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Superhero Scrum Masters; helpful or bottleneck?

19 Sep, 2022

Clark Kent is the legendary Superman. There. I’ve said it. The glasses didn’t stop me from finding out. Superman has unearthly powers, which makes sense as he’s not from Earth but planet Krypton. Our Kryptonian friend has, amongst others, super strength, the ability to fly, impervious skin and heat beams shooting out of his eyes, even melting steel.

His weakness is kryptonite, a green crystalline material. Kryptonite has the power to kill Superman. Superman saves Earth from evil villains over and over. Combine this with the low risk of potentially being killed, it’s an ideal combination. Right?!

Maybe not so much as it appears. The big downside of having Superman save Earth over and over is that the human species become pretty reliant on him. Take Superman down and any extra-terrestrial threat can take over in a heartbeat. Anything happens, and people will start looking to Clark Kent to clear things in their path. This is kind of ironic, as the human species are trying to conquer everything they come across. But that’s a different topic.

Other than the concept of making it great comics and movies, there are not many upsides to having the ability to resolve anything and everything. The Superhero Scrum Master is no exception.

SuperSolver

The Superhero Scrum Master is the first one to dive into any impediment to resolve it. New PBIs should be put into JIRA? SSM is on it. A developer has feedback on someone else, but is too afraid to tell it? SSM is doing it for you! Technical input is required? SSM! Sounds pretty amazing. Everyone can relax and lie back.

EXCEPT it’s the Scrum Master’s job to help the Scrum Team strive towards a good level of self-management. Now I have to be honest with you guys, my personal biggest downside is the exact opposite. I tend to over-assume the level of self-management of the people that I work with. One of the best Product Owners I’ve ever worked with has the knack to put everything in crisp metaphors. The Scrum Team is like a kid, trying to learn to ride a bike. They need you as their leader to hold them steady until the point that they can ride off themselves.

I see their ability to be able to keep themselves steady. I had the same thing with my own son, whilst teaching him to ride his bike. I KNOW he can ride it perfectly fine. But he himself still felt absolute panic as soon as I let go and started to fall over as soon as he got aware of that.

That means I had two options; either to hold on to him forever, which would prove to be relatively impractical. Or I could make him aware of his own ability and therefore teach him to be self-managing on his bicycle. I’m pretty confident that you’re able to tell me what option I chose.

When you don’t want me, you’ll need me. When you want me there, you won’t need me.

It’s funny that the small sentence is true. It’s dangerous to make yourself more important than you are. Let’s put this into an extreme example; the Superhero Scrum Master is resolving any small impediment. Picking up every detail in JIRA. Guiding every little thing. And then (I sincerely hope this happens to no one) the SSM gets hit by a bus and is out of the game for a while. The whole thing folds like a house of cards. Not only that, but the expectation of his replacement will be sky-high. The irony is that while trying to remove all and any bottlenecks, you’ll become the bottleneck yourself.
Chances are that these expectations will never be met. This touches all the Scrum Values. Disrespectful towards the Scrum Team as they can’t be self-reliant. Limits openness about the true motivation of the displayed behavior by the SSM. Leads away from focus, both for what the SM and the rest of the Scrum team’s accountabilities truly are. You get the point. Imagine yourself being the replacement of the SSM. How on Earth are you going to meet the expectations of the Scrum Team? It would take an awful lot of re-education before you can start doing your job.

 

Match maturity

Like with a whole range of other things, it’s all about finding the balance. In this case, it might be a great idea to assess the maturity of self-management and define your actions from that point on. That’s the split I can be in myself; should I continue to support and be present and try to “improve” or change things for the sake of change, or do I need to step back?
One thing parenthood pointed out to me once again is the ability of my kids to learn when they make their own mistakes. It’s not always nice, but they take more ownership of their future actions as they really feel the impact their actions make and what might be the downside of it. Having a safe-to-fail environment helps to foster this, without getting overinvolved as either a parent or as a Scrum Master. Next to self-management becoming muscle memory, it has another benefit; it makes them more confident and teaches them about their own resilience, too.

Personally, I find this one of the hardest things about being a Scrum Master. I do know one thing though; solving everything and doing everything for the rest of the team is not in the best interest of anyone.

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