The Scrum guide describes the Scrum Master as being responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum. This definition leaves the role in a state where improvement should always be striven for. There should be an ongoing desire to better yourself in your role, but despite the Scrum Master title having been around for a number of years now, there seems to be no established method of developing the responsibilities and expectations of the position. As a broad overview, here are some basic guidelines to help you on your way to becoming a better Scrum Master.
1. A Great Scrum Master is Only Great When the Team is
As Scrum Master, it isn’t up to you to do all the work and receive all the praise. In fact, the best Scrum Master might be one that people don’t think is necessary to the project. This is not to say that the Scrum Master should only be working behind the scenes – quite the opposite – the Scrum Master strives to bring out the full potential of the team so that they are ensured to operate at their best. The Scrum Master is only as successful as their team, so it’s up to you to bring out the absolute best in them!
2. Understand the Importance of the Daily Scrum
The daily Scrum should not be brushed off as just another meeting. It should be seen as an opportunity to strengthen the team, meaning all (yes, ALL) team members should attend. It’s important to remember that no matter how large the team may be, that it is just that – a team, and should not be split up into sub-groups. The daily Scrum is an excellent chance to mitigate any feelings of disconnection among the team, allowing any disagreements to be brought up and worked through – there should be no “Us and them” only “Us“.
While it is up to the Scrum Master to organize the Scrum meeting, attending team members should be reporting to each other, not to you, nor to the product owner if they happen to be attending. They should be encouraged to discuss any progress made and where they intend to go from there. It’s also a prime opportunity to bring up any obstacles that may have presented themselves, and what can be done to overcome them. Team members should be able to ask for help and learn from any issues how to avoid them in the future.
3. Be Humble, But Don’t Let Your Team Be
It’s very important to ensure that the successes of your team are celebrated, and not just the big successes. Even small goals can be notable and should be treated as such. Small celebrations can be a great morale booster, even just a small gesture like bringing in food or coffee for your team or giving them the occasional afternoon off. In addition to this, larger team celebrations like taking a break for a team bowling match or a round of drinks can be a great way to reward the team and will help to recharge the batteries; ultimately strengthening the team, especially if the team is not particularly tight-knit to begin with. Be proud of your team, and make sure they feel the same, both of themselves, and of each other. When the team does something fantastic, you want the whole organization to know about it. You should want to be able to talk about your own accomplishments, but not in the sense of “look at what I accomplished” but instead “look at what I helped my team accomplish!”
As fantastic as your team surely is, it’s important not to bite off more than they can chew. It is not your decision to commit the team to a deadline or change request without running it by them first. Even if you are certain the team can handle it, double check before committing. A full team meeting will not often be necessary, it’s much easier to quickly bring it up in the daily Scrum.
4. Keep Your Ears Open
What should come across as an obvious point is one that is too often forgotten. It can be easy to forget to slow down and find out what everyone else has to say, especially when you have a lot to go through – but it is absolutely vital to success. Avoid getting into the habit of always speaking first. Instead, do your best to encourage team members to speak their mind first. During this time, devote your entire attention to the speaker, and wait until they have finished speaking before finding a response. Take your time. Silences should not be awkward, they should give everyone time to really take in the speaker’s words. Exchanges like this should encourage your team to come to you when they need to and establish a relationship of trust. You should not feel like you need to make an effort to get information from the team, as it should be routine to speak to you when they feel it necessary.
5. Be Knowledgeable and Open to Learning
Your team will expect you to have the necessary knowledge in order to help them out, whether it’s technical, market-based, or something more specific. You will need the know-how to be able to understand any problem that may arise well enough so that you may accurately explain what’s going on to others in the organization, not just take the information at face value and relay it word for word. To build on this you must be aware of exactly who you may need to go to with this information, who makes the decisions, etc. But this is not to say that you are expected to know everything immediately – the key takeaway from this is that you will need to work hard to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary so that you can operate at your best. In other words, you will need to evolve in your role as a Scrum Master. You don’t need to become a developer or a marketer, but you should be knowledgeable enough in these fields so that you can really assist your team in breaking down any barriers that may hinder their efforts.
6. Be Friendly, But Assertive
It should go without saying that it’s a good idea to do your best for having a positive, friendly relationship with your entire team, but a Scrum Master often needs to wear the hat and put their foot down. Stay consistent with the way you make sure rules are enforced; don’t allow your team to pick and choose which agile principles they follow; it should be all or nothing when it comes to the Agile Manifesto. A good Scrum Master needs to be able to play hard ball – not because they are the boss and can flex their power as they see fit, but because it is their responsibility to make the team the best that they can be. It may take time for your team to get used to it, but sooner or later they will be able to appreciate the benefits of closely following agile principles.
In a similar vein, you need to hold the team accountable to meeting any deadlines. The sprint goal must be met! If results are slipping, too many bugs are making it through, or team members simply aren’t actively participating in the daily Scrum, it is up to you ensure the issues are fixed. Note that it is not up to you to necessarily fix the issues yourself, but to help the team assist each other, providing great team building in the process. At the end of the day, when your team is under-performing is partly your fault, right? No matter how good, Scrum Masters make common mistakes too, but there is always room for correction.
7. Be Influential, Not Controlling
To almost take a step backwards from the previous point, it’s important to be able to influence your team without just bossing them around. No one likes to be given order after order after order, especially if it’s not something they agree with. Everyone needs to be able to express their opinion and to learn and grow together. There will be instances where you will need your team to try something new; not by just throwing them in the deep end but by communicating the advantages of a particular method, trying a new one they are unfamiliar with, or demonstrating the benefits of working as one. There is little point in commanding someone to do something if they do not understand why they are doing it. It still stands that the team shall become self-organizing, but that is not to say you will not play a large part in subtly influencing their development, so they reach this point.
Overall, the most important thing you can do as a Scrum Master is be attentive to how you can improve your role, but also how you can help your team improve, too. Be patient, alert and considerate and you will become the best Scrum Master you want to be and that your team needs you to be!