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The Scrum Master Is a Lot Like a Doctor, by V. Lee Henson

The Scrum Master Is a Lot Like a Doctor…

By V. Lee Henson
April 19, 2023

Whether you realize it or not, the key to being a great ScrumMaster is learning to be as much like a doctor as possible! This may seem strange at first, but I assure you that this principle is true. Please allow me to dive deeper…

Let’s begin by stating the obvious. Everyone HATES going to the doctor until you really need one. It is at this point that you realize just how critical it is to have the best doctor possible to help you figure out exactly what is going on. It is also true that the person who graduates from medical school with the lowest possible passing grade is still called doctor. How do we go about this comparison and make certain in the end we are selecting the BEST doctor for our organization? Here is a real-world example.

When you first arrive at the office you are required to check in, pay any copay, and wait for your turn to be seen. Once your patience is close to exhausted, they call you back to weigh you, ask your height, and begin checking your vitals. They then usher you into a second room where they ask you what feels like 172,681 questions as they furiously take notes on a sheet of paper attached to a clipboard. After what feels like forever, the doctor finally arrives holding the very same clipboard you saw earlier in their hands. It is at this moment that they turn to you to ask what brings you in today? (If you heard a scream coming from your monitor, it was just me screaming that I am being asked to repeat everything again.)

Some VERY important truths have occurred regarding the ScrumMaster role. Let’s take a moment and review what we have learned about the ScrumMaster so far:

  1. Initially, people tend to dislike the ScrumMaster role. They are often brought in to diagnose what is wrong with the team, report it to upper management, and fix the issue. When bringing in a ScrumMaster or Agile Coach, it is critical not to position them as the bad cop role.
  2. For a Scrum Master timing is everything. Time management is one of the most critical traits a ScrumMaster should learn and excel at. Contrary to popular belief, most Scrum Masters LOVE to be busy and hate making you or anyone else in the organization wait unnecessarily. If you are waiting, chances are it is for good reason. Perhaps the team needs to get past storming? Perhaps the team needs to become more vocal about issues or shortcomings? Or that the team is bringing a lot of “whine” to the party without any cheese, (cheese = potential solutions). In any circumstance, good Scrum Masters are like DR. Strange… They are masters of time.
  3. As amazing as they are, the Scrum Master or Agile Coach is never omnipotent. They cannot and will not know everything. It is for this reason that they are curious explorers. They ask questions to help them learn, study the responses, and ask questions a second time seeking clarification. One might say that triage is their jam! They will ask as many open-ended questions as needed to get closer to a diagnosis. They are not trying to make you repeat everything, they are often just trying to fill in the blanks for what was not captured.
  4. Once they ask enough questions, review your vitals and test results, they most often reach a diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is reached, the doctor has usually four courses of action they can take:

Do nothing / Wait it out — (This is the case where it may be time to find a new doctor)

Referral — Every doctor is not an expert in every field. Referrals to the expert will help the doctor gain traction in areas where they know less.

Treatment — Sometimes the issue is just outside of the team’s sphere of influence. This means that the ScrumMaster must have direct access to leadership, key stakeholders, and anyone else needed to solve issues with the greatest urgency.

Prescription — This method is the most common, and the one I would like to elaborate heavily on. I am certain we all remember the order of operations when we receive a prescription…

This is when the doctor hands us the prescription, invites us to grab our coat and escorts us down to their vehicle where they drive us to the pharmacy. They speak to the pharmacist on our behalf to validate the prescription selected and double count the quantity to make certain we are issued the correct allotment of medicine. They quickly proceed to the front and pay for our prescription. Next, they take us to our home and enter our residence with us. This is where they draw us a glass of water, pop the pill into our mouth, pour the water into our mouth for us, hold our nose so that we swallow, and swab our mouth with two fingers to ensure we completed the correct dosage. (Note: The ONLY place this part may be true is in prison).

Now that you are finished laughing out loud, what do you mean when you say that your doctor does not provide these services? Guess what… Neither does a Scrum Master! Most Scrum Masters are asked to solve problems for the team when their real job is to provide all of the tools necessary for the team to be empowered to solve their own problems. The ScrumMaster is NOT present to enable the team, only to empower them so that they will know what to do if they ever face a similar problem in the future. Yes, the ScrumMaster writes the prescription and hands it to the team! At this point, the team should be equipped to resolve any outstanding issues and know how to best address them going forward.

The ScrumMaster role should be held in the highest esteem and is designed to lead and govern the teams that they are associated with. They take an oath to remain objective and act as a third-party advisor to the teams with the sole mission to help in any way possible and to serve the organization by optimizing process and creating an internal Agile center of excellence for the organization. They deserve to be treated with respect and paid for the years of experience they have established to be in a trusted position that allows them to make critical decisions which can then lead to coordinated continual process improvement.

Just call me Dr. Henson…

About the Author

V. Lee Henson is the President of AgileDad and has been recognized worldwide for his inclusive, pragmatic, humanized, psychology-based approach used to help organizations & teams achieve true business agility. Lee is the host of the Spotify award-winning “Agile Daily Standup – Business Podcast” and is the inventor of Rapid Release Planning, The Team John Concept, The POBAFATA Grouping, and Objective Stack Ranking Technique.

He has authored many white papers including The Seven Deadly Sins of Technical Debt, The Agile 12 Step Programs, Nine Powerful Ways to Keep Agile Teams Motivated, and The ART of Agile Estimating & Forecasting.

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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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