Friday, November 14, 2008

The Scrum Mother

It started out as a typo, then it became a joke, then I began thinking that there might have been something interesting behind the joke.

One of the common pitfalls, when applying Scrum is to choose the wrong person as a scrum master. It turns out that this is quite a common situation, for many reasons. A company willing to adopt Scrum will probably select some of its best people to take a Scrum Master Certification or a generic Scrum Training. Before knowing what Scrum is about and what the Scrum Master role is responsible for, in practice, the selection criteria that a company will adopt would very probably be based on the traditional system of values of the company itself. Which would not match some of the key values of Scrum itself.

Despite the word “master” a Scrum Master is not given any real “power” on the team, a SM is not supposed to decide anything. It’s a supporting role, which can be rotated among different members of the team. Choosing the project manager or the team leader as a SM simply won’t work because old habits and roles will keep on sneaking in, preventing the Scrum magic (making the team self-organize efficiently) to happen.

A different set of qualities
Software companies often evaluate their employees in terms of technical skills, problem solving or leadership attitudes. These are not really the most interesting skills for being a successful scrum master. A good scrum master governs the process but does not have an active role in technical decisions. So being the best coder in town does not make you the best candidate for being a scrum master, instead, it probably stands in the way.
Qualities needed are probably more related to a feminine approach rather than the typical testosterone-driven competitive approach of many coders. Unfortunately these qualities do not always appear in individual performance evaluations, because are more related to the overall team behavior, rather than individual.

The traditional Italian team
It turned out that in Italy there is a quite common team which is ruled by a similar set of practices. It’s called “family” and the mother - the “mamma” - plays a key role in keeping everything working.
Meetings (called lunch or dinner) happen every day at a given hour. Every member of the family is supposed to show up at least right before that.
Mamma’s efforts are generally targeted towards the meeting preparation. They prepare the food, fetch the ingredients and set up the meeting room.
Mammas are generally checking everybody’s look and mood, to ensure everything is right. If, for any reason, something is not right, there’s no way to escape a one-on-one meeting about that.
At the end of every week there is a larger lunch with members of other teams involved (generally called “relatives”). A little more of ceremony is involved, but the basic idea is to keep all the teams in sync.
Mammas are working hard, but many times they are not bringing home any money.
If fights arises between team members, mammas act as peacemakers, preserving team harmony ant any cost.

Ok, I guess the last part will sound like a lot of stereotypes... it is. In many places this type of family no longer exists. Also, this is at odds with women rights, so I need to make it clear that I am not advocating this type of family. I am merely trying to have some fun stating that some of the key scrum practices are not new at all, they’re probably patterns that existed long before. Some of this patterns can be found in the traditional Italian family and helped preserve the team in terms of unity and sense of membership for ages.
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