Would you fire Jukka Jalonen?

24.1.2020 klo 13.45

Scrum Master or Agile Coach does not just run errands. They hold a broader picture and use their insight to provide the best possible coaching for the team. In fact, they have a lot in common with ice hockey coaches.


When the Finnish men’s national ice hockey team plays in a tournament, the head coach Jukka Jalonen is in all the sports news on every channel. We are eager to hear what he has to say about our team’s performance. And when the team plays poorly, all eyes quickly turn on the coach and where they failed. It’s evident we think the coach has a significant impact on how the team performs.

So why is it that we have so many software teams without a Scrum Master or an Agile Coach? As a team coach myself, I’ve been asking this question in the organizations I’ve worked with.There is one answer that keeps repeating.

Scrum Master – not only a facilitator

The most common one is that the role is misunderstood. A Scrum Master is seen as a secretary, who organizes meetings, updates Jira tickets and runs errands for the team. While being a facilitator for the team is indeed part of the job, the most critical and often missing part is coaching the team to improve their game relentlessly. In this game, you score when you deliver value to the customer, and you will need to do that frequently and reliably. That is the Scrum Master’s main goal and reason for everything they do with the team.

An ice hockey team has a goalie, defenders and forwards, who typically have strong expertise to play their exact position, just like developers and testers in an agile cross-functional team. In team sports, players spend a lot of time training together, and their common goal of scoring and winning is embedded in everything they do. At work, our teams also have common goals, but they are sometimes hidden beneath a layer of individual goal setting, resource utilization targets and so on. Often the first move for a Scrum Master or an Agile Coach is to dust the common goal and start looking into how often we actually scor… ahmm, deliver value together. When team members tend to focus on their own work, the Scrum Master has their eye on the whole. They help individual contributions to advance towards the common goal.

Reaching an agile team’s full potential

Improving the frequency of delivering value in a software team is quite context-dependent, but there is one typical obstacle to scoring often: resource utilization thinking. In a typical team, every team member optimizes their own working time.This means everyone is basically playing with a few pucks at any one time, then putting them aside to wait for someone else to pick them up and work with them further. This results in a lot of work in progress but rare deliveries. A skilled Scrum Master can help their team optimize the amount of work in progress, increasing the speed and rate of deliveries instead of individual utilization. This will amplify learning as well, as frequent delivery also means more frequent feedback.

No matter how good your team is as individuals, for excellent teamplay, you also need an excellent coach. A superb coach has been around the block. They know the game and how to lead the way to unlock the team’s full potential. This is true for sports as well as Agile teams.

Need an experienced Agile Coach to guide your team or mentor your existing Scrum Masters? We’d be happy to help, just drop us a note!



Kati Laine is a passionate Lean-Agile coach & trainer with hands-on experience since 2006. She loves helping new ideas and habits take root and grow. Kati is master-level also in word-twisting and terrible puns - you have been warned!