I’ve been teaching and coaching Scrum for nearly 20 years. During that time, I’ve always tried to stay true to the basic Scrum guidance and the Scrum Guide. But I’ve also shared my own practical experience.
One of the things that I’ve been consistent about in my guidance is that the ScrumMaster is NOT a manager or HR role. That is, they should not be “mucking around” with personnel performance issues. At least not directly.
For example, they should not be writing/executing Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) or removing folks from teams or firing folks.
So, you can imagine my shock & chagrin when I saw an article by Barry Overeem that seemed to be saying the opposite. Now I’ve followed Barry for many years and I normally align with his recommendations. Or at least I see the soundness in his perspective. And often he simply makes me think about things in new ways. Which I appreciate.
But in this case, I think this is a very dangerous point of view and flat out wrong. So, let me share my thoughts…
First, not everything revolves around the Scrum Guide
It seems like Barry is writing from this from a MythBusters persona. The challenging part, and maybe this is another blog post, is his narrow focus on the Scrum Guide for all guidance. And how he takes it so literally.
While I continually reference the Scrum Guide in my own journey, we really need to augment it with our own agile experience and common sense…right? Or do we simply blindly follow it?
I personally think it’s the former. Cutting to the chase, here are my issues with the article:
1. ScrumMasters are being placed in the sole position of being able to “Vote folks off the island”. They don’t have the training nor skill to handle this level of performance management. When I first read the article, I actually thought Barry was joking. Now I realize he wasn’t. And I don’t even care if Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber take this same stance. I simply disagree with it as being in the role and on principle.
2. Barry is offering, what I would call HR advice, from a written article. Employee management is an incredibly deep and broad topic. With lots of legal nuance. It’s also full of national, regional, and local intricacy. I think it dangerous, bordering on unprofessional, to offer this sort of advice in such general terms. Not one time in the article, did he mention engaging other parts of the organization for advice, partnership, or help.
3. Suggesting that PEOPLE might be impediments to be “removed” by the ScrumMaster. Now I get the fact that people can become impediments. Heck, entire organizations and groups within them can become impediments. Yet, I don’t agree with nor do I believe the ScrumMaster is empowered to take sole action against these “impediments”. All people issues need to be handled with care, respect, and by supporting all related laws and established corporate guidelines. In my experience, ScrumMasters are simply not skilled for this.
4. And one final point. Barry has been a longtime contributor to our agile community. He has a loyal following and has become a trusted influencer. With this comes a level of responsibility. One that I’ve achieved and am aware of as well. Influencers need to exercise special care with their recommendations because of the potential harm their advice can engender. In this instance, Barry has lost his way in publishing this advice. I strongly advise him to reconsider the advice simply based on the “influence factor”.
Related to this, Ryan Ripley conducted a survey that posed the question: Can the Scrum Master remove a person from the Scrum Team who is preventing the team from effectively using Scrum?In response to the same article. Of 175 total responses, 35% agree with the statement and 65% disagreed. What’s really SHOCKING to me, is that 35% agreed. It goes to amplify the impact that we have as influencers. We can do good, or as in the case of this, we can also do bad.
If you follow me, you realize that (1) I contribute a lot of agile stories and advice to the community and (2) I rarely call folks out. But in this case, I thought this article was irresponsible.
Here’s a final example quote I pulled from it:
“It’s also good to keep in mind that a person is not being fired from the company, but removed from a team.”
Make sure that you involve the necessary people and departments in the decision (like HR, management), while staying in control of the decision that you are making as a Scrum Master;
How naïve is that? And they simply need to “involve” other people in the decision-making process.
Now to be clear, IF a Scrum team has an issue with a team member, the ScrumMaster should take action. They should:
- Notify the persons manager;
- Share the context around the issue;
- Share the action(s) they and the team have taken to date;
- Ask the manager (and HR organization) for help and guidance;
- And finally, support them as they work to improve the individual’s performance or work to remove the person from the team;
- In other words, partner with them, but trust them to do their job.
And never, ever, go it totally alone. That’s my advice and I’m sticking to it.
Stay agile my friends,