Whilst Scrum Teams are self-organising and empowered, at scale, the Master Scrum Master (i.e. Chief Scrum Master) provides coordination and alignment to support teams’ delivery. In Government, this role is crucial to ensure that alignment not only across the teams, it also needs to be in line with program and portfolio strategic intentions for that government agency and in line with wider whole of government initiatives as such as the digital transformation to provide simpler, clearer and faster public services.
The Master Scrum Master role is a recent concept in government. I have been a Master Scrum Master on a number of transformation projects across large government agencies and have had to explore some of the unique challenges of scaling in government including:
• Scaling from a team of eight backend developers to eight teams of 100 people across the three platforms with six external vendors on separate government contracts/SLAs
• Introducing scrum roles into a government structure that are traditionally based on levels of hierarchy with associated HR and PMO reporting
• Dealing with expectations that Agile teams will still meet work schedules driven by internal and external Waterfall teams outside of the sprint planning process
• Working within Gateway signoff processes driven by upfront detailed level design
So, how can we address these challenges?
The Master Scrum Master plays a vital role in addressing challenges of scaling in government in three critical ways:
1. Coordination of Integration to meet shared goals: As a contractor or vendor into government agencies, often it is hard to navigate the landscape and projects and programs of work can become caught up in “noise”. This is where the Master Scrum Master as owner of the process and integration can help as their focus on tactical delivery of the implementation, can help those new to government or the agency, to understand the integration points and then work with these vendors and contractors to gain a better understanding of lead times, dependencies, capabilities and capacities external to the team, to work together to support the small batch sized product increments.
2. Facilitating collaboration: As a Master Scrum Master of a government service delivery teams, I found patterns such as “Scrum of Scrums” and its counterpart the “Product Owners Council” were useful in ensuring collaboration and integration coordination across the teams and facilitate an effective escalation process. For example, these patterns were key to cementing the Scrum Masters and Product Owners relationship to put the focus on business value and working together towards achieving the goals for the Product Increment rather than working in team silos or formal sections/divisions.
3. Focus on Continuous Improvement: The Master Scrum Master requires a very different mindset to a traditional program manager as the Master Scrum Master needs to be a servant leader who coordinates all the team’s efforts to facilitate program level processes and execution, escalate impediments, manage risk, and drive program-level continuous improvement through Inspect/Adapt feedback loops.
When things get stale, ROTI is a simple pattern for team feedback that places the ownus of actions for improvement back on them.