Developers hack code. ScrumMasters "hack" people.

by David Prior, CST

When I am teaching CSM classes, after we cover the Roles on the Scrum Team it seems like people are generally pretty well sorted out on what the Development Team members do all day and what the Product Owner does throughout the day.

But I often get the question, “So what does the ScrumMaster actually do?”

I once had a student who called me a few days after class and was very excited to share that he had talked management into adding the role of ScrumMaster. All he needed was to give HR a list of all the things the ScrumMaster does during the day.

My answer was very simple...

1. Show up for work
2. Go to the Daily Scrum
3. Become whoever and whatever the Scrum Team needs you to be that day

I know... it’s a bit vague... Michael James has a better answer here. 

But IMHO, the job of ScrumMaster is about finding all the spaces occupied by the Development Team and Product Owner, and then filling in whatever space is still open. 

It’s kind of like Select-Inverse in Photoshop. 

There is so much involved in being good at the job of ScrumMaster that isn’t mentioned in the Scrum Guide. It might take 2 days to get certified as a Master of Scrum, but it takes years for Scrum to teach someone how to really be a good ScrumMaster. 

I believe that, at its core, this job is really all about Social Engineering. Only, not social engineering with a dark intent. This would be social engineering that comes from a place of positive intent—safety and caring. Like a parent finding ways to get a child to want to brush their teeth, a Scrum Master needs to find the thing that speaks to the intrinsic motivator that will DRIVE a team member to want to be on time for the Daily Scrum or want to be part of a mob-programming experiment.

Developers hack code. ScrumMasters hack people.

A ScrumMaster’s job includes helping the members of the Development Team AND the Product Owner to function as one. To move from becoming a group of people who think “I have stuff I have to do today” to becoming a Team that thinks “We have stuff We have to do today.”

And at the same time that I want to find ways to help them be disciplined in their practice of Scrum, I want to help them find ways to continually improve how they work together and how to amp up the value that results from the work they deliver.

But the trick is, if you are a ScrumMaster, you can’t tell anyone what to do... ever.


Earlier in this article I wrote “it takes years for Scrum to teach someone how to really be a good Scrum Master,” because in the role of ScrumMaster, the process and your team members are your teachers. There are lessons you will learn quickly and lessons you will learn ... um.... when you are “ready” to learn them. But every day you have to find new ways to support your PO and your Dev Team. You have to remember that you are on the team for their benefit.

So, you work for them, you are there for them... and you want to find ways to get them to continually improve their practice, you want them to be disciplined in their practice, and most of all, you want them to deliver consistently on the commitments they make.

At its core, the whole job of ScrumMaster boils down to one simple social engineering question...

How do I get them to want what I want them to want without telling them what I want them to want?
(Just for fun, try saying that 3x in a row really fast)

I can’t say “Hey Gary - drink that water!”
I can’t say “Hey Gary - you’ve been assigned the card that says Drink the Water. Is it drinked yet?”
I can’t say “Hey Gary - you look thirsty, would you like some water?” I can’t say “Hey Gary - we have this KPI we have to meet that is based on team member hydration. Don’t you think you should hydrate like the rest of the team?”

I have to find a way to get Gary to independently have the thought that he might like to drink some water... and I have to do this without ever touching whatever container of water happens to be nearby, or even mentioning water.

So how do you do that?

That question is what, to me, makes the job so much fun every day... each team member is a puzzle, the Scrum Team is a puzzle, the work we are doing is a puzzle, the organization we work for is a puzzle, and most of all, I, and my strange and unique way of responding to things, am a puzzle. If you like solving human puzzles, this is a job that will never stop offering you new ways to learn and grow.