• Brian Milner

How may I serve you?

With the recent changes to the Scrum Guide, there are some things that remain constant regardless of which version you read. One of those consistencies involves the description of the Scrum Master role. The guide specifies that, “The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team.” In fact, it goes on to describe just how the Scrum Master serves the Product Owner, the Development Team, and the entire organization. Obviously a servant’s attitude could be considered a crucial component of a successful Scrum Master. There seems to be a general consensus on this and I would not disagree with this assumption as well. It does beg a question though:

Do the Product Owner and the Development Team not need the same servant’s attitude toward their work as well?

It seems strange to me that there is so much focus on the Scrum Master being a servant-leader but no mention of the same being true for the rest of the Scrum Team. I would propose that servant-leadership and a servant’s attitude are crucial not only for the Scrum Master but for the entire Scrum Team. I would even go so far as to propose that it might just be as important as the other values we identify as Scrum Values in the guide (commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect).

A servant’s attitude says that:

  • I am not here to serve myself but to serve others and in the Scrum context, the team.

  • I will do whatever I can to ensure the team succeeds, even when that means it doesn’t align with my own personal agenda.

  • The teams thrives when we all are doing more than just ‘our part’ but instead help the team do its part.

The Product Owner has every opportunity to be just as much of a Servant Leader as the Scrum Master. Aren’t the best Product Owners those that partner with the team, work alongside them, make themselves available to the team, and work to make sure they are providing the team with everything it needs to succeed? In short, they are serving the team! Product Owners live day to day with one foot in the team and another with the customer. The serve both by being that go-between. They work ahead in the backlog to ensure that the Development Team has the right work to produce the greatest value to the customer, thereby serving both. It’s when a Product Owner stops serving the rest of the team that they start viewing their relationship as a top-down one where they dictate to the team and have a team there to serve their vision. A Product Owner who is a Servant Leader collaborates and invites other team members to share in the vision.

The Development Team as well has every chance to serve other Scrum Team members. The best Development Team members don’t look at themselves as just a developer or just a tester. Rather they look at the total work needed to be done and do whatever they can to get as many items done as possible. Developers will test and testers will develop. The team goal is what is most important and a Development Team member with a servant’s attitude will always put the team goal over their own pride. They also aren’t looking to only make their job easier but want to share what they learn with others so that everyone benefits from the knowledge they’ve gained. A Development Team member with a servant’s attitude will come in each day asking what they can do to make the most impact on the team’s sprint goal that day.

The need for this servant’s attitude extends beyond even the Scrum Team to the entire organization. When management, HR, Sales, and even Finance approach their work with the mindset that they are there to serve their coworkers and ultimately the customer first, the culture of the company can change to one of service and enabling the company team to have the greatest success.

So why do we limit our discussion of being a servant-leader to just the Scrum Master? Wouldn’t approaching all of our jobs with a servant’s attitude improve our company’s cultures and make us more agile in the end? How would the way you do your job change if you started each conversation by thinking to yourself, “How may I serve you?” before you start a conversation?


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