The “always busy” syndrome

Last month I shared a short post where I urged Scrum Masters to not fill in their calendars with meetings just because it look empty. In this post, I’d like to talk about that weird way of tracking how hard someone is working and how it is killing your success as a Scrum Master.

No availabilities in my calendar

When I join a new team or organization, I always try to connect with as many people as possible to understand the context in which I’m working in.

My goal is to observe and analyse what is happening before I start thinking about potential improvements.

However, often when I ask for a quick chat, even if it’s 15 minutes, a lot of people say that they have no time, and that they maybe would be able to accommodate in two weeks, or maybe they might be able to cancel something.

It all seems to be so complicated. It gives me anxiety just thinking about it šŸ˜£

How many times have you tried to organize an important working session only to find that no one is ever available at the same time?

The result? Important discussions happen way too late to inspect and adapt, reducing ability to deliver and respond to new opportunities.

I’m so busy!

“I’ve been in the meetings the whole day today, from 9 am till 6 pm!”

This is often said with pride and a sense of importance.

There is a weird assumption in organizations that the busier your are and the more packed your calendar is, the better you do your job.

Have you ever felt that you are not doing your job well if your calendar is empty?

The situation only got worse with remote work in 2020. If we are not in the same office, then we need to talk to each other more. MORE!

It lead to most people having the weeks filled with meetings, 9am to 6 pm.

When do you actually work?

How busy is your Scrum Master?

This is of course very relevant to the role of the Scrum Master.

Many people new to Agile and Scrum often ask: what does a Scrum Master actually do all day?

This is a common question even from new Scrum Masters. All because the Scrum Guide doesn’t give us a detailed role description. It rather highlight the purpose of the role, leaving each person to define how to achieve it.

That is why a Scrum Master might feel like they are not doing a good job because their calendar appears pretty empty. And in order to fix that, Scrum Masters start to do things like attending all events with the team (including technical ones), attending meetings with other teams (when there are dependencies, for example), attending management meetings (for status reporting), etc.

While it might seem like a Scrum Master is getting busy and so they are doing a great job, this is actually quite the opposite. If a Scrum Master’s calendar is packed with meetings, I will say they are failing in achieving their purpose.

Scrum Masters and empty calendars

We often say that Scrum Master’s first responsibility is to put themselves out of a job. This goes back to the concepts of self-management in Scrum.

I also like to say that Scrum Masters need to master the art of actively doing nothing on purpose. However, this is just part of the equation.

In reality, Scrum Masters have a very important role to play in helping the team and the organization succeed with Agile. And it requires them to be available at the right time in the right place.

Coaching and teaching opportunities can be scarse and very unique. You need to be there when they happen, and you can’t do it if you are always in meetings with someone else.

Moreover, when your team needs you, they usually need your input right now, not in 3 hours. Because inspection and adaptation opportunities might be lost by then.

I realized all that ā˜ I’m sharing here when I was working with three teams at the same time. I felt that I am letting all three teams down, because I was never there for them when they really needed me. I was stuck in meetings all day, trying to juggle tripled Sprint Events. I was only hearing about important discussions and decisions made afterwards, and I lost many opportunities to teach and coach my team to help them succeed.

Do you really need to be there?

As a Scrum Master you are able to achieve much greater results when you are available to your team and organization. The emptier your calendar, the better it is. If we count all Sprint Events together, they only account for about 12,5% of your time. What you do with the rest of it is up to you.

Look at your calendar now and ask yourself:

  • Why am I needed in this meeting? What input do I bring? What outcome I hope to get?
  • How can I encourage self-management through this meeting?
  • What else is happening in my day that is more important?

And with this, you will be able to find ways to achieve your purpose as a Scrum Master and support your team and organization when they really need it.

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About The Author

Hi, my name is Daria Bagina. Iā€™m a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org and a practicing Scrum Master. I help teams and organizations to get the most out of the Scrum and Agile implementation by sharing my personal stories and practical advice.

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