In this series, we will provide an overview on the role of the Scrum Master, describing how it essentially differs from other types of leadership and outlining some key aspects on how it can be fulfilled successfully through each and every stage of an team’s Agile journey. Hope you enjoy it! 🙂

Globant Agility team

 

The Scrum Master’s ultimate goal is to maximize the agile adoption and help teams to self-organize in order for them to achieve their highest level of maturity and performance. Let’s compare different leadership styles to better understand what a Scrum Master is.

Leadership styles and responsibilities

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The command and control leadership style (based on Taylor’s scientific management) is a plan-driven approach as shown on Figure A. The manager breaks down the scope of work into a plan that workers should follow, while monitoring the team’s progress. On the other hand, in a value-driven approach as shown on Figure B, management will provide a high level direction and empower the teams to get the most value out of the scope of work, through a servant-leadership style.

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The authority matrix shown above describes how the responsibilities are distributed according to the different leadership styles and team configuration. In a manager-led team (based on command and control), the main and only responsibility for the team is on executing their tasks. However, in a self-designing team, management focus on providing overall direction, with high level strategic goals, and empower the team to find the best tactic to achieve those goals. In this case, the team is not only responsible for executing their tasks, but also for improving their processes, including planning and managing their own progress. In high maturity levels of self-designing the team can even adjust and change their team configuration to best fit their goals.

 

Problem-solving and team interactions

In order to understand what are the benefits of different types of team’s configurations we should first identify the types and complexity of the problems we are trying to solve in software development. The cynefin is a sense-making framework that describes a variety of complexity spaces with their associated team interactions. The complexity spaces can be summarized as follows:

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  • Simple: In the simple space for a given problem there is an obvious solution, so the main focus for the team is on executing and implementing the solution efficiently. Cause and effect relationship exists, process is predictable and repeatable, so this is the space of best practices.
  • Complicated: Complicated problems have predictable solutions. However, there is no single solution but many to choose from. Therefore, experts are needed to analyze the pros and cons to better choose the solution for the current context.
  • Complex: There is no way to predict complex solutions up front. Cause and effect is only understood in retrospective. Therefore, fail safe experiments are conducted to learn about the environment. The scientific method can be applied for creating hypothesis and running experiments to validate our assumptions. After results are measured, the current solution can be exploited or new ideas can be explored. This is similar to the lean startup cycle (build-measure-learn) where we start with an idea, then build the idea into a product, measure our customers reactions and behaviors, to finally learn and improve our product.
  • Chaotic: There are two main ways to get into the chaotic space. New ideas generated in the complex space can drive innovation on the chaotic space. However, we can also fall accidentally into this space (e.g. when a critical issue crashes production systems). In this latter case, we should act quickly to stabilize the system.

It is important to understand the complexity nature of the problems we are trying to solve in order to act accordingly. Through the waterfall approach, we tend to think we can predict our solutions upfront, gathering all our requirements and design assets first to then implement our solution right away. Unfortunately, results usually translate into a product far from meeting our customers expectations. The main mistake is that we are trying to solve a complex problem with a system conceived for the simple space.

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In conclusion, how should a team approach a complex problem. The sense-making framework can help us distinguish the main different team interactions needed on each space. In the simple space, the main focus is on executing the solution, so coordination is the main team interaction needed. On complicated spaces, the experts should cooperate to share their different points of view in order to establish an agreement on the solution to build. And collaboration is what works best in a complex space given that it allows teams to explore and find better solutions through experimentation.

We can then conclude that if we want to solve complex problems we need teams to self-organize and work in collaboration. The question now remains on how we can help teams to achieve their highest maturity and performance levels. The Scrum Master is the person to lead the team’s journey to maturity.

In the next part of this series, we will walk you through this journey, outlining the activities and responsibilities of the Scrum Master in each stage. Stay tuned!

Juan Pablo Russo – Globant Agility team

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