Scrummaster is not a proxy

Posted on April 16th, 2014 in Agile by siddharta || 1 Comment

Here is a pattern that is commonly seen in teams — the scrummaster acting as the point of contact for a team. What does that mean?

  • When the PO has a question, they ask it to the SM and expect them to relay it to the team. When the team member has a question to the PO, they tell the scrummaster and expect them to ask it to the PO.
  • In conference calls, the SM is the one who does most of the talking. If there is a question from a team member, they ask the SM and the SM (who is near the phone) asks it in on the call on their behalf. Likewise, if there is a question from the other end, then SM relays the question to the team or team member, then relays their answer back on the call.
  • The SM represents the team when attending the Scrum of Scrums, status report calls, calls with management and others such meetings
There might have been many other situations where you might have seen the SM acting as a proxy or point of contact between the team and someone else.
Being a scrummaster does not mean being a proxy for the team.
A good scrummaster will enable the team to self-manage. That means, leaving the team to take charge, and stepping into the background. So:
  • If the PO has a question, they either ask the team directly, or if they are not colocated, then send it to the team distribution list so that any one of the team members can respond. If a team member has a question to the PO, they ask directly to the PO without routing it through the SM.
  • In a call, the SM steps back and the team interacts directly with whoever is on the other side
  • Send a team member to represent the team for Scrum of Scrums or management calls. Teams can even rotate the team member they send. In a good team, every team memberknows where the team is, where they are going and can represent the team.
The SM only steps in if there is some dysfunction happening, for example a discussion goes off topic and needs to be taken offline or put on a parking lot.
So what do you do if you are a Scrummaster and other people assume that you are the point of contact? At that point, you need to gently remove yourself from the middle.
  • If a team member has a question to the PO, encourage them to email / lync / skype the PO directly. They can update the team after their discussion (if the team members sit together) or at the standup
  • If someone asks you a question directly, forward it to the team DL and encourage them to send future questions there next time. Then leave it to the team to answer the question. Step in only if no one is answering it assuming that someone else will do it (the whole team sitting together helps).
  • During calls, make sure you are not sitting anywhere near the phone :) Similarly, in meetings, take an inconspicuous position near the corner of the room or sit on the floor.
  • Rotate between team members for representing the team in reporting calls with management or others
In some teams, the SM is also an engineer on the team. In such cases, the SM has to carefully switch between playing a facilitator role and a team member role. You may have to switch hats multiple times. Remember which hat you are wearing and play the role accordingly.
The goal of the Scrummaster is not to manage the team, but to help the team become self-managed :)

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One Response to “Scrummaster is not a proxy”

  1. Dorsey Galicinao Says:

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