What the hell does a chief Scrum Master (CSM) do anyway?

Ok, I get it.

On the surface it sounds like some sort of moronic contradiction.

When I first heard the CSM role I thought to myself, ” How the hell can you have a ‘chief’ ScrumMaster role?”

It made no sense.

Scrum is a framework built on servant-leadership, a flat hierarchy, the focus is the people not the creation of people who need authority in their titles.

Scrum ain’t about power in titles.

Right?

I feel ya.

To me to, it felt weird.

Awkward.

And if I’m honest I’m still not 100% comfortable with it.

But….my role simply evolved into what it is.

Maybe this blurb can give you some insight as to what this role actually is, does and why I can see the value in a Chief ScrumMaster role.

Let’s start from the T.O.P

You join a place where Scrum does not exist.

You’re given support to hire, create & facilitate the creation of a Scrum team.

In parallel you introduce the organisation to Scrum. 

Top down, bottom up, sideways.

Explain the empirical approach to software development, the Scrum framework, the buzz terms, the essence the mind-set.

Agile Evangelist to some.

Agile terrorist to others 🙂

The Scrum team gets up and running.

3 months in, the team have the fundamentals down. 

They know the Scrum events, understand the Scrum artefacts, have a good understanding of empiricism…you get the picture, they’re starting to look pretty solid.

Yep they’re a little rough around the Scrum edges.

For example sometimes say, in the stand up, they make a few errors (they miss something stuck in blocked or maybe they ramble on a few times when they need to off line stuff etc) but all in all, although different people have different experience levels in the Scrum team – as a team – they can pull it together and self-organise. 

You encourage ‘em to think about their own ScrumMaster.

The new ScrumMaster emerges.

The business is scaling.

You hire new players, you help facilitate the creation of Scrum  no.2.

Again, different developers – different experience levels in the tech & framework of Scrum.

You work closely with the new Scrum whilst being there for Scrum 1 to provide feedback, guidance, ideas – just making sure they get that support they need to stick to Scrum principles (Maybe the PO’s not ‘letting ‘em’ pair program – maybe hard dates are being set by the business without engaging the team…good old Scrum challenges)

Whilst this is all going on, you’re trying your best to educate from the top down.

Any chance you get – you’re actively speaking with the business, the head of sales, the head of marketing, the CEO, the COO – whoever, however – you’re trying to champion Scrum. 

So Scrum 2 are getting the Scrum mindset down as well, maybe not as quick as Scrum 1 so you hang around and work closer with ’em to guide a little more.

In the interim you’re being told about a new Product that the firm want to work on.

It’s a mobile device.

Again, we’re back to hiring, creating & facilitating a Scrum team.

So at this stage, you’re facilitating 3 Scrum teams – 1 team has a ScrumMaster, 1 team’s still trying to get there & 1 just got created.

So, who are you at this point?

MMmmm.

Well you’re not the ScrumMaster exactly because you’re floating around multiple Scrums doing loads of different things – it’s fair to say that you aint  dedicated to one Scrum.

You seem to be spending as much time educating on Scrum and fighting the uglier battles (stuff at the top down) more than being in the trenches with the Scrum team doing the good old ScrumMaster stuff (y’know, talking about what user story contains the solution, or facilitating the power of 3 discussion when stories get picked up, not being the guy who facilitates the planning poker session, not being the guy who tallies up key metrics at the end of the sprint etc)

It feels like you’re pushing the Scrum mindset at a higher level, for both the Scrum teams and to the key ‘senior’ stakeholders who directly impact your scrums (i.e. stopping sales from committing to low level features – educating on how to deliver through themes and that Scope can change etc)

At different points your hands on: maybe you go along to a Sprint planning meeting since scrum 2 always seem to over commit, or you join a refinement session because Scrum 1 are lacking the right amount of detail in their backlog at the right time.

It’s a constant act of dipping in and out at the micro level across the Scrum teams to give support, guidance or enforce Scrum rules.

And then zooming back out at the macro level to try and keep the education piece of Scrum moving amongst the business & at board level to make the transition towards Scrum organisation wide, easier.

It’s a really challenging but satisfying role.

I didnt start out asking to be a CSM.

But after growing & facilitating 1 Scrum team, there was a further need to hire and grow another.

And then another.

The scaling was fast and continues to grow.

It felt like the next natural step for my existing role within this organisation to have a backseat and help when necessary (at the micro level) but to help push the cause of Agile constantly (at the macro level).

Kinda tricky but if I could summarise what it means to be a CSM, I’d go with the below!

To me, the CSM role is and has involved:

  • First and foremost tirelessly pushing Agile across the organisation – Proactively educating from bottom up (Sticking to the rules of Scrum or the agreed Kanban process) &  top down  (presentations, informal chats, invitations to events etc)
  • Creating the right environment to allow Scrum teams to work effectively –  Making sure Scrum teams can physically sit together, having the right ingredients to each scrum team available (PO, Dev, Design, QA), slapping down whiteboard paint as much as you can to encourage system thinking, doodling, general interaction points everywhere etc.
  • Supporting & feeding back to ScrumMasters – learning from one another, helping when Scrum events are being compromised (be it tech team or business challenges) hearing their pains to open a dialogue with senior heads in the organisation to address the root cause of problems to effectively drive change (“we’re not getting a clear picture of why we’re doing this work from the PO”, “We’re seeing the business commit to stuff we do not know about” etc)
  • Helping to create a good rhythm between Scrum teams – Feature driven Scrum teams may need fellow Scrum teams to make changes or support their changes to get what they need – this is about knowing the refinement schedule of fellow Scrum teams to get your needs placed into their backlog. So rhythm in respect of timing,  getting work booked in before their sprint planning meeting for one example.
  • Driving the Scrum of Scrums – Again, changes from one team can effect the other. There needs to be a commitment from teams to meet regularly to mitigate risk, reduce duplication of effort and of course bounce ideas!
  • Creating a council of Scrum excellence – This is about getting the senior heads from Marketing, Sales, HR, Operations, all together so that you can educate, gain support to drive a Scrum transition organisation wide.

I know for sure there is allot that I’ve missed from the CSM role but if I were to only write blogs when I knew everything than I’d probably end up with empty pages!

Nothing like a working prototype to give immediate value to customers ;p

The CSM does work, it allows you to be hands on and off with your fellow Scrum teams whilst championing & driving the Agile transition.

It’s a very cool role.

Phew! 

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