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About 3 months ago, our teams restructured and I was offered the opportunity to be Scrum Master for the new team. The role pretty much meant 1) being in charge of scheduling the necessary ceremonies, 2) being default facilitator for the meetings, and 3) making sure the team upholds the promises they said they would do. There is no authority in the additional role. Wanting to improve my leadership skills, I took the role.
For some context, I have been in previous teams that have had a Scrum Master, so I saw what tasks they did, but I myself have not been one yet.

Since the 3 months of being Scrum Master, I have found the role to be a lot more stressful than I thought. I struggle a lot with the facilitating meeting aspect of it, and with making sure the team does what they say they do. I was given a Scrum Master book from my previous team lead, which gave practical tips and example scenarios, which I found very helpful, but it also shows the Scrum Masters being able to ask relevant and revealing questions on the spot, and impromptu speaking is not something I am good at. This also explains a bit why facilitation is difficult for me - you can't plan ahead what people will say, and you don't have time to decide what the useful questions for the team are.

On the other hand, I want to be able to facilitate groups, and develop my skills, and grow as a person. I realize this position is going outside of my comfort zone, but I am not sure if it is too much out of my comfort zone and leading to burnout.

I had a year-end review with my manager last week, and he noticed that I was stressed out and frustrated with the Scrum Master role. Other team members have picked up on this as well. He... suggested that if the extra role was too stressful for me, then maybe it would be better if someone else had the role, someone who has an easier time with doing the things I struggle with.

This brings me to the main question: Should I continue an extra role, if it is highly stressful for me, but it is an area I want to improve in?

Should I continue to get better, or stop because it isn't a good fit?

  • What age group you are in? Lot would depend on where you are in your career stage and personal/family stage right now. However, either ways answers may just be a career advice which is not encouraged in this forum. – PagMax Dec 31 '18 at 11:04
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    I'm in mid-20s, no children. I've been a developer for about 4 years now, so I would say I'm firmly in the medior level (between junior and senior). – plasmaTonic Dec 31 '18 at 12:20
  • After I posted this message, I went to the Workplace tour page, and noticed that "Personal advice on what to do" questions are discouraged here... if this question doesn't fit the format of this Exchange, I can delete it.. – plasmaTonic Dec 31 '18 at 12:23
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    I think you raise valid issues, you just need to reformulate as maybe "How to deal with stress of SM position" or similar. – Arthur Havlicek Dec 31 '18 at 12:28
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You keep talking about "additional" and "extra". Being a Scrum Master is a job. It's not something you tack on top of your actual job. I mean you don't do the companies books in your lunch break or clean the floors after hours either. That's jobs, not additional duties to another job. No wonder you are stressed out.

Now, lets assume you actually had the time to properly do the Scrum Masters job and you would still be stressed out. Going out of one's comfort zone is great, but only to find out if you actually like what's out there. You never know if you don't try. You said you don't. It's not for you. And that's fine. There's no point in pushing. Go back to being a developer. If you want, try other things out of your comfort zone, maybe another language or another project or maybe even being PO or PM. But if you don't like being SM because it does not play into your strengths, don't do it. You don't seem to get more money, there is no "career path" from SM that you could not reach from developer either, so there is no gain.

I don't think you "grow as a person" by doing stuff that stresses you out for no gain and against better judgement. You grow bitter. But not better.

Life is too short to do stuff that stresses you out. Especially if it's not necessary. If you have the chance to be a happy developer, then what are you waiting for?

  • I e been on a team where the role was passed between members, and while we made it work for a short while, having a dedicated scrum master is the only real way to have the role executed properly. That’s the direction we took and has only increased our team’s overall effectiveness. – Eric McCormick Dec 31 '18 at 16:34
  • It depends on the team size. Last place I worked the scrum master was about 40% scrum master, 60% developer, and they were switching to one person becoming scrum master for two teams as full time. – gnasher729 Dec 31 '18 at 17:04
  • @gnasher729 That's the way it has been with the teams I worked on, too. But only after both team and SM had found their rhythm. I think that's too much for a new SM in a new team. – nvoigt Dec 31 '18 at 18:32
  • Our team size is 7 people (myself included). One of the coworkers says that, full time Scrum Master makes sense if he/she is in charge of 2 or 3 teams, but there isn't enough work to merit full time Scrum Master role for a single team. And really, if you have a well running, self-efficient team, the Scrum Master isn't needed anymore. The Scrum Master's goal is to work him/herself out of a job, so to speak. – plasmaTonic Jan 1 at 10:33
  • @plasmaTonic That's true in the same way that saying "senior developers don't make mistakes, so we don't need testing" is true. Sure, they should make less than juniors, but never none. I doubt that coworker has ever been a Scrum Master. But since he's in the discussion... why not let him do it? He seems knowledgeable enough. Either he's right, wouldn't that be great? Or not. – nvoigt Jan 1 at 11:05
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I will not advise you what to do as career advice is not part of the site guidelines, but give you my opinion about the origin of stress : you try to endorse full responsibility at day one, while you have room to take the role in a lot more lean way and learn things as you practice them.

