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Everything I learned about Scrum Teams I learned from M*A*S*H

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

I like to participate in discussion groups.  I enjoy the discussions themselves, and I also like “meeting” the folks who are participating.  There are a lot of questions that get repeated in those groups, but I personally feel that the conversations are various enough that this is a Good Thing.   There is always enough of a twist on each one that I learn something new.

One question that comes up a lot is who should be a Scrum Master.  Sometimes it is as simple as “Hey, we are starting to do Scrum, so we need a scrum master, who should we get?” Sometimes it is a bit more involved.  Many of these conversations really focus on turning project managers into scrum masters, as a sort of natural step in a transition environment.   While I understand this seems to be a convenient, comfortable step, I’m not sure it is as helpful as it originally appears.  In our never ending search for metaphors to explain ourselves, I am going to utilize that well known show from the 70’s and 80’s, M*A*S*H

Consider the role of a project manager.  A good PM is responsible for making sure that all of the variables for a project are identified and categorized.  He is also responsible for identifying and mitigating all of the risks in a project.  Most of this is done at the beginning of a project, and will then continue in a reactive manner throughout the course of the project.  Other tasks that are important to a PM are to identify and manage the budget for a project, and also to make decisions along the way as to changes and delivery.  To me, this is Colonel Potter, as played by the late great Harry Morgan.

Col. Potter understood that his job was not to tell the surgeons what to do, or how to fix a wounded soldier.  He absolutely was a figure of authority, but knew when to get involved and when to stay out of it.  When push came to shove, if there was a decision that the team wouldn’t or couldn’t make on their own, he was there to either offer some insight to help them come to a decision, or in some cases he knew that he had to be the one to make that decision.  One disclaimer here:  the level of authority for a wartime military commander is going to be much higher than in our world, but much of this still applies.  Leadership is not really different it just becomes that much more imperative.

So who should be a Scrum Master?  I see the epitome of Scrum Master as Radar O’Reilly

.  He made sure everything got done.  People got used to relying on him without

asking for something in particular, and he really made everything happen.  If something got in someone’s way, he knew what to trade, and with whom, to make that obstacle go away.  I also think it is worth noting that Radar was a Corporal for most of the series.  He led from a position of no power whatsoever.  He knew nothing about surgery, knew nothing about the military, but everything about relationships (albeit, not the romantic kind). There was never any doubt as to who really made things happen there, it was all Radar.  He made things run smoothly so the doctors and nurses could focus on healing the sick and wounded.

One last comment on the M*A*S*H analogy.  At the beginning of the series, the doctors did all of the surgery, and the nurses supported them.  Over the course of the series, you would hear surgeons use statements like “OK nurse, close for me.”  And then later, the nurses started doing Triage(determining which patients had to be operated on right away and which could wait) and in some cases even getting involved in the actual surgery itself.  So while everyone kept their specialization, they were able to branch out and help wherever necessary.

Sound familiar?

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