5 minutes to explain what a ScrumMaster does – to a bunch of 14 year olds :S

Microphone handed over.

Nerves kicked in.

” Jem is a ScrumMaster”. Said the lady who set up this motivational talk.

These were a handful of sessions, presenting to Edmonton County School students on what I now did for a career.

“ScrumMaster”

Cue the confused 14 year old faces.

With the teachers in the hall looking even more baffled.

This is going to be fun .

“Is he some sort of BDSM guy who uses a rugby ball instead of a gag ball” whispered the Geography teacher”.

How inappropriate I thought.

But then most of my thinking is inappropriate.

Pressure does funny things.

So, how do I explain to a bunch of kids what the hell a ScrumMaster does in 3-5 minutes?

Stick to what your good at Jem.

In these situations “I do have the ability ” I told myself.

The ability to use the dodgiest of analogises to get my point across.

“You see when you go into Asda,there are people on the tills taking money right? There are people working in the isles stacking shelves. Well, I help these people who do the day to day work have a voice and make sure their voice gets heard in the decisions which are made by the people who pay them”.

“I go into organisations and get the people at the bottom of the organisation involved at making decisions at the top of the organisation”

BRAP.

That was the immediate response from one member of the crowd.

For those of you who haven’t been raised in inner city london ‘Brap’ (usually accompanied by a hand signal that represents a gun, yes a gun) is a way of showing ‘positive acknowledgement’ let’s say. (you get me though?)

Then some claps, and a couple of cheers.

“What kind of places do you work in?”

Someone shouted.

“Well right now i work in…

“No as in what kind of places?”

“Industry?” I asked.

Nod.

“Right…. well I don’t work in anyone particular industry, can be media, it can be pharmaceutical, it can be banking…

But it’s all within the technology field”

The response?

“So you are a programmer or something?”

confused

Mmmm..

2 ish minutes in, you now have a couple of minutes left to explain that you are  in technology but ain’t a techy.

“Not exactly. Think of me as someone who supports a team of programmers & makes sure that they are happy with their working environment & makes sure they are clear on what we need to do to be successful”

With all positive facial expression of “Ahh I get it” the response was…

“Ahh so you are a manager of programmers”

Cue the emotional face palm.

Now I have like a minute and half at best to  to explain the difference between a facilitator and a manager to a 14 yr old kid who’s only experience with the word ‘facilitator’ was when they needed to get some obscure item from the care takers Facilities cupboard.

“I am a cupboard”

“A human cupboard that contains obscure items.

“Broomsticks, blue tac, deflated footballs, I am all of these things”

“I am not just any cupboard however, I am a mahogany cupboard”

I did not say any of the above.

I am not tall enough to be a cupboard.

I’m more like a bedside draw.

My real response went like this.

“What’s your favourite sport?”

“Football” he said

Ok, so imagine you are in say a… 5 a side team.

There are two different types of people who ‘run’ the team ok?

There is the manager & there is someone called a Facilitator.

Let’s first look at how the manager runs the team.

Before you go out on the pitch, this is what I tell you and the team:

“You, you go after the ball & once you get the ball, you pass it to Tim.

Tim you pass the ball to Michael

Michael when you get the ball hold onto the ball until Liam is unmarked.

When Liam is unmarked, then pass him the ball.

Liam when you get the ball, hit the ball with your right foot into the back of the net”

Ok, now imagine I am not your manager – imagine that I am the team’s facilitator:

“Guys, you’ve trained hard for this, take a sip of your Lucozade, and let’s win this match!”

Do you see the difference?

A slight look of confusion.

“Mmmm yeah but.. but how will we know guys know how to win if you don’t tell us sorta thing?”

The moment of servant leader enlightenment!

“How long have you played football for?

“Since I was 10”..

“So you’ve played for a little while?”

Nod.

“You like to play football.

You know how to play football.

You know where the goal is.

So go play football”

A wry smile appeared.

A smile akin to a newbie Scrum developer that is told “don’t worry about how the expert user wants the problem solved, we wanna leave the how part to you”.

“Think about it” I continued.

“Who is the one playing football, who is the one actually on the pitch, kicking the ball & has experience of knowing how to get the ball?”

“Me?” the enquriy

“Yep, you”

“Why should I limit your options on how to play football when you know how to play football”

“I want you to remain creative”

“I want you to be able to think for yourself”

“Maybe if you ONLY listen to my instructions on how to do things, you might end up in a situation that I didn’t give you steps for and then you might not know what to do”

That look “ahhh I get it” with some wide eyes.

“If I told you exactly what to do, if I tell you that you must pass it to Liam…  maybe  Tim becomes free in front of the goal and you don’t need to pass it to Liam….”

“If you think for yourself, we might score more goals”

Brap.

A good section of the crowd liked the sound of that.

ecs-badge-colour

I only had 5 minutes and in reality I spoke for maybe double that.

But I learned something about myself that day.

I learned what my instinctive, passionate and true feelings for Scrum really are.

Did I talk about how empiricism works?

No. I would have loved to! But I just didn’t have the time.

When push came to shove and I had limited time to speak about Scrum, what did I choose?

Let me pick out the key statements I made that express my instinctive and immediate feelings on what a ScrumMaster does.

  • “Getting the people at the bottom of the organisation involved in the decision making at the top”:

EMPOWERMENT, INCREASE TEAM MORALE, MOTIVATE THE TEAM

  • “Guys, you’ve trained hard for this, take a sip of your Lucozade, and let’s win this match!”

INCREASE TEAM MORALE, MOTIVATE, REFRESH ON THE GOAL.

  • “Why should I limit your options on how to play football when you know how to play football” :

INCREASE INITIATIVE, INCREASE CREATIVITY, INCREASE THE ABILITY TO SELF MANAGE

  •  “Maybe if you ONLY listen to my instructions on how to do things, you might end up in a situation that I didn’t give you steps for and then you might not know what to do”:

EMPOWERMENT,INCREASE INITIATIVE, INCREASE CREATIVITY, INCREASE THE ABILITY TO SELF MANAGE

  • “If you think for yourself, we might score more goals””

INCREASE INITIATIVE, INCREASE CREATIVITY, INCREASE THE ABILITY TO SELF MANAGE

Nearly all of the expressions above capture Empowerment, the need to keep creativity & create initiative, the need to motivate the team & the actions to take to increase the teams ability to self-manage — and the all important part — that as long as the team know what the goal is — trust them to deliver it.

No mention of iterative development, no mention of code quality, no mention of a CI infrastructure.

Why?

Because to me, the fundamentals of a ScrumMaster come down to human skills and the ability to facilitate with a servant leadership style.

No doubt, given 30 minutes I would have gone into empiricism and how the ScrumMaster supports this approach by driving the Scrum rules.

No doubt, given 30 minutes I would have spoken about the importance of quality in software development and how the ScrumMaster can facilitate discussions on proven techniques and methods which increase quality in what we deliver.

No doubt at all, that there is allot I couldn’t cover.

But in 5 minutes, I covered what I thought what most essential & the best part was … it was not thought out. It was instinctive and even with retrospection it feels right that I focused on the servant-leadership model above everything.

What would you say if you only had 5 minutes?

Would love to hear replies 🙂

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