A touchstone is a rock used to compare valuable minerals. If you took a known quality of gold and rubbed it against the touchstone it would leave a streak or mark on the face of the stone. Then you could take a mineral of unknown quality and rub it against the rock next to the first streak you made. A good touchstone would allow a visible comparison of the two streaks to be made. In this case, if the streaks matched, then presumably the second sample was also gold. If they didn’t match – no gold. Sometimes an acid might be applied to the streaks to further help clarify if they were the same substance or not.
So a touchstone is a tool used to compare the quality of two samples. It occured to me that as Scrum Masters we also act as a touchstone for our teams. Our job is to help the team see how the changes that they have made have improved the way they work. Of course we need to have a starting sample to compare against. In this case, the starting sample – what we might think of as the gold standard – is plain Jane, do it by the book Scrum. Scrum is our starting point. It is the process baseline against which we compare our process improvements. Some might argue that any process would work as this standard, but I think there is a certain elegance and simplicity to Scrum that lends itself to using it in this manner.
So we put Scrum into place for our teams and establish a baseline, We try it out for a sprint and review how it works for us. Then we change it. We tweak the process to make it work better for us. We try out new ideas, new practices, new ways of working together that enable us as a team to potentially perform better. How do we know the changes are an improvement? By comparing them to Scrum.