve never heard of “Avatar” or “Scrum Weather Report” – anyone know what these are? – maybe I’m at fault here.

And again, “I delivered many E2E solutions” – no servant leader here!

“Conducted retrospectives and implemented many improvements e.g. accountability and visibility of Scrum activities. Early risk identification and solutions: shortage of resources, technical complexity (merge and migration, BI), test environment (time travel) and release bus alignment.”

Time travel? Does he really say “Time Travel?” – hire this guy now! Our schedule slippages are over!

So much of that bullet would fit in well on a Project Manager CV.

“Implementing Continues [sic] Integration and Testing, and prototyping Test Driven Development (TDD) and Test Automation.

How does one prototype TDD? If he only prototypes it what was achieved? And did he solve the quality problem?

“Successfully implemented an unplanned Change Request (35 SP) as a part of final sprint.”

Right, now, this gets serious. Sounds like he doesn’t approve of unplanned change requests, or at least they were a big deal (35 story points – yoh!) but if you really have CI, TDD and Test automation in place this is easy. Isn’t the whole point of Agile to embrace change?

Now the funny bit:

“Maintained an average Velocity of hundred (sic) over eight Sprints.”

Wow!

Go team Staines! – that is fantastic, did they pay you in Roubles too?

What happened to Scrum Commitment? Velocity is so XP.

And how long are your Sprints?

I wonder how long this guy will take to travel from Staines to say, Edinburgh? Thats what, 400 miles.

“Member and contributing to Scrum of Scrums, Agile Community of Practice, and Agile Centre of Excellence.”

Gee, if he is in the Agile Centre of Excellence they have real problems.

There is more but its drivel, lets look at some claims from earlier in his career.

As a Senior Scrum Master he:

“Defined Sprint Zero Definition of Done and implemented it across eight different Agile product developments”

Leave aside the fact that many think Sprint Zero is a defective working practice all by itself should it be defined by one man? Maybe he is taking credit for a team, where is the servant-leadership there?

Later on he states:

“Interface with venders, Business Process Owners and off-shore development teams, followed though the Service Level Agreement to maintain the software quality and acceptance criteria as a part of product management”

I’m sure he did, and I’m sure he was good. But is this what a Scrum Master should be doing? This sounds like Project Management while he says he was part of Product Management. Proof – if it was needed – that the Scrum Master role is confused.

There is more like this. It’s not the best CV I’ve ever seen but what interests me more is two things.

Firstly it shows what he believe employees want from a Scrum Master. There is nothing in this CV about servant leadership, self-organizing teams, facilitation, talking to team members and other soft skills. There is a lot about managing and administering. Clearly from his experience when an employee hires a Scrum Master they expect a project manager. In other words, it shows how completely messed up the Scrum Master role is.

Second this CV shows how some agile techniques have become tick list items. Story points. Sprint Zero, Definition of Done.

Finally, let me say, if I had to write a CV today I’d probably make just as many mistakes and offer just as many hostages to fortune. Really this is a comment on just how bad recruitment practices in IT are and how bad the CV is at communicating what you do.

(*According to the London rumour mill, a few years ago Thoughtworks pulled out of a project at this company because they couldn’t see any possibility of success. Another Agile Coach/Scrum Master was told at their 3 month review “You are unusual, most people are depressed after 3 months here.”)

“We can do it!” – Problems at Philips?

This morning I drove past the Philips UK head office, thats Philips the Dutch medical devices company with a sideline in consumer electrics. Because it is January it is dark outside, and the lights were on in the Philips office. (I guess hard working, committed, staff were already at their desks.) This combination of lighting meant that as I sat in the slow moving A3 traffic I could see inside the office and I could see the big banner draped across the inside saying:

“We can do it!”

Now I honestly don’t know what the story is with that banner, it could be a charity fund raising event or anything but my mind immediately invented a story – thats what minds do.

This looked like an exhortation. Management – who sincerely believe in the power of individuals were endeavouring to enthuse the staff to do something – build a new product, turn the division around, deliver on schedule or some such.

Of course I thought of W. Edwards Demming and principle 10:

“Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.”

Here we have managers who like me believe that people, the quality, enthusiasm and energy of individuals – and teams! – make all the difference. So why not enthuse them?

But I, and perhaps these managers also believe Demming: the system is 98% of performance.

Its a contradiction I’ve blogged about before (People or the System?) but seeing that banner really made it seem real. Perhaps its because I recently heard that Philips was installing SAFe throughout the company, they have even told their Agile Coaches that they can only continue working with Philips if they are SAFe accredited.

So which is it? – The people, or the system?

Will SAFe save you?

Or will a “Yes we can!” style banner?

So while I agree with most of what Demming has written, and while I think the design of the system contributes an awful lot to the performance of people in the system I’ve come to the conclusion: its complicated, and saying “98% of performance is the system” is a vast generalisation. It may be true in some environments, but it only makes sense if the people in the system have no control over the system. In software development the works have a lot of control over the system, whether they believe it or not.

Still, I find it hard to believe any of the problems Philips faces will be solved with a Bob the Builder style banner. Rather, if this banner is the work of managers who think such a exhortations might have a positive effect then I suspect Philips has problems far more serious than any banner could ever solve.

Of course, I actually nothing about this banner or why Philips have it hanging in the office, but I do have an active imagination.

Anyone from Philips care of offer insights?

2015 – not a new year resolution: a message for conference producers

2015 is here. Happy New Year!

I don’t really go in for new years resolutions but if I did it would be the same one I have had for the last two years: Go to fewer conferences.

In 2014 I went to 10 conference, and spoke at 9 of them.

Which is an improvement on 2013 when I attended 12 and spoke at 11 – although I ran a workshop at the twelfth.

The first call for papers of the year is already in my mailbox – BCS SPA – and I’m going to ignore it. Not because it isn’t a good conference but because I have to start somewhere.

I already have two conferences in the diary for 2015 – NorDevCon in February and DevWeek in March. And I’ll probably speak at Agile on the Beach and attend EuroPLoP so that is four already.

(Plus some local/user group events, I count them separately.)

So, if you are a conference organiser/producer and you would like me to speak at your conference the best way of getting me is: ask me directly. Part of the reason for cutting down on conferences is to cut down on the time it takes to complete call for paper submissions.

(Organisers of local groups and user groups always ask directly and I almost always say yes. In fact I often prefer these events to conferences.)

Right: now I’ve gone public with this “not a resolution” I hope I’ll have a better chance of keeping it.