That Dang Project Manager Hat

I haven’t been a Project Manager in title for, well, ages.  As a coach or Scrum Master, I should have shed that hat long ago.  And, I did(ish).  The problem is it’s still around and, when things need to GET DONE,  somehow that hat just turns back up….on my head.  Now, the good news is, I realize it and can quickly yank it off and stuff it under my chair but, seriously, I wish it would go away.  It won’t ever go completely away though and I’m still learning how to keep it firmly on the shelf.

So, why did it find its way on my head?  The group I am coaching wants to GET STARTED!  It’s awesome the excitement they all have.  They are eager, after months and months of talking, to get to work.  And, they want to run it Agile and they are leveraging SAFe.  So, before the December productivity vortex hit, we all looked at the calendar and they identified dates for their Quickstart (3 day event for everyone on the release train).  This means, there is a LOT to do.  And, the month of December is pretty much shot so, there’s about 3.5 weeks to get everything accomplished so the train is ready to leave the station.  But, there’s also a Holiday in there AND, most awesome of all, snow storms.  WOOT!

The team of people I am lucky enough to work with right now are amazing.  A massive can-do attitude.  They have overcome illness, broken down cars, two snow storms, children’s illnesses, broken pipes (for 4 people!) and a host of other things way out of their control.  They have all come together, rolled their sleeves up, opened their minds and have focused on getting ready.  They have trained, collaborated, learned, been challenged, formed as a team and had fun.  Honestly, it has been amazing to see and be a part of.  There is absolutely NOTHING this group of people can’t accomplish.  As a coach, this is heaven.  As a PM, I cannot stop thinking about all of the logistics and coordination and organization that needs to happen.  It’s not that there aren’t people working on those things.  They are.  Will it all get done?  Probably.  If something doesn’t get done, will it matter (really matter)?  Probably not.

Coach me:  ALL the right ingredients are there.  The people and the experience are what matters.

PM me:  I need to make certain there are enough post-its, flip charts, sharpies and who is getting red yarn?

Coach me:  These people will adjust.  What matters is their mentality and how they come together through this first event.

PM me:  How can they possibly come together if there aren’t enough sharpies and flip chart markers?!  And, who is printing the hand-outs?  Wait – do we even HAVE a final head count yet?

Coach me:  These guys have it.

PM me:  They have everything except the awesome colored, smelly markers.  They NEED those.

Coach me:  Shut up, PM.

PM me:  Will do – as soon as I have every minute of the day plotted out and accounted for….and confirmation on the sharpies.

So, for all of you former PMs out there who are transitioning to Scrum Master, your PM hat is never really gone.  You just have to recognize when it’s there, on your head, and take it off.  I bet, over the next 8 days, I’ll be taking that sucker off multiple times daily and apologizing to people for continuously asking them if they are certain we will have enough sharpies.

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Learning how to be a Scrum Master is hard

I was fortunate enough to co-facilitate a CSM class this week.  What can I say?  It’s been a true learning week for me. It was such a great experience.  It’s good to re-visit the basics again.  Other than this and my own CSM, I have observed one other class.  In all of them I came away with a different insight and refreshed thinking.  Since I had a different role in this class, I also had a different perspective.

This time, I walked away with an appreciation for how difficult it is to wrap your head around everything.  It’s overwhelming.  I can’t decide who it’s more overwhelming for though.  The person who is brand new to it OR the one who believes they have been doing it only to realize….not so much.

Then, on Wednesday, you’re supposed to go back and start applying it all.  GAH!  Honestly, I think the class could benefit from another day which at least touched on how to go about beginning to apply it all.  The transition to Scrum Master, for me, was not an easy one.  There are many facets of the role which didn’t come naturally to me.  Specifically the one about being in control.  Also, the one about letting teams learn through “failure”.

While it may not have come naturally, the role and the principles resonated with me.   They made sense.  Even as a PM I believed it was more about the people on the team than the plan.  The transition is something I really had to work at, think about and learn through my own, um, failures.  Also, those failures are hard because you’re talking about impacting people in a possibly negative way.  Ouch.  I’m thankful for the team members I worked with.  They were patient, understanding and willing to give me another chance.  In fact, I believe they were way more patient with me than I was with myself and, for a while, than I was with them even.

I guess my point is, for new Scrum Masters, don’t feel you should get it right away.  It’s a continual learning process.  It’s about trying things, reading a lot, finding a mentor and asking a lot of questions and making yourself vulnerable enough to try something and build on your experiences.  If at first something doesn’t succeed, try something else and continue to do so.   The other thing that goes a long way is to let people know you want to try something and ask if they’re willing to try it with you.  If you mess up, call it out and apologize.  If you go about it the right way with your teams, it will help build trust.  They’re not perfect and neither are you and that’s OK.

I am sincerely appreciative of the CST who let me co-facilitate.  It takes time from other work.  It takes mental energy.  It takes guts.  Had I tanked, it would have reflected poorly on him.  I’m hoping to find others to work with and continue on this journey.

A Scrum Master is not another name for Project Manager

There’s a difference, a BIG difference, between a Project Manager and a Scrum Master.  Project Managers know this.  So do Scrum Masters.  The people who seem to have the hardest time grasping and embracing the differences are team members (if your organization is transitioning) and middle management.  Here’s what I have noticed (so far):

  • Team Members want the Scrum Master to make decisions for them.
  • Team Members want to be directed.
  • Managers want a six month plan for the team.
  • Managers want a weekly review of risk/issues, schedule, budget and you get the idea.
  • Managers and Team Members want change control.

In a transitioning environment the Scrum Master needs to be prepared to also be a change agent.  Being a new Scrum Master is challenging enough as it is.  How would you advise any Scrum Master on going about changing the perception of the role?  What have you seen work and what hasn’t worked at all?

What do you mean I’m not in control?!?

I haven’t been a Scrum Master for a terribly long time, but when I went to my CSM class and my instructor talked about protecting the team I felt like I had come home.  Protecting the team makes sense to me.  What made no sense whatsoever was that the team would be self-managing, self-organizing and standard PM things like, status meetings, budget reports and the like, wouldn’t be necessary. Those were some of  the things I performed to add value.  When people would look back to see how well the project was managed, I could show them all these things and they would know I did a good job.

The team decides how.  Scope creep (aka: change) is welcome.  The team decides what they will work on.  The team decides how they will work together.  THE TEAM!

What do I do?  What do I decide?  What do I manage?

This is what was hard to wrap my head around.  And, I have….mostly.  I have made and will continue to make mistakes.  I definitely prefer being measured by how well the teams I work with perform over whether or not tasks were all completed on time or how awesome my status reports were.  Teams who really embrace Agile do too.

What is hard for you in the transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master?