Letting go is hard: Handing over as Scrum Master

We’ve all hit those points where we know that the race has run its course. Sometimes you decide; sometimes the better offer has come along; sometimes you have been guided to move to the next thing. In any case, you know that your days are numbered in your current position. It is time to move on.

I recently went through a similar period and made the decision to move on. I loved my team, I loved the work, but something wasn’t quite connecting with me the way it used to. Ultimately, I knew I wasn’t doing my best work. It was time.

However, one thing stood out to me. I’d seen others leave similar positions, the impressions they left were varied, to say the least.

I wanted to go out like the best of them.

I wanted to leave with grace and strength.

What do you want your legacy to be?

Now, if you have been intimately involved in the day to day life of your team for a good period of time, you know its heartbeat. If you have served your team as a ScrumMaster, you have been deeply focused on their well-being and its mission. Letting go can be incredibly hard.

At this point, you have some choices to make about your behaviour and how you leave. Ask yourself:

How do I want to be remembered?

Your next few weeks will make a lasting impression and can either support or hinder your team.

Take some time to think about your legacy as we look at some of the best ways to move on.

Leave without rancour

Rancour (n): bitterness or resentfulness, especially when long standing.

You owe it to your team, and yourself, that you leave them with light hearts and hold no hurt of your own. You have worked together, poisoning the well at the last instant makes little sense even though you may feel like it.

Ron Burgandy says it well, “You keep classy…”

It makes a huge impression on those who see you in times of stress and still remaining classy. Let’s not kid around, leaving can be very stressful, and you can walk away looking strong.

The polar opposite is also possible, and we’ve all witnessed a range of negative behaviours that are far from classy. Think about how you viewed the person afterwards.

Some of the more destructive things I’ve witnessed include:

  • Telling the team a couple of days before they leave in order to avoid dealing with the goodbyes
  • Checking out weeks before and zombieing through the days
  • Constantly vocalizing the negatives their current role in order to justify their position
  • Wanting to leave a monument, which translates into a mess of unusable code
  • Hoarding that last little bit of information that might make the company burn
  • Deleting the president’s Twitter account in protest

If the situation is difficult, your team is still dealing with it. Rather than salt the ground and leave in a blaze of glory, leave them respecting you and who knows they may be the path to something better in the future.

We don’t know what will happen, but we surely close it off if we leave a bitter taste of those we once worked with.

Leave with gratitude

So much of what we do is based on gratitude and reciprocity. Leaving really shouldn’t be any different.

It’s likely you started working in a place because you had a dream, or you liked the staff or maybe it just seemed like a good idea at the time, but something attracted you there.

There are people you work with who are both worthwhile and you want to keep in your life.

These are all reasons for gratefulness. Gratefulness helps you appreciate the good things you had and let you release any slight that still burns.

Be thankful for your time. See the good things for the blessings they are. Be honest with yourself about the difficulties, the path onwards will be so less bumpy.

Keep the energy up

This is difficult. I’m going to admit when I left my last position I had a couple of hard weeks on the way through. I was leaving people I counted as friends and work that I found engaging. I struggled.

Having said that, I had a deep desire to leave the place in a better state than when I found it.

The only way that could happen was to invest energy into something worthwhile. I chose people and processes, that I knew would pay dividends for my team long after I left.

Be self-aware and when you find your energy lagging, refocus. Instead of saying, “well, I’m going anyway…” challenge yourself to find the best in every day. You can learn going in and you can learn going out.

You get to choose.

Clean up

This is both metaphorical and literal. If you have technical debt you have been putting off and have space, pay it back so that the person behind you doesn’t get your unearned interest payments.

Again, you can leave blessings for the people that follow instead of irritations.

It also means spend time properly cleaning up your space when you go to leave. Take out your trash, empty your drawers and clean your own cups.

Your teammates are already losing you, there is no reason they need to stare at a dirty coffee cup left on a desk as a shrine to your presence.

Don’t laugh I’ve seen it.

Pass the baton

To bestow a particular responsibility or job on someone. The phrase refers to a relay race in which one runner literally passes a baton to the next runner.

You may or may not have someone coming in to replace you.

It really depends, but this is the chance to really evaluate your role. What parts of your job are important that benefit those around you? Who is going to take the slack? What bits aren’t seen, but are so very important?

Help your team by helping those that follow.

If you can’t hand off directly to another person, share the knowledge around. Knowledge leaving with you doesn’t help anyone.

Find the passionate people and let them take up the mantle for continuing change and improvement.

Get it out of your head

If it is organisational knowledge in your head and you are the sole owner, get it out of there quick smart. It is dangerous enough when you are in a team; when you are leaving it becomes critical.

I like living with bus numbers of > 2. I think it should be the same for code. Schedule time for handovers, connect people who should be working together. Pick simple tasks that you can pair with someone else and work it through.

If someone says, can you show me, the answer is simple, “Yes, and let’s find a time.”  Even better if you can help with the onboarding of the following scrum master. Let them make their own decisions, but provide insights where you think is respectful and relevant.

Schedule knowledge shares and work through the issues.

Don’t leave a mountain of unusable code, instead find small improvements that make everyone who follows better

Give others permission to keep on dreaming

If others still have a flame burning, stoke it.

Vision is often the reason we do things, give people permission to keep on going by aiding them to find their reasons for going on.

Be honest

People will ask you why you are moving on. Tell them, and don’t make it personal. They can know your reasons, but don’t need your baggage.

It is such a delicate balancing act.

You may find it liberating to let it all hang out there. It is so tempting to let it all flow. It can, however, do permanent damage to your reputation if you let it fly.

My best advice, even if I don’t always hit this measure, is to try to walk close to radical candor.

There are ways and ways of giving uncomfortable news. If people are shakey, you don’t need to make it worse. Act with care and compassion and tell truth without breaking the world.

Leave that backlog ticking

It is tempting to just let things go to pot when you leave. Resist the urge. Leave the team functioning and give them the best shot at success.

Your departure will likely coincide with a dip in productivity. It is natural and we have felt the shift in momentum in teams when a member leaves.

A messy backlog will also contribute to a drop in productivity and the team could potentially suffer a double hit. Given that a backlog should ideally contain 2-3 sprints worth of actionable/refinable material at the top. Help get the team to that point.

Your departure is likely to be hard enough. Give them the best chance to get over it and get on with the work.

Say goodbye

When the day finally comes, allow time for goodbyes. Send your last email. Ask people to connect and leave on a good note.

This will be the final memory you leave.

Let your legacy be a good one and leave with grace and strength.