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Why I Hated Being a Scrum Master and the Rockstar Scrum Team that Made Me Love It

Some years ago, I called my baby boomer mom to let her know she didn’t need to pick up my little one from aftercare for the next couple of weeks because I would be working remotely. 

She became silent unable to comprehend the concept of working from home and then blurted out, “What do you do at work anyway?!” 

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She’d never me asked that before and I just assumed she already knew.   

I responded, “Nothing, really.”  

Let’s just say she didn’t like that answer very much…she went right into mother mode making it very clear that she hoped I didn’t go around saying that at work or to other people. Let me explain….   

…Hated it!

“Of course I do “work” Ma, it’s that sometimes I just feel like I’m not as important or significant as the software engineers or quality assurance analyst.”  Coming from an Industrial Engineering and lean manufacturing background, I considered my work as a Scrum Master ancillary or non-value added work – not waste necessarily. I never contributed one single solitary line of code to the end product and that bothered me.  

This caused me to pause and think. Why does this bother me? Even though I had been very successful in my role, the guilt was also very real. Initially, I thought maybe I was being over dramatic.  Then I thought, maybe it’s because of all the myths circulating about the Scrum Master role or the fact that I was frequently asked: “So what does a Scrum Master do all day anyway?”  It’s actually a pretty valid question considering many of the common misunderstandings about the role. 

The turning point…

It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to coach a Scrum Team full of some pretty amazing people that I truly embraced the role of Scrum Master. About one year into their agile adoption, the team had all the characteristics of a good Scrum Team; they conducted every event and activity, every single Sprint and all of the artifacts were completely transparent. The Product Owner was 100% dedicated with decision making power and the Development Team was truly self-organizing and cross-functional. This was also a team of 60+ people across 3 time zones and 4 locations, more than 9 months behind schedule, grossly over budget, and severely demoralized.  

After a full Sprint of observing, talking with team members, and gathering data, I was prepared to take over as their Scrum Master.  During our reset meeting, I shared my coaching strategy with the team. Part of which was my goal of ultimately working myself out of a job. This took them by surprise. One member said to me “So it’s that bad that you wanna quit already?!”.  “No, not at all,” I replied. “I believe the sign of a true leader is when the right things continue to happen at the right times even after the leader is gone or not present.” 

The first order of business was to come up with a team name and slogan…just kidding. Creating a Definition of Done was the #1 action item…..and then the team name…lol.  Pale Blue Dot: Small Bytes, Big Delivery was born and 3 months later they were totally living up to the name! We were getting stuff done, having fun doing it and our stakeholders were very very happy!  After a sponsored lunch to celebrate our success, I was taken by surprise when the team presented me with a beautiful card and gift. The card was full of thank you’s, encouraging words, mini-testimonials, and references to me being a “savior”!  But what had I done? Nothing right? After all, they did all the work. 

Truth is the impact of the Scrum Master role in Scrum is indirect and very much hands-off.  With little to no authority, the Scrum Master is accountable for teaching Scrum, Coaching the Scrum Team and Organization, and removing impediments.  Though these activities do not contribute directly to the delivery of a Done increment it’s all very necessary work in order to facilitate the development and improvement of the Scrum Team Sprint over Sprint.  Furthermore, a Scrum Master who intervenes to achieve a Done increment may complicate things thereby creating dependency on them, potential stagnation, the disempowerment of the Development team and low Morale.

ba da ba ba ba… I’m lovin’ it!

I realized that although I will likely never write a line of code as a Scrum Master, the impact I can have on a Scrum Team can’t really be quantified. Scrum Masters measure their success by the growth and success of others. They inspire, enable, and challenge others to higher greatness. Coaching a Scrum Team and fostering a workplace environment that enables them to create value consistently provides a source of gratification and happiness that can go beyond the “Done” Increment and even the workplace. I loved the idea of my teams going home to their loved ones after a fun, productive and creative day at work!!!  

A simple shift in perspective helped me absolutely love my job as a Scrum Master and the best part is that I benefit too….

  1. I have the privilege to work with some of the most brilliant and talented people on the planet. 
  2. I get to be a part of building some pretty amazing products and services.
  3. I am able to genuinely connect with and establish meaningful relationships with great people.
  4. I am constantly met with opportunities to grow and develop both personally and professionally.
  5. I have learned to be comfortable with failure…after all, it’s only feedback.
  6. I get to care for people and make them feel valued and respected.
  7. I have learned to be patient and to be okay with silence. (never saw this one coming)

Sometimes the way we look at things can have a huge impact on how we feel about them. I would love to hear how a change in perspective about your job, relationship, etc. made things better.

Danielle Pollard

Danielle is a Senior Managing Advisor with Responsive Advisors. She specializes in agile team development and peak performance strategy.
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