Should the ScrumMaster be responsible for removing impediments?

This is one of the questions I was asked most frequently during the interviews these days. And my original answer to this question was OBVIOUSLY NO! In order to make the answer convincing, let’s find out some evidence to support it.

Scrum Guide

The ScrumMaster role is deemed as a servant leader in Scrum Guide. And there are a number of specific responsibilities of the ScrumMaster listed when the ScrumMaster collaborates with the Product Owner, the dev team and the organisation respectively. With regard to “removing impediments”, there is only one point shown as:

Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress.

However, Scrum Guide also claims that the dev teams are empowered and self-organised, which means “no one (not even the Scrum Master)” can take responsibilities of understanding, scheduling, implementing the work of the dev teams except themselves. And a dev team’s work is to deliver potentially releasable increments during each Sprint to meet Sprint Goal and to accomplish the Scrum team’s goal. Consequently, It seems that the dev teams should remove impediments emerging from the progress of delivering potentially releasable increments themselves.

CSM Course

Then I checked the material of the CSM course I attended. There is a clearer definition of the ScrumMaster role as follow:

Product Owner is responsible for the “What”, ScrumMaster for facilitating the “How”.

So the ScrumMaster is the facilitator to the dev team who is responsible for the “How”. And one of the works of the ScrumMaster is to “remove impediments on behalf of the team”. My tutor explained sometimes impediments may come from outside the team. As a coordinator between the team and the outside, the ScrumMaster is more capable of handling the interaction between the team and the outside to ensure the team focuses on the goal and creates maximum value. “Essential Scrum” supports this point of view as well,

The ScrumMaster is also responsible for protecting the team from outside interference and takes a leadership role in removing impediments that inhibit team productivity (when the individuals themselves cannot reasonably resolve them).

“Essential Scrum” P16

“The Great ScrumMaster”

This book introduces the pathway to become a great ScrumMaster with the goal of encouraging self-organisation. As mentioned in About “The Great ScrumMaster”, ScrumMasters focus on build Agile culture from the team level to the organisation level. Hence, the author defines several models relevant to the ScrumMaster role, the Scrum Team and the organisation based on the Agile maturity respectively, such as #ScrumMasterWay, Tuckman’s Group Development, Shu Ha Ri, etc. At the initialling stage of all of these models, the author suggests the ScrumMaster should help the team understand and follow the rules of Scrum rigorously, in the meanwhile, remove the impediments identified during the day to day work if necessary. Because at the beginning of Agile transformation, creating a sense of Agile inside the group is the most important and urgent task for the whole team/organisation. And the members need to be taught and facilitated rather than coach due to the lack of the sense of self-organisation. But the ultimate responsibility of the ScrumMaster is to help the team remove impediments themselves as opposed to being an administrative position of the team. Anyway, the way of how to help the team deal with impediments depends on the level of Agile maturity and self-organisation of the team in real practice.

Discussing With My Friend

I supposed that it is necessary to judge whether the ScrumMaster needs to actively resolve the problem according to its importance and urgency, which can be assessed by The Eisenhower Matrix. The reason is whether using Agile or waterfall, the ultimate goal of the teams is to achieve the goals of the project or organisation. If there is a very serious problem that may affect the product to be released, whoever finds it must immediately point it out. But if the impediment would not damage to short-term goals, such as low efficiency of the dev team due to internal communication problems, then it is necessary for the ScrumMaster to help them identify the impediment, think about solutions and iteratively adapt themselves.

Last week I have discussed this question with one of my friend Esone who has been working as a ScrumMaster for a couple of years. This point of view owns his support greatly. And he also indicates one of the advantages of doing this way that I have never recognised before. He found that if the ScrumMaster finds and points out an important and urgent technical problem in actual work, team members would be more likely to respect and accept the ScrumMaster, so as to collaborate with the ScrumMaster proactively.

Summary

In conclusion, I would say this question should be discussed and answered in several situations.

