Stress Management – New Skill that a Scrum Master needs to learn and master

All of us experience stress to some degree regularly, but stress on a leader is comes from unique situations, limitations, demands of the system, environment, the behavior of the stakeholders, lack of control of the environment or just some personal insecurity.

Research has shown the Scrum Master experiences same level of stress from different sources e.g. Product Owner, Stakeholders, Development teams or other Scrum Masters, but reasons for the stress that they feel would differ, as this would typical depend on the source of the stress.

Why Scrum Master Role is full of Stress?

By definition, Scrum Master role requires you to be out in front of the people, rarely there would be a standard path or approach that one could follow. There are no readily available answers to the acute problems as faced by them. Scrum Masters often would be required to make critical decisions based on the limited information and just as often the customers, PO, Development team, sponsors or the management would hold them accountable for those decisions.

Lack of control – By definition the SM role does not have any authority or control on the people issues (meaning all the HR related matters). SM’s often have to negotiate with the stakeholders, directors or sponsors and try to use their own power of influence, all of these are recipes for stress.

Every good news or a achieved success is a source of stress, reason: expectations are set, Bar of performance has risen and the whole universe now expects day-in and day-out that you and your team would be delivering improved results every sprint – A new source for stress.

Building relationship, show the traits of Servant Leadership. Role of the SM requires them to coordinate and collaborate with different stakeholders, each of them brings unique challenges due to their individual characteristics. Managing conflicts takes different forms. No standard approach or technique can be applied. It again depends on the situation right personal disputes to political games (mind you organization have major politics) – All of these are sources of stress.

Scrum Masters must shoulder a high degree of expectations from various elements of the organization. Each of them expects results in the form of success since failure is not an Option (all of management forgets that Agile is all about FAIL FAST and INSPECT & ADAPT). Scrum Masters often feel the pressure of having to know all the answers and make all the right decisions and also be ready to face the consequences of the decisions that they make.

WHEN STRESS IS WHO and NOT WHAT

Scrum Master has to start recognizing that it is not important to define what is stress about, but to identify WHO is the source of stress? If you feel that your boss does not show his support to your decision or respect your authority, then this will contribute towards elevation of stress. So, BOSS could be a source of stress

One of most general source of stress is your peer community. A competitive environment and lack of cooperation from your peers is going to induce new levels of stress (quite different then ones you get from the Boss). Think about your relationships with your peers, do they:

  • Compete rather than collaborate?
  • Focus on their own individual outputs rather than the group’s achievements?
  • Act overly about who gets the credit for getting the job done?
  • Lack of inclusion and Trust

Your team would be the next in line. Think about your relationships with your team, do they:

  • Lack commitment?
  • Resist changes?
  • Expect you to solve all the problems / issues / impediments?
  • Fail to implement plans or complete their own tasks?

It may be worth noting that not all stress is bad. The problems associated with stress arise when demands put on you outweigh the resources and coping strategies you have to meet those demands. The key as Scrum Master is to know which stress is which, how to judge your reaction to situations and how to manage the negative type.

Handling the pressure in the job of Scrum Master is necessary. One needs to know what signs of stress to look for, and have a strategy for increasing your resources so that you can manage the leadership stress that comes your way.

Managing the stress is the new skill that Scrum Master would be required to acquire. Stress is now a part of everyday life, but consequences of stress can be serious. By understanding the nature of stress, once can find ways to adapt and thereby be more effective in their career. Things you can do to better manage your stress include knowing the signs / signals, taking breaks, setting boundaries between work and home, building a support system, organizing and streamlining your work, building in recovery time, exercising and creating positive eating habits.

Finally – Implementing Agile or Scrum or anything new, requires courage, that would require in turn learning to manage the “NEW STRESS”, that comes along with it.

Bye for now.

 

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Scrum Master motivates the team, but who motivates Scrum Master?

Very recently while attending, or should I say observing a CST deliver a CSM workshop, I was watching and listening to a video shown by the instructor to the class. It was all about that “Everyone needs a coach”, right from the top to the bottom. All of us have our own weak moments of career where we are confused, feel let down, not sure of which path to adopt and so on… this is precisely the place where a coach can help.

In the same vein, this led me to think, about the Scrum Master, the “Go to person” in Agile-Scrum. Scrum Master should educate, train, coach, mentor the Scrum team, the sponsors, the customers and all the other stakeholders. But then I wonder who educates, coaches and mentors the Scrum Master? Who takes care of their needs in their own low times? How does one motivate the Scrum Master, what are the tricks of the game? Can the same principles apply to the Scrum Master as he/she applies to the Scrum Team?

