A common misunderstanding among those new to agile is exactly what the role of the scrum master is on the team. I have often heard the phrases: “I didn’t sign up to be a scrum master; it’s not my job to talk to the product owner” or “I’m not the scrum master; I don’t like to act like one.” These individuals often believe the scrum master is the center of communication between the team and the product owner. Therefore developers can abdicate any responsibility to communicate with stakeholders. That couldn’t be more wrong.
The scrum master should not be the sole point of contact between the team and the product owner (or other stakeholders). Relying on them to do this negatively impacts the quality of communication through entropy by having one person always communication everything back and forth. The scrum master’s role is to be a facilitator for the team and facilitate communications between the team and stakeholders. While, occasionally, the scrum master has to get involved in solving some issues (that is why it is important that the Scrum Master is given the authority in the company to do so), the scrum master should avoid getting directly involved and instead coach or guide the team to a solution.
This means they can facilitate sprint planning, grooming sessions, or foster opportunities for the team or individual team members to get clarity on requirements, push back on unrealistic requests, and propose innovative technical solutions to the business’ needs. When they become the filter for all communication, things get lost in translation, the team inevitably doesn’t develop what the customer needs, and collaboration becomes impossible. By facilitating communications, the hope is that the next time the team is struggling conversations can let the business know the impacts early and impediments can be removed. Over time, the team will be able to figure it out more effectively, build a relationship of trust with stakeholders, and feel comfortable asking questions on their own.
If the team cannot get clarification or answers from the product owner, then the scrum master should help the team solve this issue but not by getting the answers himself/herself. Enabling the team to avoid any and all responsibility of communication is in direct contradiction to the agile manifesto. After all, we value “individuals and interactions” as well as “customer collaboration.” A team can not claim to be following agile and find no value in either.
Scrum masters should consider coaching teams to be honest and open with the product owner, coaching product owners to investing appropriate time to meet with the team and be open to change, and holding all parties accountable to the agile process you have in place. Communication is a two-way street and agile ceremonies (e.g. retrospectives, backlog grooming, and sprint planning) may seem like a drag to some but provide the key benefit of fostering communication that leads to successful action. And finally remember this: a team member who doesn’t want to collaborate or communicate, probably isn’t a good member of the team.