Removing impediments is one key role that the Scrum master plays. An impedi-ment is anything that gets in the way of the developers getting their work done. A number of tasks are easier to do when not interrupted, such as studying for a test, building a model airplane, painting a room, or writing code. When we get into a rhythm, we can get a tremendous amount of work done because our minds can focus on the task at hand. What happens when we are interrupted by the telephone or someone asking a question or a noisy neighbor? Any of these things can break our rhythm, and getting started again after an interruption is not as simple as sitting back down and picking up where we left off. “When subjects reengage in a sequence of tasks following an interruption, there is an increased response time, or ‘restart cost’” (Dreher and Berman 2002, p. 14595). This “restart cost” can be significant and can result in lost productivity. These interruptions are one type of impediment. It is the Scrum master’s job to remove as many impediments as possible.
The team in the next aisle plays music while they are working, and they play it so loud that it causes you to lose your concentration. Rather than try to work through it or create a scene by shouting that they need to knock it off, the developer can let the Scrum master know of this impediment, and the Scrum master can coordinate with the other team to find a workable solution; it might be the investment of headphones, or setting a specific time when playing loud music is acceptable.
The product owner that you work with does not always provide complete information, and you have questions. But he or she is in meetings all the time, so you spend hours trying to find the person to get your questions answered. This is another perfect item to give to the Scrum master as an impediment: The Scrum master can find a solution that might involve daily meetings with the product owner, setting specific times when the product owner is available, or working out a system via instant message or text message for quick direction. Whatever the appropriate solution, the Scrum master is responsible for clearing the impediment so the developer can write code.
Members of the organization stop by your desk to ask questions because you are the subject matter expert (SME) on a particular item; this happens frequently in the workplace and can be a true productivity killer. The people doing the interrupting have valid reasons for doing so—there is a customer waiting on an answer, another team cannot proceed because they need additional information, an executive needs input for something he or she is working on—but the act of stopping what you are doing and shifting to the topic of the question makes it challenging to reengage once the question is answered. The Scrum master can serve as a blocker for this type of activity, by either answering the majority of the questions or creating a predefined timeframe when answering questions will not be disruptive.
There is significant value in having a team member who can remove these types of roadblocks so that developers can spend the majority of their time writing code. The ability to tackle these issues requires determination and stubbornness (Schwaber and Beedle 2002, p. 32), so selecting the right person for the role is important.
Communicator and Liaison
With any project, there are many questions about how something should be done or what exactly is meant in a certain requirement; the Scrum master is the coordination link to getting all of the necessary answers. This may involve attending a number of meetings or seeking out specific people. The Scrum master is also responsible for conveying information back to the team. If something material changes on a project, such as the proposed delivery date, the Scrum master may be the first to hear this news, and he or she is responsible for ensuring that the team is kept fully informed. Agile strives for “no surprises,” and the Scrum master can assist with this goal by keeping the team apprised of all information.
The Scrum master is also responsible for making sure that the team is adhering to the principles of Scrum. For example, if you have a particularly quiet team-mate and another member who is fairly dominant, it is the Scrum master’s job to make sure all voices are heard. That might mean asking specific questions to the quiet team member and paying close attention to the answers. It might also mean delicately informing the dominant team member to stop talking and let everyone participate. This might sound like a small responsibility, but effective team management can be the difference between the success and failure of a project.
Another example is adherence to the meeting schedule, which is explained in detail in Chapter 8, “Tracking and Reporting.” One of the meetings that is part of the Scrum process is the Sprint retrospective. This meeting takes place at the end of each sprint, and it is a time for the team to reflect on what went well in the last sprint and what needs improving in the next sprint. This is a meeting that can be dismissed as unnecessary, but it is actually vitally important to the Agile process. It is the Scrum master’s job to make sure that the team does not cut corners that diminish the effectiveness of Agile.
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