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Is it time to make Scrum Master a thing of the past?

When we think about Agile (deliberate upper case a) which of us doesn't think 'Scrum'? It is a brilliant framework that has stood the test of time since its development by Messrs., Schwaber and Sutherland in the early '90s. I, and countless others, have made a good living from helping teams to truly master it and extract maximum value. What's not to like? Well there is one thing actually, it appeared in that sentence, and maybe if I give you some context you will also see a problem.

I am a proud Stepfather to a pair of articulate, intelligent, engaged and challenging young people, 17 and 19. In that role I have had to accept that gender and personal pronouns are not determined at birth but are a matter of individual choice. I have had to come to terms with my own learned prejudice, sexism and low level misogyny so that I could deconstruct it and leave it behind. My children's friends might be as they appear or, she/ her could be they/ them or even he/ him. The world is changing and we should all be embracing it, learning and adapting.

More than that we should be welcoming a revolution that might just lead to a level playing field for any and every gender and orientation out there. As a coach of Agile and agility I would like to see a class action from my fellows to catch up with the (State) Teaching Profession, the Armed and Uniformed Forces and others who have successfully taken gender and its outdated, unhelpful stereotypes out of the equation. Even the British Army, bastions of tradition that they are, disbanded the Women's Royal Army Corps in 1992 and had opened all roles, including front line infantry, to women by the end of 2018.

Master: Noun a man who has people working for him, especially servants and slaves, "he acceeded to his master's wishes" a man in charge of an organisation or group

So have you guessed the problem I have with Scrum? It is becoming somewhat embarrassing in what is supposed to be a forward thinking, bleeding edge, movement to be talking about a role with a job title of Scrum Master at the centre of its stage. It is both unequivocally masculine and rich with implied control, "my master made me".

"Twenty six years ago not many of us would have questioned the assumption that most software developers were male geeks"

In defence of Jeff and Ken I am sure that the intent was to use the term as an adjective; mastery, showing great skill and proficiency. Masters are people who have assembled, internalised and practised skills which are teachable to those prepared to learn. Sadly that is not how it is seen or used today, and not only by my kids generation. Dorothy Dalton, the CEO of 3 Plus International, called out this as a prime example of sexist stereotyping in job titles in her excellent article from 28th May 2019.

So I am advocating, in my very small way, for a move away from the gendered stereotypes of the past and into a new world order where what you do and how you do it is what counts and your job title indicates your skills and not your gender. I would like to see the 21st anniversary edition of the Scrum Guide drop the Scrum Master moniker and replace it with something neutral.

While pondering what that might be, Scrum Coach perhaps, I realised that help was already at hand, and it comes from the International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile) in the form of Team Facilitator.
  • The Scrum Master is dead - long live the Scrum Team Facilitator

  • And while we are there how about Kanban Team Facilitator to replace Service Delivery Manager?

  • For a clean sweep how about dropping all the Team/ Tech/ Squad Lead job titles for the less managerial and neutral Agile Team Facilitator in teams who don't want to follow any particular framework?

I have decided to change all my own limited company training materials and other collateral to make them relevant to the generations for whom gender and pronouns are a matter of choice, not birth. No small feat for me and, I realise, a massive undertaking for the Scrum industry but every little helps.

I am in no position to be demanding anyone follows suit but hope to have seeded an idea that leaders at all levels will consider and, perhaps, take up. I would love to know what others think, I am a feedback junkie after all, and would say that the genius of Scrum and its creators is not in question here.

Twenty six years ago not many of us would have questioned the assumption that most software developers were male geeks or considered that aspiring Scrum Mistresses would be even less comfortable with the feminine version of the title. Fast forward and Scrum is used by many teams who never cut a line of code in their lives and Scrum teams are facilitated (even in software) by men, women and neutrals.

Thoughts? Anyone want to join me in a marathon of 'Edit/ Replace' in their own library of collateral?

About Me

Fifty seven year old agility coach in the 16th year of learning new things and passing them on to others. I grew up in Cornwall in the '70's at a time when the Headmaster administered corporal punishment, everyone was super straight (on the surface) and, where I lived, you had to travel over the border to England to see minority faces. Boys were boys, learning wood and metalwork, and girls were girls, learning domestic science and needlecraft.

In 1980 aged 16 I left school and joined the British Army serving for 11 years in the Royal Corps of Signals, everyone was super straight (on the surface) and, minority faces, though not entirely invisible were still quite rare. Most female soldiers at that time either adopted a more laddish behaviour or, sadly, became quickly disillusioned and left. You might say my first 27 years were not all that promising so it is testament to my wife and, especially, my stepchildren that my ongoing rehabilitation has been so successful. I still get it wrong but am at least mostly consciously competent and look forward very much to a time when everyone achieves the nirvana learning state, unconscious competence (sometimes labelled "mastery")


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