The Scrum Master is a full Team Member of the Scrum Team and is required to be focused on helping the team achieve its goals. However, he does not typically do the work of the Sprint Backlog. Instead he focuses his energies on removing obstacles and helping use Scrum as best as possible.
One way to achieve these goals is to be able to respond to questions by the team within minutes. If the Scrum Master is able to do, the team will move faster, solve problems easier, and cut through obstacles much sooner. If the Scrum Master is not able to do this, the team will become stalled, frustrated and likely lose trust in the Scrum Master and the Scrum process.
Being responsive to the team rests on a concept that is extremely challenging for most organizations: slack. Slack is free time where a person is deliberately not doing anything. It’s not just a rest – it’s time allocated to be ready for other work, mentally, emotionally and physically. The easiest way to understand this concept is with the example of a fire-fighter. We do not want a fire-fighter to be constantly busy. In fact, we pay fire-fighters to be available for when there is an emergency! The analogy is not perfect, but it is a good starting place for understanding slack and the role of the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master must be ready to help their team, particularly with obstacles and impediments, but also to block interruptions.
A closely-related concept is “work-in-process” (WIP). If a person has too much WIP, everything takes an extremely long time to complete. A Scrum Master should be focused on a few key activities and initiatives. In order to limit WIP and have the possibility of slack, a Scrum Master should consider the following priorities:
- Direct Scrum process responsibilities take top priority such as ensuring Scrum events are held.
- Dealing with one or two impediments that are limited in size the the team and the current Sprint (tactical impediments).
- Dealing with one or two organizational impediments or changes that are larger than a single Sprint’s work.
- Daily time allocated just for observation and readiness for the team.
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