In one of my regular discussions with Tom Cagley and his podcast SPaMCAST, we discussed one of the duties that seem to be happening with Scrum Masters: becoming a project administrator. Being asked to set up meetings, chase down people from other departments or generate reports. Now you might be saying, well, the Scrum Master does need to do that to help remove impediments, and you are correct; there is a need to do that work to ensure the flow of work is effectively and efficiently complete.

What I am describing is doing the work I listed at the request of others that should be doing it themselves. Let me give an example.

The director of product management, playing the Product Owner role, needs to set up a meeting with his counterpart in another department to clarify some questions. During the stand-up, he asks the SM to set up that meeting. Is this something that a SM should be doing? Wouldn’t it be easier for the Product Owner to pick up the phone, send the question through email or schedule the meeting himself? Thre was no impediment; this was an information-gathering concern that did not impact the team. It was just a concern for the Product Owner.

Let’s take a look at the role definition of the Scrum Master, as per scrum.org, and see where this fits.

Roles a Scrum Master Plays
The Scrum Master serves the Scrum Team in several ways, including:

Coaching the team members in self-management and cross-functionality;
Unfortunately, not here. Now the Scrum Master and Agile Coach (if there is one) should be coaching the PO on what is appropriate for the SM to do in helping the team.

Helping the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value Increments that meet the Definition of Done;
Setting up a meeting that does not provide value to all involved in the session (The SM would be just sitting and listening) is not the best use of their time.

Causing the removal of impediments to the Scrum Team’s progress; and,
Not an impediment.

Ensuring that all Scrum events take place and are positive, productive, and kept within the timebox.
Not an event.

Let’s see if the next part helps.
The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

Helping find techniques for effective Product Goal definition and Product Backlog management;
In this situation, it is clear to answer a not relevant question to the work.

Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
No backlog items.

Helping establish empirical product planning for a complex environment; and,
The only plan is to set up the meeting.

Facilitating stakeholder collaboration as requested or needed.
Now here is the tricky part. The SM is there to help make everyone self-managed. It is helping the PO set up a meeting with another stakeholder. There is a collaboration between the two, yet is it required for the SM to set it up between them? This is a coaching moment.

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

Leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization;
Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact an empirical approach for complex work; and,
Removing barriers between stakeholders and Scrum Teams.

It is a tightrope; does a Scrum Master set up these meetings or have the one requesting it do it. Chances are things like this come up with teams that just started the agile transformation, and old behaviours are hard to remove from consciousness. For Scum Masters that feel they are being treated as admin assistants, it would be an excellent time to have that coaching call with the individuals to get an understanding of what they are looking for and what is done. It could be they don’t realize what is going on and are willing to make the right changes to be more self-sufficient.

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