The project management “Scrum” term is an analogy to a rugby term where the players get into a close-knit, heads-down formation in an effort to move the ball forward. At times, it may be hard for a team to understand the project team roles, especially when a team is newly formed or the team has a history with other project team structures. A Scrum Master can rely on resources available to explain the project team roles, but those formal definitions may not solidify the connection for the team. I advocate trying an analogy to relate the roles to the team. The sports analogy continues:
The Scrum Master is similar to a referee. The Referee monitors a game and calls attention when the principles of the game are not adhered to. The Referee does not interfere with the play calling or the execution of the game plan. At certain times, The Referee may advise The Coach and / or The Team of boundaries they are approaching. Without The Coach or The Team, The Referee has nothing to support.
The Coach owns the strategy for the game and calls the plays. This is similar to the Product Owner. The Coach understands the game’s landscape and the opponent. The Coach makes decisions about how The Team should approach the game with respect to what he knows of the game and of the opponent. The Coach will identify the key areas The Team will be the most successful and will position The Team to establish a win as early as possible. Without The Coach, The Team has no game plan.
The Team is the Scrum development team. The Team executes on the directions from The Coach within the confines of the game. Respectfully, The Team may provide feedback to The Coach to alter the game plan. The Team will not win the game unless they are working together, including The Coach, towards the common goal. Each team member must do what they can to make The Team successful and to end the game with a win. Without The Team, The Coach has no one to execute the game plan.
As a Scrum Master, why not put on a referee shirt for your next planning day? Make it fun, and provide the team with a visual reminder of the role of the Scrum Master. In the spirit of American football, get a yellow penalty flag and toss it on the table when the team needs a visual reminder of a Scrum value or principle. Get a red challenge flag for the team to toss on the table when they feel the Scrum Master needs a reminder of the Scrum values and principles. (Yes, that can happen. Accountability should flow all directions in a team.)
I remember the team reaction the first time I showed to a planning session wearing a black and white striped referee shirt; I’ll never forget it.