Switching roles: scrum master to developer

by Brad on June 27, 2006

I’m the Scrum Master (team leader) for a team of 5 developers working on a complex enterprise application at StorePerform Technologies. I haven’t worked very closely with most of the team members prior to this project, but most of them worked on the same project for a long time. I started the project hoping that I could serve both as the team leader (following the Scrum principle of servant leadership) and a part-time developer. I reluctantly came to the realization that it doesn’t work, at least not with a new team which is still in the Forming & Storming stage. As my colleague Yuri Gadow helped me understand, the likely result is that I will be a bad leader and a bad developer – the worst of both worlds.

The team has taken the concept of self-organizing teams to an extreme, and they resent any suggestions from the Scrum master. My goal is to gain more trust and respect from the developers so they’ll be more open to my suggestions. My solution was to switch roles for a few sprints (iterations) – I will be a full-time developer, and hand over the Scrum Master duties to Yuri. I believe this approach has several benefits:

  • I can focus on doing one thing well: writing code
  • I can keep my development skills honed
  • As an equal peer to the other team members, they’ll (hopefully) learn to respect my technical skills and experience
  • I have the opportunity to “feel their pain” first-hand
  • The team (including me) will experience a different leadership style from Yuri

After nearly 4 weeks in the trenches, I think it’s working well. Unfortunately, StorePerform cut the experiment short when they laid offthe entire US development team and outsourced it to India.

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