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Scrum Master Leadership


Read the following and see what you think. Most readers will recognize Jeff Sutherland as the co-creator of Scrum.


I hope this will start a lively discussion...


In scrumdevelopment@yahoogroups.com, Jeff Sutherland wrote on 8/22:

"You might tell the skeptics that a Scrum Master is like the quarterback

on a football team. Their performance as a company depends on them. A

good quarterback is not allowed to play other positions. They might

get hurt and disabled. There is a company analogy to this.



Of course, a good Scrum Master is more like a Rugby team captain which

they would not understand unless they were Rugby fans. The best Rugby

captains are truly heroic and are legends in their time. The fans

worship the ground they walk on because their teams win big. They also

get paid big bucks.



Tell them to get over being a losing company and find a few good Scrum Masters."


Jeff also wrote on 8/23:

"What I experience when working with teams in various companies is that

we tell people that the Scrum Master is a facilitator and has no

authority and at the same time the issue for the Scrum Master is

leadership. This is an attempt to break the directive management

micro-controller mentality. However, we are often weak in communicating

the leadership aspect. A story might help on this.


I marched behind General Douglas MacArthur's casket to bury him

because I was Training Officer of the company that consistently was

the best marching company in the West Point Corps of cadets. As

Training Officer I had no authority and before I was put in the job

they were one of the worst marching companies in the Corps. All of

what I did had to be done through moral suasion and coaching.


In the process, I got to know a lot about General MacArthur because he

was alive and a force at the Military Academy during all the years I

was a cadet.


There is a well-known story that during World War II

there was a critical hill in the Pacific Theatre that had to be taken.

Several platoons had been sent up the hill and all had been killed.

General MacArthur, a five star general and commander of the Pacific

Theatre went down to meet the 2nd Lieutenant that had the next platoon

that would be set up to take out the target. He told the most junior

of officers that he had complete confidence in him and would give him

all the support he knew how to give. He told the Lieutenant that he

knew that it was difficult and that many had died but that he

respected the junior officer so much he was going to decorate him

before the battle. He took off his own Silver Star from his chest and

pinned it on the Lieutenant, saluted, and left the field of battle.


(This is exactly how senior Japanese executives set up a Scrum and

this example may give you the feeling that the Japanese teams have

when given their mission.)


The Lieutenant then talked with the troops and told them how important

the mission was, that many had died, but that the General had complete

confidence in them, and would give them all the support that he could

possibly give to the team to help them.


When the time came, the Lieutenant led the men up the hill. He was the

first into hand to hand combat and the team was inspired to follow

him. While many died, many survived and they took the field of battle.


The great Captains of Rugby teams have the same spirit. They are first

into the fray and they take the heaviest blows. Their example inspires

the team to higher levels of function.


The analogy to the ScrumMaster is that the ScrumMaster must mediate

between the team and the other parts of the company, while at the same

time making contributions in their field of expertise. They must

eliminate impediments and to do so must change company culture. To do

this requires leading the charge and taking many blows for the team,

particular from people outside of the team who do not understand what

they are doing or have agendas that will undermine team performance.

(Always remembering that a dead ScrumMaster is a useless ScrumMaster.)


When the team is successful they say the team did it. However, as

everyone knows, you don't win the Superbowl without a great

quarterback. Yet rarely does the quarterback score the winning

touchdown. It is superb offense and defense and running backs that

deliver the bacon.


This is the winning spirit of Scrum and if the ScrumMaster is too laid

back or uninvolved then performance suffers. It is not to take charge,

but to lead the charge once the team has committed to take the field

of endeavor."




  • These two postings opened my eyes that maybe I should be providing more leadership to my team. But not C&C leadership. The harder kind. -- Joe


  • This Mac Arthur story resonates with me. But: this kind of leadership takes time. How did he know who to decorate? How many died before that successful charge on the hill? What was the cost of finding true leadership? WOULDN'T IT HAVE BEEN MORE EFFICIENT FOR GENERAL M TO DO IT HIMSELF? (to paraphrase something I hear in the teamroom a lot lately). Is the company aware of this aspect of Scrum - that it grows and is not imposed? --deb


  • It grows AND it can also be drawn out. Best if both are happening at the same time. -- Joe


  • How many decorations are given and the Hill is NOT taken? I suspect some are. Not because the General has no insight. Just...sometimes we fail. -- Joe


See also this from Mike Cohn on 8/15:

"We should do what the team thinks is right but should often guide them

toward right decisions based on past experience. Why, for example, let a

team make a big mistake? We wouldn't let the team go to weekly standup

meetings all in the name of self-organization."


  • I am expecting some of you to say that this leadership thing is a slippery slope to command & control. Which it can be. -- Joe






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