Two months ago, my 91 year-old grandmother asked me what I did for a living. On the surface, it seems like an easy question to answer, but it wasn’t. I struggled. The role of the scrum master was difficult to put into words, especially with someone unfamiliar with the complex world of software development. Since then, I’ve put some thought into how I would describe my function for one simple reason:
If I’m adept at navigating personalities and if I can help teams solve complicated problems, I should be able to explain what I do for a living.
I asked anyone I could find how they would describe the role of the scrum master. My teams helped, my network on LinkedIn helped, and the other scrum masters in my organization also helped. These discussions are summed up below, and the next time someone asks me what I do for a living, I’ll be ready.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not comparing team members to cats. Instead, I’m comparing how I’d imagine herding cats is to my experiences as a scrum master. Have you ever had a hard time getting your team to show up to stand up on time some days? Did the team take the time to gain agreement on some change to their process only to have someone do the opposite an hour later? I hope it’s not just me.
For me, this is probably the most enjoyable part of the job. My role isn’t so much about solving problems as it is to ask useful and insightful questions. I use these questions to get the team and its members to think critically about their behaviors and to reflect on their interactions. When we make a change in how we do things and succeed, we revel in the success. When we fail, we talk about what we learned and try something new. Both circumstances help us gain mutual respect and trust for one another.
The world is filled with dots, or data points. Some of these dots are useful and informative; other dots are noise. More important than the dots themselves are how we choose to connect them. Put another way, data is only as useful as the decisions it helps us make. I help teams connect the dots in their world in useful and meaningful ways. Many techniques exist to connect dots, and I chose one in particular as I crafted this blog post.
It’s called a schema, which I learned from Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. With a schema, you take something already known and adjust it slightly to explain something unknown. For example, if I was explaining Uber to my mother, I’d tell her it’s a lot like calling for a cab except you use your phone to arrange your ride. Accurate? Yes. Precise? No, but at least it gives us a common language to begin a dialogue.
Cat herder. Team therapist. Dot connector. That’s how I now describe the role of the scrum master. Do you agree? What else would you add? Let me know in the comments below.