Organization, scrum-master

Measuring the Performance of a Scrum Master

Someone asked me this question in LinkedIn  “In your opinion, how do you measure a scrum master’s performance?” There are some good answers in the comments, and  I thought I will elaborate on my perspective a bit more.  To answer this question, we have to understand the dimensions of Scrum Master’s work and the context under which they are working.

Understanding the dimensions of Scrum Master’s work: Michael James provides a Scrum Master checklist with four dimensions of work. Barry Overeem provides eight stances of a Scrum Master.  Time plays a role – as the Dev. Team matures, the Scrum Master’s focus changes with time (and this correlates well with the dimensions of the Scrum Master checklist by Michael James).

Context of a Scrum Master: It is also important to consider the concept of “role distribution map“. This map answers two questions (1) To what extent does the element influence the system and (2) to what extent is the element influenced by the system.

Role Distribution Map – image source : article by Bernhard Sterchi

Translated to our context – the two questions then become – (1)how much does the Scrum Master influence the system and (2) How much is the Scrum Master influenced by the System.  There are at least four systems (based on Michael James’ checklist) for us to consider  (a) The Dev. Team (b) The Product Owner (c) the organization  and (d) Engineering Practices.  So we possibly can place the Scrum Master in four different (x,y) coordinates based on the system under consideration.

Take a minute to place the Scrum Master in the appropriate (x,y) coordinates in the above map for all the four systems. Please pause. Stop reading.  Seriously.  Try placing the Scrum Master in the map above before continuing to read.

Now, if you asked the same question to a different person in a different team/organization/context, where do you think they would place the Scrum Master?There is no one right answer to the above questions. In fact, there are multiple perspectives: the answer to the two questions as seen by the Scrum Master themselves (on the four systems), the manager (who ever it may be) of the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, the Development Team,  etc.   Example

  • Where would the Dev. Team place the Scrum Master on “influence on the organization and influenced by the organization”
  • Where would the Dev. Team place the Scrum Master on “influence on the team and influenced by the team”

More on the context of a Scrum Master: There is another important aspect of change in complex adaptive systems pertaining to time. Delays. And there are four types of delays. (a) a change in condition and becoming aware that the condition has changed (b) becoming aware of the changed condition and analyzing/deciding what to do (c) deciding what to do and actually implementing it and (d) implementing the action and seeing if it producing the intended change. An example will help here: Say, there is a  build failure. The corresponding delays are (a) the code base actually failing to build and Dev. Team becoming aware that the code base is not building  (usually through a notification system) (b) knowing that the build is failing and  analyzing why it failed (e.g. if you are in an important meeting, you might look into it after the meeting).  (c) figuring out the fix and actually checking in the fix into the build system and (d) checking in the fix into your version control system, triggering the build, and ensuring that the build succeeds.  When the delays are small, the effect of an action can be inferred quickly (as in the above example). But when delays are long, we do not know if the effect is producing the intended change (e.g. global warming).  This leads to two types of fixes – quick fix (or short term, which correct the situation) and long term fix. If the Dev. Team needs education on splitting a large PBI, you can see the effect of that immediately within a few days. But if the annual performance review system needs to change(as individual performance reviews are destructive to teamwork) and the Scrum Master is initiating those discussions (as a change agent for the organization),  how will you measure the impact of those discussions? Do not forget that the effect of the action is also dependent on where senior leaders place the Scrum Master on the role distribution map (Scrum Master’s influence on the organization and Scrum Master being influenced by the organization). The actions and messages of the Scrum Master are viewed through this lens (which are then manifested as either short or long delays in terms of changing the system).

Going back to the original question – “How do you measure the performance of a Scrum Master” – I ask you a question back – “How can you achieve what you are trying to achieve without having to “measure” the performance of a Scrum Master?” Because what gets measured gets manipulated.

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