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  5 Traits of a ‘Samurai’ Scrum Master

Unlike the term “Samurai” which has been around since the 11th century (depicted military nobility in pre-industrial Japan and numbered less than 10% of Japan's population) the term “Scrum Master” has only been around since the early 90’s (when Schwaber and Southerland introduced the Scrum Framework at OOPSLA) but found profound momentum and is a well-known management position in Software Development companies world-wide.

The main influences of the Samurai culture were Buddhism, Zen and Confucianism. While Zen meditation became popular as a way of calming one's mind, it’s Confucianism that believes we (as human beings) are teachable, improvable, and perfectible through self-cultivation and self-creation.  

Image courteous of  The Last Samurai

So why liken the Scrum Master to a Samurai you ask; well the term Samurai (in Japanese) means "to serve" and the core focus of a Scrum Master is just that. They not only “serve” the Development Team and Product Owner but the Stakeholders and rest of the Organisation in slightly different ways.

As Mandy Schoeman, Scrum Solutions CEO explains “The concept of Scrum is easy – but it takes the right person to champion and enforce the Framework while allowing the team to constantly self-organise, collaborate effectively and iteratively deliver a potentially shippable quality product. Unfortunately there are countless organisations that not only implement Scrum incorrectly but have Scrum Masters who lack the necessary character traits that enable them to be effective in the first place. “ While Scrum Masters work within the IT industry, 90% of their job is people orientated and non-tangible which has nothing to do with Technology; they just happen to occupy a desk in this department. So who should you entrust to fill this new role?

First, let’s look at the responsibilities of a Scrum Master:

  1. Ensure communication (even training) within teams, across team boundaries while maintaining the Scrum Framework;
  2. Enable close cooperation and communication across all roles and functions while dealing with “colourful personalities through the Project Office and rest of the organisation;
  3. Ensure the Scrum Framework is followed including the admin of invites to daily scrum, iteration review and planning meetings etc;
  4. Shield the team from ALL external interferences while assisting them to remove barriers and impediments;
  5. Separate themselves from technical detail while coaching the team and ensuring they’re fully functional and productive.

So what are your options: promoting versus recruiting? This is a tuff one as they equally have positive and negative implications.

When taking on the Scrum Framework it’s important to find the best Scrum Master for your team but if you’re unsure of this role or who the best person to fill it is; take solace, you’re not alone. This is a common dilemma many companies face not just in South Africa but globally. When looking at Agile Software Development, the Scrum Framework appears to be just a simple set of guidelines with new titles, several meetings, some stickies and a white board; however, successfully implementing it requires a substantial amount of knowledge and years of hands on experience which one cannot gain from a video, Scrum Guide or even a two day Scrum course.

Implementing Scrum is time consuming and costly which cannot be facilitated by staff training alone. Leaders need assistance with their agile transition planning and organisational readiness, to support Product and IT management with role adoptions and Product Backlog readiness. Not only do Scrum Masters mentor Scrum Teams on the new process but they help the whole organisation understand an agile culture.  

Bushido mentions the 8 virtues of a Samurai being: Morality, Courage, Compassion, Politeness, Honesty/Sincerity, Respect, Loyalty, Character plus Self-Control. For a detailed explanation on each virtue visit our website at www.scrumsolution.co.za/Blog/Bushido.

Now let’s examine the personality traits of this unique individual:

  1. Outgoing: This confident people-person has a good sense of humour is energetic enough to encourage good development behaviours from all sides of the Project cycle.
  2. Emotionally Intelligent: People who are drenched in emotional intelligence and empathy have the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions not just of themselves but of others and groups.
  3. Professional: This person has high standards of personal and business behaviour, values and guiding principles enshrining rigorous ethical and moral obligations. Their conduct at work is according to sound and consistent ethical principles.
  4. Courageous: This thick-skinned person is willing to stand for the courage of their convictions when everyone around them loses their rationale.
  5. Accountable: This individual takes ownership of their mistakes, does their best to correct them and makes sure they don't make them again. They never blame others, but set an example for those who were also responsible to do as they've done.

So who’s suitable for this Scrum Master role?

Within the pool of your potential candidates are Senior Managers, Project Managers (PM), Developers/Analysts, Testers/QA/QS, Technical Writers and Trainers, however, the only people focused on product quality and integrity are the Testers/QA/QS.  

Over the past ten years, I’ve found that individuals who are charged with ensuring the quality of the product and don’t focus on controlling the activities of individual team members make ideal Scrum Masters.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that PM’s don’t make awesome Scrum Masters, some have certainly become effective Scrum Masters but this is the exception rather than the rule. PM’s are fantastic at Managing Projects so let them do what they do best. Don’t force them into a Scrum Master position, unless they choose it. If you need to find a new spot for your PM rather let them use their strengths in a Product Owners role.

“Evidence shows that it’s much easier and a hundred times more effective converting a confident / big personality staff member into a Scrum Master as opposed to attempting the opposite” says Mandy.

16 April 2014 by Mandy Schoeman of Scrum Solutions.