ScrumMaster, Servant Leader, and Lawn Care

Clearly Agile hosts a Lean Beer (www.leanbeer.org) on the third Thursday of each month. Lean Beer is the evening version of the Lean Coffee series (popular amongst Agile communities across the U.S.), where topics of conversation are suggested by the attendees, and then prioritized for discussion democratically by a good ole’ fashioned vote (raise your beer glasses for “yes”). An interesting, and actually inspiring, topic came up last week, and after the same topic came up again yesterday (in a gift/greeting card), almost as an omen, I felt inclined to jot down a few thoughts.

My dad’s oldest brother (he has quite a few…Irish believe in power by numbers) sent me a card in the mail to congratulate my wife and I on our wedding earlier this month. I received it yesterday, less than one week after the same topic was discussed at Lean Beer. In that card was a separate sheet of green paper titled “Servant Leadership”. Now this list of 25 items is referring to how a husband should be a Servant, Leading his family in a spiritual manner, but still very relevant to the discussion with my fellow Agile practitioners last week. My favorite one is: “24. Joins a small group of men who are dedicated to improving their skills as a man, husband, and father.” I am a firm believer in mentorship, and Lord knows I wouldn’t have gotten very far in life without it, so #24 stuck out to me. 

 Naturally, since Lean Beer revolves around Agile topics, the discussion about Servant Leadership was referring to the ScrumMaster, not the responsibilities of a husband. The index card that was pulled from the bucket (raffle-style) had, “where do you draw the line as a Servant Leader?” scribed on it. Our Agile friend, Om (pronounced like Ohm, the unit of measurement for electrical resistance), went on to explain the premise for his topic. Om is a ScrumMaster, and one of his customers are located abroad, in a very tropical environment…an environment that gets an abundance of rainfall apparently. The Development Team was just days away from a major release, had to work on a Saturday to complete the Sprint, and on that Saturday one of the key Developers had to “call out” from work. It was the first day the rain had ceased in many weeks, and more rain was coming. The Developer had to take advantage of this one dry day and mow his lawn. The tall grass in the Developer’s yard was an impediment, one that could have delayed the release. As a true Servant Leader (a.k.a. ScrumMaster), Om removed the key Developer’s impediment, drove to his home, and cut his team member’s grass. True story. 

 

 Although most ScrumMasters will never have to mow their teams’ lawn, I think there was a valuable moral to the story. What lengths would the average ScrumMaster go to in order to insure the success of their team? I am attracted to so many facets of the Agile methodology, not only in software development, but by sheer principal, and thus why I am sitting in my office at Clearly “AGILE”. The leadership element that a ScrumMaster must possess is one element of attraction to me. 

No one did, but if someone were to ask about impediments that a ScrumMaster has to overcome or resolve for their team, I would say there are only two kinds: easy to overcome, and difficult to overcome. Some of the easier challenges to overcome are things like getting clarity on an unanswered question from a Product Owner or a dependency from another group, team, or vendor needed to compete a task. I was always taught that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease”, and enough emails, voicemails, or texts will usually get the desired result. But what if it is a more difficult scenario? What if the dependency comes from a team that has a different reporting structure, management the ScrumMaster is not familiar or intimate with, and the SM has to knock on the door of someone with a “C” in their title? What if the impediment is coming from a team member’s personal life, and an uncomfortable conversation has to be had?

Servanthood is not about a profession, a position, nor software; it’s an attitude and a belief. Sometimes it is politicking management to get a Database Administrator from a specialty team, sometimes it is helping a team member through a rough emotional time, sometimes it is telling the CMO that he/she needs to “gimme what I asked for”, and sometimes it is cutting your Developer’s grass. The question remains, what are you willing to do for your team?

Thank you for reading. 

-Adam