The 1 Mistake Every Scrum Master Makes At Least Once

As we briefly explore this common Scrum Master pitfall, let me take you back to my earlier career for a moment. A number of years ago, I made a professional transition away from the role of a software development Project Manager and shifted paradigms into the role of a Scrum Master. Seemed easy enough at the time, yes?

Actually, not really.

As I shared in the post entitled ‘Are You a Scrum Master or a Project Manager?’, I struggled to discard the command & control mindset, and it proved difficult for the Teams that I was trying to serve. I had much to learn.

I made a ton of mistakes during this (sometimes painful) transition, but there was one particular “learning moment” that tripped me up the most:

Fast forward to present day, where I have since trained and coached many professionals to grow and flourish in the Scrum Master role, often by learning directly from my own role-transition “storytelling”. Even then, I still encounter plenty of job-titled Scrum Masters in practice who have not yet anchored their understanding of the Daily Scrum and its purpose, which often hampers an organization’s pursuit toward business Agility.

Have you made this mistake before?

If you’re a Scrum Master, it’s okay to admit it — you’ve gotten into the “Daily Scrum status meeting” habit at least once, right?

Some of the common symptoms include (but not limited to):

  • Each Developer is telling the Scrum Master: “Yesterday, I did this. Today, I’m going to do that. No blocks.”
  • The Scrum Master is moving sticky notes around the Sprint Backlog and telling people what to do.
  • The Scrum Master is asking closed-ended questions, like: “Are you done with this task yet?”, or “When will you be done with your work?”

If this describes you (or some of the Scrum Masters in your organization), then I can’t stress how important it is to unwind this behavior immediately, so that Development Teams can learn (ideally, from the Scrum Master) how to monitor their own progress and conduct their own planning in a highly collaborative and focused manner.

The Daily Scrum might not be what you think it is

Understanding the intent of the Daily Scrum is more difficult than it sounds. I know this because I observe and help undo the “status meeting” behavior in virtually every organization that I coach. I encourage you to do the same.

Reflecting back on my own transition, I was clearly confused at first. I mean, here was a simple, 15-minute daily event that replaced my old project manager status meetings. But now … rather than waiting to hold a status meeting every Friday, I could now “check in” with the Team every single day.

Everything looked so familiar – a sticky board to track the Development Team’s progress, a meeting with the Teams (usually every morning), and the infamous “three questions” that each Developer would have to answer. And best of all, I could run it, so they could provide their status to me.

I couldn’t have been any more wrong about the purpose and intent of this event.

To unlock the real power in Scrum…

I had to come to terms with my own behavior and how it needed to change. In a real Daily Scrum, my role was not to run this meeting at all; instead, my responsibility was to teach and coach the Development Teams on how to review their own progress, conduct their own daily planning, how to deal with their own issues, how to collaborate with the Scrum Product Owner, and how to escalate larger issues in an influential way.

In short, I had to mentor them on self-organization.

Once I understood this, it allowed me to adapt my own behavior away from a management stance and into a mentoring stance. As my mentoring stance improved, Development Teams improved. Once Development Teams started collaborating effectively in their Daily Scrums, I would gradually fade away – to the point where I rarely attended this event (if at all).

In my recent post entitled ‘5 Beliefs Every Agile Journey Must Avoid‘, consider digging into flawed Belief #4 – the “Daily Stand-up”. I offer sage advice to consider changing the name back to the Daily Scrum. Sometimes a simple Scrum Guide name-alignment (and some coaching) can activate the reboot switch that launches self-organization to a higher level.

If you’re a Scrum Master, I invite you to challenge your own desire to attend the Daily Scrum. Are you there to manage or to mentor?

In Closing

What are your Daily Scrums like? What will you do differently next week to enable this event to reach high performance without your presence?

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