Seeking the approaches that enable faster change in the complex world of health and social care
Scrum Masters are a role born out of a need to cope with complexity, thus the role matches the capabilities that many in healthcare describe and then assign to the description ‘ Project Manager’.
The vast majority of change in healthcare, is complex, i.e. has lots of elements or perspectives that are difficult to understand or predict. As this blog has outlined, complex means that project management methods, bedded in linear processes and control, tend not to be very successful. The Scrum Master role, however is bedded in the empirical process and is about transparency, inspection and adaption, an iterative process which suits complex environments.
This week, I became a certified Scrum Master, (so the headline may be a bit biased) however in learning about and reflecting on Scrum (an iterative framework to support change) the role of Scrum Master is very similar to the role that is often sought in healthcare transformation, but is nearly always called Project Manager. Using ‘Project Manager’ for recruitment attracts people who are taught to value process, control and linear methods. The result is then a lottery in the interview room, either people are project managers and don’t wow the interviewer, or they have strong Scrum Master attributes and have learned to present themselves as Project Managers in order to find the kind of work that interests them. The problem here is a language one, however the healthcare industry doesn’t have an alternative to ‘Project Manager’, so why not pinch one from another industry.
So, what is a Scrum Master? Well, they are a bit like the conductor of an orchestra, they ensure that everyone keeps to the rhythm, focuses on the vision, encourages and supports the team (orchestra), removes things that impact on a great performance, and co-ordinates the performance. They don’t define the vision (i.e. write the music), nor do they play the music (i.e. do the work). They are a facilitator, coach, collaborator, servant leader, provide structure, and are sensitive to both the audience and composers requirements. This sounds a lot like the roles I’ve undertaken and recruited to within healthcare transformation over the past decade.
The Scrum Master is a Master of ‘Scrum’, now a common approach to developing software. The reason it arose, to cope with complexity. As the traditional linear project approach wasn’t delivering fit for purpose, or timely software. A situation that is also true in healthcare. Indeed, within my research into acceleration in complex programmes, I found many of the features that resonate with ‘Scrum’; devolved responsibility, strong operational vision built on narratives, and flexible planning. I also found and described a co-ordinator role that enabled acceleration, which is similar to the role of Scrum Master.
So, in healthcare transformation, it’s time to change our language and avoid confusion, use Project Manager, when you need people who have the those skills, but not when we mean something else. Maybe ‘Scrum Master’ doesn’t quite do it, but it’s much less confusing than ‘Project Manager’.