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

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 the 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’s a bit more involved.  Many of these conversations really focus on turning Project Managers into Scrum Masters, as a sort of natural step in transitioning to a Scrum Team 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 ’70s and ’80s, M*A*S*H.

Consider the role of the Project Manager.  A good Project Manager is responsible for making sure all the variables for a project are identified and categorized.  He/she 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 Project Manager are to identify and manage the budget for a project, as well as 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 was absolutely 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 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 in the M*A*S*H series, who represented the Scrum Master?  I see the epitome of a 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’s 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, 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.  This is the Scrum Master.

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.”  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 specializations, each was able to branch out and help wherever necessary.

Sound familiar?

 

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

  1. Mike says:

    Great analogy. Thanks for posting.

  2. Lisa Crispin says:

    The parallels are apt, and I am glad that people do remember M*A*S*H! I wonder what the cutoff age is for having watched it? Of course there are reruns still, but do kids watch? (I know, I digress).

  3. LouieInSeattle says:

    When I got out of the army in 1975 and returned to college at the University of Washington, I was astounded that M*A*S*H was one of the most popular TV shows on campus. It probably helped that it aired around lunchtime, but the TV room was always packed, often standing room only. I loved the show, and will have to buy it one of these years, if I ever upgrade my unflatscreen TV and buy bluray…
    I think your anology is right on, from both the project manager and scrum master viewpoints.

  4. LeRoy Grubbs says:

    This is worth the read! M*A*S*H is an old favorite that you can now watch anytime on the Roku Channel / Digital Television. The episodes never get old. Thank you!

  5. chad carmichael says:

    I tivo M*A*S*H. one of the best tv series ever, bar none. would love to analogy extended further…what happens when you have a colonel blake and not a colonel potter…LOL!

  6. Elisabeth says:

    If I had a blog, I would actually have written a similar post – I am scrum master and have been watching M*A*S*H on DVD for the past month (we are somewhere in season 7) – the parallels are there on many levels, not just roles.

  7. Tony Yunnie says:

    A great article, it really brings home some of the key aspects of Agile in a very easy to understand way, I will be pinching your explaination – thanks!

  8. Camille says:

    I keep being told that the Project Manger role is diminished in agile. Does that mean there is no need for a Colonel anymore? I am pretty sure I can handle being a corporal, but what happens to all the work that a Colonel does? Is that work really not needed anymore?

  9. Tony Harper says:

    When I started reading this I immediately thought Radar for the Scrum master, I was a little worried when Cl. Potter was discussed, but then it all came good in the end, just like an episode of M*A*S*H!
    I would be interested to see which roles / concepts are analogous to the dead and dying!

    Tony Harper,

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