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ScrumMaster as Shepherd

April 22, 2012

The concept of servant leadership seems to be difficult for some new ScrumMasters (and others) to fully comprehend.  It is so contrary to many corporate cultures.  So let’s take a look at another role that combines both serving and leadership behaviors: the Shepherd.

 

Some herd animals, such as sheep, have a better chance to thrive if they have a shepherd.  In order to help them thrive, a shepherd must understand the flock, just as a ScrumMaster must understand the team he/she is working with.  For example, there are many types of sheep just as there are different people with different skills and different behaviors on an agile team.  They are NOT interchangeable “resources”.

 

Flocks of sheep have certain dynamic behaviors.  Sheep tend to congregate and behave as a group once their group reaches a certain number.  A successful team needs to reach “critical mass” regarding the competencies needed to be a successful agile team.  A ScrumMaster must understand this and promote the proper composition of a team, by working to have the right sheep in the flock (e.g. motivated, highly skilled).  The ScrumMaster must also be understanding as the team goes through the well-known form/storm/perform cycle.

 

Sheep are prey animals.  In toxic corporate cultures, development teams may become prey for overzealous Project Managers or other corporate creatures.  Just as team members are not really “sheep” or “pigs” (even though we use those terms affectionately), a ScrumMaster is not a “sheep dog”.  Sheep dog is a weak analogy.  A ScrumMaster can’t just “bark” back at people in the typical corporate hierarchy – at least not for long, without being sent “out to pasture”.  The ScrumMaster needs to be a shepherd and intelligently navigate the political minefields while not letting the flock fall prey to predators of time or energy.

 

Sheep congregate often (a daily standup?) and do it well.  Sheep are gregarious when congregated.  However, the Shepherd must still work to draw out the quiet people during stand-ups or planning poker sessions.  When you lose a sheep or a team member disengages from the team or otherwise gets lost on the agile journey, the ScrumMaster must seek them out and bring them back to the flock.

 

Even these simple and cursory understandings can help the new ScrumMaster serve and lead their teams.  Serve them well shepherds and you will be on your way to servant leadership, leading your flock to those greener agile pastures.  

(See more at www.ProjectPragmatics.com .)

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