Having someone to take over when I’m not around.
— Scrum Master
Employees calling off at the last minute. I work!
— Restaurant Manager
A couple of posts ago, we met a Scrum Master who felt useless at her job. She couldn’t get her coworkers to take the Scrum procedure seriously, and nothing she did or said made any difference. She wondered why she even had a job, and how long it would take for management to realize that they might as well let her go.
She would be vindicated to read today’s top comment. It shows that Scrum masters are very important people. At least one company relies on a Scrum Master so completely that it needs to hire a second one just so the first one can take a day off.
Doing work that no one needs is a sad and lonely place. The flip-side is being in so much demand that you can’t keep up. And that’s where both authors of today’s biggest challenge at work find themselves. What can they do to make life a little easier for themselves?
First, let me point out that neither extreme is productive. In the case of the Scrum Master that no one listens to, the company is wasting money. It needs to get everyone on board before it cuts her another paycheck.
But what about the Scrum Master who works around the clock? At first glance, she’s a bargain, because she is doing the work of at least two people. However, upon closer examination, we might ask where all her work comes from. And is it always a good idea to give it to the same individual?
First, there’s the question of overwork. You don’t want to burn out your best people—especially if there’s no one to replace them. More importantly, what does she do all day? I did a little research on this topic, and, interestingly enough, there was a discussion on scrum.org among Scrum masters who struggled to keep busy.
Here’s what one participant had to say:
“… The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:
- Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
- Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
- Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
- Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
- Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.
In my experience, a mature Scrum Team will require no more than 25% of a Scrum Master’s attention…”
Okay, so a Scrum Master’s goal is to train the team to function independently—not to insert herself into every conversation. With that in mind, how much handholding does our Scrum Master need to do? Is it necessary to replace her when she’s not around? Or would being occasionally left to their own devices speed up the team’s learning?
The Restaurant Manager’s case is more complicated. What do you do if you’ve got a roomful of hungry customers to serve and people just don’t show up for work? You’d have to close up shop or do the work yourself, right?
What this manager is telling us is that he is the only reliable employee in the whole restaurant. Why is that? Who hired and trained all these other irresponsible employees? And why are they still working there if they can’t be trusted to stick to their schedules?
A simple solution would be to require employees to find their replacement when they need emergency time off. For example, he could post everyone’s schedules and telephone numbers on the intranet to make it easy for people to get in touch with someone else available to work that day. He could take it a step further and ask people to post in advance whether they are available to sub on their day off.
Solving the larger problem requires this manager to dig a little deeper. Do his employees care about their jobs? About each other? I’ve worked at a few restaurants myself. If you enjoy work and make good tips—which go hand-in-hand—there are few reasons not to show up.
Both the Restaurant Manager and the Scrum Master face the same question: how do you engage people enough that they more-or-less don’t need you? They must be thinking along the same lines, otherwise, why would they come to my site for answers? Did they find any?
There are plenty of ways to delegate knowledge and responsibility when one is ready and willing. Sometimes all the manager has to do is stop micromanaging and treating people like morons.
I once talked to a CFO who had not taken a vacation in ten years because he thought the company’s finances would collapse without him breathing down people’s necks. Then his wife gave him an ultimatum. She was going on a two-week trip to Hawaii, with or without him. When he returned from his vacation, the CFO was stunned to find out that everything was running just as if he had never left. He had been taking annual vacations ever since.
The reason it’s so hard for us to let go is that it goes against our survival instincts. We feel most secure in our jobs when we are the only ones who can do them. But for the business to run smoothly and for us to advance in our careers, the best thing is to allow others to be as good as us.
Not every busy employee is a micromanager. But there is a strong compulsive element to being always busy. To test yourself, ask whether you believe in your heart of hearts that someone can do your job as well or better than you. If you do, your brain can consciously and subconsciously solve for delegating. If you don’t, it will solve for staying busy forever.
If you like to delegate, you might like my book, because it helps you find trustworthy people and build strong working relationships.