While writing this blog, I happened to search the web, the search criteria “How to Motivate Scrum Master”, all the responses were on motivation, but whose? It is all about the team. Nothing wrong with this, but we have missed the bus that Scrum Master is also a human. He / she has feelings, they can have a bad day in office. At times, Agile / Scrum falls short on expectations and does not cover all the basic ingredients that are required to execute the a great agile-scrum project (we have too much emphasis on development team, but very little focus on Scrum Master).

All Agile Gurus have maintained the idea, that Scrum Master is not supposed to be involved in the HR related matters of the team. He or She has no control over the team, not sure, if they are allowed to choose their own team. Scrum Master is basically a NON-PLAYING CAPTAIN of the team, who sits outsides, cannot interfere in the estimation or the commitment as made by the team, cannot be a guide on the technical front and so on … but is still accountable for the success of the team, success of the sprint / iteration. No doubt this is not an easy task.

Here, presenting a few ideas and thoughts of what can be done or how it can be done? I have tried and tested these ideas and they worked with a fair degree of success.

Lack of motivation can lead to Scrum Master’s own inefficiencies and low productivity. Scrum Master would also have a reporting line and a line manager.

Managers who motivate people with the usage of incentives, money, promotion have limited amount of success in long run, the short-term results are fantastic. According to Nigel Nicholson, you cannot motivate an Individual. Individual has to self-motivate themselves. The best the management or a manager can do is to create the right environment, tools, process and more importantly VISION for the individual to succeed.

Scrum Masters are not made to order, they are created internally, you do not hire them, you groom them from your own organization. They would be better placed to understand and embed the culture of the company and its value system.

It would be wrong and incorrect to assume that a CSM workshop can produce great Scrum Masters. Most of the candidates in the workshop are looking for a certification, rather than knowledge as this would boost the profile and improve career growth chances, but they fail to understand that well written CV does not provide knowledge and experience, nothing can substitute the experience part of the game, which I find appalling in our industry.

Motivating a Scrum Master is like motivating the CEO of the organization. CEO is at the highest level of the system, decision maker of the game, how does one motivate the CEO? What would make the CEO ineffective or demotivated? The same reasons and rules apply to a Scrum Master.

Everyone knows the value of a good inspiring vision. Great managers motivate the team with the power of vision, the passion of their delivery and compelling logic of their reasoning and people will march off in the right direction. Each manager thinks “If I can only get this person to listen, he’ll see the logic of my position”. This approach of something I can “tell and sell” is based on the profound fallacy many of us buy into: Others also have thought processes that we do. This frequency mismatch of perceptions leads to a common problem with managers attempting to motivate.

Instead of pushing solutions on people with force of your argument, pull solutions out of them. Certainly, not all people are going to feel the same passion for their work that do for their hobbies or other interest, it is a huge mistake to write-off a problematic employee as demotivated. Most of us (employees) have the potential to engage with their work in a way that augments achievement of team goals and organization vision.

A variety of factors and reasons can block the Scrum Master’s natural motivation. For example, an urgent decision is to be taken for which the management approval would be required, the best part the required manager is not available or is out of office or simply not accessible due to busy schedule. This would have an impact on the Scrum teams’ delivery and there by de-motivate the Scrum Master (as the team would feel that SM is not doing the job) or team would doubt the effectiveness of ceremonies like Retrospectives since these will not yield results due to lack to adequate sponsors commitment to improve / providing adequate funds / budgets and the only focus of the product owner is to deliver, without even understanding the challenges and issues of the Development team.

One of the approaches I have seen work in Agile-Scrum teams is by allowing them to follow the approach as they seem fit or desire, but within the boundaries of Agile Manifesto and Principles. I have also at times advocated to change / tweak the process a little bit here and there to uphold the dharma of Agile principles.

It is important for us to understand that there are no defined practices in Agile, It only has Manifesto and principles.

Recipe of any success is TRUST, the most important Scrum value, which is missing in each organization. Should TRUST be existing, all other elements would be secondary and would be automatically be taken care of. Giving the required confidence to the Scrum Master, that he or she enjoys Management TRUST is a very critical element. If we all can practice the concept of “Fail Fast”, this should also apply to the Scrum Master and related functions.

Along with TRUST, provide a liberty to challenge the status quo of the system, allow them question the system, without hurting anybody’s pride or ego (easier said than done)

Managers and Management would do well to understand and appreciate the difference between Micro and Macro type of management. I have attended several leadership workshops where this idea / concept is discussed, but have not seen it in practice yet in the manner as required.

Scrum Master would also need a channel to vent this frustration, validate their thoughts, get a second opinion on their innovative ideas or just talk about their feelings, needs and requirements. This is one place where the management / reporting line managers can play a decent role, by providing them a space, lend an ear to listen to their woes and issues, provide required guidance or exchange a few notes, share their own experience and explore options to resolve an issue.

All said and done, a fundamental rule of management is that you can’t change people’s character; you can’t even control their actions most of the time. Change comes from within or not at all.