Culture Follows Structure or the Misunderstood Scrum Master

From his decades of expe­ri­ence with the agile trans­for­ma­tion of orga­ni­za­tions and in par­tic­u­lar with the intro­duc­tion of the LeSS frame­work devel­oped by Bas Vodde and him­self, Craig Lar­man has sum­ma­rized sev­er­al obser­va­tions as “Lar­man’s Laws of Orga­ni­za­tion­al Behav­ior”. These “laws” nice­ly describe in var­i­ous facets the iner­tia of hier­ar­chi­cal struc­tures that implic­it­ly always tend to pre­serve the sta­tus quo of mid­dle and top man­age­ment and estab­lished pow­er struc­tures in gen­er­al. This hits the mis­un­der­stood and under­es­ti­mat­ed role of the Scrum Mas­ter par­tic­u­lar­ly hard.

Larman’s Law of Organizational Behavior

Orga­ni­za­tions are implic­it­ly opti­mized to avoid chang­ing the sta­tus quo mid­dle- and first-lev­el man­ag­er and “spe­cial­ist” posi­tions & pow­er structures.

Craig Lar­man. Lar­man’s Law

In the most basic case, the trans­for­ma­tion sim­ply remains half-heart­ed: ali­bi-agili­ty with a few agile teams and a few agile projects in an oth­er­wise unchanged orga­ni­za­tion. But even many agile teams and many such projects with­in an oth­er­wise rigid struc­ture and unal­tered process­es still lag far behind the pos­si­bil­i­ties. Some­thing that soon­er or lat­er will of course become apparent.

Source: Geek & Poke

Then fol­lows the phase of label fraud and car­go cult. Roles and process­es are mer­ci­less­ly rela­beled to agile ter­mi­nol­o­gy. The project man­ag­er becomes the prod­uct own­er, the Project Man­age­ment Office (PMO) becomes the Scrum Mas­ter and the loose col­lec­tion of spe­cial­ists in the project team becomes the Fea­ture Team.

And because peo­ple are already enjoy­ing the ride and because agile meth­ods are so hip, every­thing gets an agile coat­ing: agile steer­ing com­mit­tees, agile man­age­ment teams, agile process mod­el devel­op­ment, etc. Instead of ques­tion­ing the encrust­ed struc­tures and process­es, they are “agilized”. Same same but dif­fer­ent. Maslow’s ham­mer sends its greet­ings. Accord­ing­ly, the first corol­lary of Lar­man’s Law reads: 

As a corol­lary, any change ini­tia­tive will be reduced to redefin­ing or over­load­ing the new ter­mi­nol­o­gy to mean basi­cal­ly the same as sta­tus quo.

Craig Lar­man. First Corollary 

The Misunderstood Scrum Master

In the lat­er stages of the agile trans­for­ma­tion, roles and their sharp­er dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in the sense of a sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers are also dis­cussed. Instead of mix­ing every­thing up in the one role of the boss, the fol­low­ing aspects of lead­er­ship are dis­tin­guished: The team orga­nizes itself as much as pos­si­ble and does not need a man­ag­er, the prod­uct own­er takes care of the direc­tion and the pur­pose and the Scrum Mas­ter takes care of the team, its coop­er­a­tion includ­ing its pro­duc­tive inte­gra­tion into the rest of the orga­ni­za­tion. The line man­ag­er in the dis­ci­pli­nary sense does not occur in Scrum and the degree to which he becomes obso­lete can cer­tain­ly be seen as a mea­sure of the agili­ty of an orga­ni­za­tion.

For var­i­ous not least for­mal rea­sons it will need a dis­ci­pli­nary line man­ag­er. And he can also take on a very valu­able func­tion in the game, name­ly to take care of peo­ple and their indi­vid­ual growth in the sense of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship. While the Scrum-Mas­ter helps the We, the boss serves the I and the Prod­uct-Own­er takes care of the prop­er Why. And the team remains respon­si­ble for the How.

In the course of the diver­si­fi­ca­tion of lead­er­ship into these four dimen­sions, Lar­man’s Law strikes mer­ci­less­ly and hits the role of the Scrum Mas­ter hard­est. Not because it is more dif­fi­cult to under­stand, but because it is the least famil­iar. Func­tion­al lead­er­ship is com­mon in projects and thus peo­ple iden­ti­fy the prod­uct own­er as the for­mer project man­ag­er. Teams have always exist­ed, albeit less autonomous­ly, and for the man­ag­er the pre­vi­ous tasks are the same minus the func­tion­al lead­er­ship and minus the self-orga­ni­za­tion of the team.

If one now adds the Scrum Mas­ter to this equa­tion, it turns cru­cial for the self-esteem of man­agers who have been social­ized in hier­ar­chi­cal orga­ni­za­tions for years. Accord­ing­ly, in the worst case the Scrum Mas­ter is degrad­ed to a sec­re­tary, maid or PMO (admin­is­ters JIRA, writes pro­to­cols and removes imped­i­ments) and in the best case to an extend­ed arm of the boss as a “team leader” (because the boss has to lead more peo­ple now due to his reduced tasks). 

If the Scrum Mas­ter and the team have the same boss (being also the Prod­uct Own­er’s boss) he will nev­er be able to vig­or­ous­ly take the sys­temic per­spec­tive that the Scrum Guide explic­it­ly attrib­ut­es to him for good rea­son: “The Scrum Mas­ter helps those out­side the Scrum Team under­stand which of their inter­ac­tions with the Scrum Team are help­ful and which aren’t. The Scrum Mas­ter helps every­one change these inter­ac­tions to max­i­mize the val­ue cre­at­ed by the Scrum Team.” There is a vicious cir­cle because those who should opti­mize the sys­tem and col­lab­o­ra­tion are not allowed to. In the unlike­ly case that some bold Scrum Mas­ters rec­og­nize and address this, Craig Lar­man also has an appro­pri­ate corollary: 

As a corol­lary, any change ini­tia­tive will be derid­ed as “purist”, “the­o­ret­i­cal”, “rev­o­lu­tion­ary”, “reli­gion”, and “need­ing prag­mat­ic cus­tomiza­tion for local con­cerns” — which deflects from address­ing weak­ness­es and manager/specialist sta­tus quo.

Craig Lar­man. Sec­ond Corollary 

Advanced agile orga­ni­za­tions share three char­ac­ter­is­tics. The first is a high degree of sub­sidiar­i­ty in the sense of the prod­uct own­ers’ free­dom to make their own deci­sions. Sec­ond­ly, a high degree of auton­o­my for the teams. And third­ly by a high inde­pen­dence of the Scrum Mas­ters, which have to be sep­a­rat­ed as much as pos­si­ble from the rest of the hier­ar­chy (like the court jesters in the Mid­dle Ages). 

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