  1. The ScrumMaster should determine the current stage of the team. If the team is at the beginning of Agile transformation with less self-organisation, help the team identify, think and resolve impediments in an Agile way of working.
  2. The ScrumMaster should identify the cause of the impediment. If the impediment is caused by the outside of the team, the ScrumMaster needs to solve it through communication and coordination with external to ensure that the team can focus on achieving the goals.
  3. The ScrumMaster should assess the importance and urgency of impediments toward the goals of the team and organisation. If there is a big threat, say it and address it as fast as possible.
  4. Otherwise, help the team remove impediments themselves so as to encouraging self-organisation.

Finally, do not forget the team should analyse root causes, inspect and adapt together during the retrospective meetings no matter where the team is and no matter what kind of impediments occurs.

About “The Great ScrumMaster”

“The Great ScrumMaster” was recommended to me during an Agile workshop I attended several weeks ago. The book is not thick which mainly introduces how to become a great ScrumMaster through building a self-organised team. As Linda Rising suggests in the foreword of this book, “this is a guidebook along the path, the way, for ScrumMasters and Agile coaches“. However, I reckon that it is not only applicable to the people who work as ScrumMasters but also to the entire Scrum team.

There are three parts of the content of this book I have divided into roughly as follows: the ScrumMaster role, team building and the toolbox including useful methods, models and techniques that can be employed to help the team become better. From the ScrumMaster’s point of view, “The Great ScrumMaster” interprets the responsibilities of this role explicitly which are all around team building. And it provides various relevant models and methods for ScrumMasters to analyse, plan and implement. The reason why this book could be applicable to all members of the Scrum team is that it can help members to understand the purpose of applying Scrum, clarify the goals of the team, and identify the current situations accordingly, so as to collaborate with the ScrumMaster efficiently and effectively.

At the beginning of the book, the author exposes a rather common but serious phenomenon that the ScrumMaster is usually deemed as a valueless role subconsciously. I suppose there are two situations that cause this kind of bias. First, the team does not have a deep understanding of Scrum. Second, the ScrumMaster does not help the team reveal any apparent improvements. As a result, the role of ScrumMaster becomes formalistic and bureaucratic and may even turn to be mixed with other roles. For example, there is a person who works as the ScrumMaster, in the meantime, as the Product Owner of the team. In this manner, there would be a great conflict between business needs and team self-awareness.

This brings up a quite interesting topic, whether the ScrumMaster needs to be responsible for delivery. In this book, the author states that the ScrumMaster only needs to serve the team and determines the team’s self-organization as the ultimate goal (while I have some different understandings on this point of view, and I will explain it separately in another post). However, I cannot agree more about that encouraging self-organization is the ultimate goal of the ScrumMaster. In the Agile Principles, it is mentioned that “the best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organising teams“. Only if the self-organised team owns the competency to accomplish the work and meet its goals efficiently and effectively. Additionally, there is a fact that needs to be highlighted:

Every self-organised team is self-organised only inside the given boundaries.

As I mentioned in An Overview of Agile, Agile is a set of ideological values that can not only improve productivity but also contribute to a better working environment. However, we should be aware that it would be impossible for teams and organisations to become Agile without applying any rules due to the complex circumstances. In fact, the widely-used Agile frameworks, like Scrum, have been proven as the powerful approaches to contribute to Agile culture. Therefore, defining boundaries is necessary for any Agile teams or organisations in order to achieve the values of Agile. With regard to the boundaries of Scrum, Zuzi (the author of “The Great ScrumMaster“) suggests “Scrum boundaries are determined by the process – limited by Sprint Goals, Backlogs, and delivering working product at the end“.

Scrum is not a methodology – it is a pathway.

Ken Schwaber (2005)

I always believe that a great ScrumMaster can be deemed to a great parent who takes the right way to educate their kids. Normal parents only teach their children in a way that they understand or feel is correct, but great parents will guide and facilitate their children according to the different stages of the children and current deficiencies. Kids will always grow up. It is very difficult to face this world independently if they always live under the protection of their parents. This view also coincides with the author of this book.

Unless the ScrumMaster gives the team the opportunity to take over these tasks, she ends up as their ‘mother’ who is so loving and caring that her ‘kids’ are low-confidence grown-ups, dependent on her even in their thirties

So, A Great ScrumMaster should

  1. believe in Agile and Scrum.
  2. believe in people.
  3. be a servant leader.
  4. focus on observing and listening first.
  5. aim to encourage self-organisation.
  6. try to change the world to be better.