I struggle a lot with the facilitating meeting aspect of it

Great facilitators I've met let people speak at large and only stop them when they go offtopic. There is already a lot of value in letting everyone express his or her opinion, and not necessarily in giving yours or being relevant to the topic. Simply preparing a meeting purpose with a few words intro, letting everyone talk, is most if not all the job.

and with making sure the team does what they say they do.

In litterature I've read it's not really the SM job, but if it is your role anyway, the hardest part is trust. Trust people do what they say they do works most of the time. Some of the time only you are reported or will witness irregularities you have to investigate, but you don't have to be in everyone's back checking they are actually working. People usually try their best without you to tell them to do so.

  • In terms of making sure the team does what they say they do, say we have a retro and one of the action items is "we should do X when Y happens", and then Y happens, and I see we don't do X - isn't it the role of the SM to ask the team "I thought we said we would do X" ? – plasmaTonic Dec 31 '18 at 13:08
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    When the team says "we should do X when Y happens", you (and everyone, in fact) should ask himself who's responsibility it is to ensure X happens. If the point is not raised in the meeting maybe you as a scrum master should make sure it is, yes. AFAIK in no way you are a default holder for all responsibilities – Arthur Havlicek Dec 31 '18 at 13:16
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    @plasmaTonic You shouldn't say "I thought we said we would do X" You should say, "well an agreement waas made to do X, but then X didn't happen. It impacted the team in A, B, and C ways. What do you think we could have done to avoid those impacts?" and then let the team learn (the consequences of changing plans, better techniques for dealing with change, or the cost of changing plans). You're micro-managing, when you do the thinking for them, and you lack the power to do it effectively, despite taking that role on yourself, hence the stress. You don't enforce other's promises. – Edwin Buck Dec 31 '18 at 13:49
  • @EdwinBuck You bring up a good point - also that some of my stress is that I'm not sure how best to do the role of Scrum Master (my "training" was seeing how other people do it and reading about people saying the right things for the given scenario). But I still need to learn what are the effective things to say, and the correct phrasing. – plasmaTonic Dec 31 '18 at 14:38
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As a professional agile coach (and someone who has been in the agile space since 2003) I can see where your issues lie:

The role pretty much means being in charge of scheduling the necessary ceremonies,

Nope, the team/PO own the ceremonies so are responsible for scheduling them

being default facilitator for the meetings,

Nope, you can facilitate to help, but they should be able to function without you.

and making sure the team upholds the promises they said they would do

Nope, the team makes a forecast of what they will do (commitment was deprecated in 2011 as it's fixed scope in fixed time)

You are in a very common Scrum antipattern - Scrum Mom ( see here - https://age-of-product.com/scrum-mom/)

As a Scrum Master your role is:

  • Help the team clear blockers
  • Coach the team on the agreed process.

You have no responsibilities over whether the team deliver, you are there to help work flow, it's a people job, not involving project management or administration.

Your stress is because you are being asked to do things that are deliberately NOT in the Scrum Master remit.

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There are plenty of ways to grow leadership skills, but getting stressed over the ceremonial parts of a SM role will prevent you from focusing on this, and seeing you struggling will not instil confidence in your abilities as a leader. To the contrary, if you maintain an situation that others express doubt in, it can be seen as a lack of judgement.

That said, there's plenty of takeaway from the situation; As SM, you've likely tracked tasks for all members of a team, so you know by now how work tends to get done. E.g. when someone is being overambitious in estimation, which tasks normally takes an extra review to get right, how soon business can expect a feature to be delivered, when it's time to clean up tech debt to maintain progress. That's hugely valuable.

The good news is you don't have to be a SM to make use of this knowledge. In planning, the approach most often agreed upon is the one that most closely aligns with 'how things normally get done', and having focused on overall team performance, you'll be in a better position than most to assess this.

Before deciding to keep the role or not, I'd air my concerns to the rest of the team. Maybe a compromise can be found with less ceremony and shared facilitation duty. Maybe the parts that you stress about are insignificant to others, and you'll know to focus less on them. Maybe others will come to understand the burden of being a SM and thus appreciate your efforts more.

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It does not seem that you have been set up for success. While you have had a chance to observe Scrum in action on a previous team, that does not seem to have given you the proper grounding in Agile. Agile is more of a state of mind rather than a series of practices, and as a SM you need to understand more fully the Why of what you are doing, so that you can better guide the team in these activities. See if you can spend time with a Coach at your company, or some other Scrum Masters from other teams to see what works well for them, and set yourself some new goals to experiment with during the next iteration. Helping your team to take more ownership, and self organize to meet team commitments can be challenging, but this is a necessary step to relieve the stress you are dealing with.

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