Out of all the Scrum roles, the one that is newest to most organizations is the ScrumMaster (SM) role. This ScrumMaster is not a project manager, not an administrator, not a technical lead, nor a product manager. Think of the ScrumMaster as a coach who is focused on:
- Creating an environment of transparency, inspection and adaptation
- Guiding the team, Product Owner, and organization to work effectively in the Scrum framework
- Ensuring the team, Product Owner, and organization are improving over time
- Ensuring impediments from success are being removed
There are five things I look for in a good ScrumMaster:
- Knowledge – A deep understanding of Agile values, the Scrum framework, and understanding of other Agile practices and methods such as Kanban and XP (extreme programming) concepts.
- Experience – Agile concepts are relatively straight-forward, but complicated to implement. Having worked on and with Scrum teams and having experience implementing Agile concepts will help the ScrumMaster work through the complicated nuances of creating effective teams.
- Coaching – ScrumMasters should wield very little official power, all their power comes from influence and guidance. Look for someone with a deep understanding of how to coach people through decision making and understanding what’s most effective.
- Facilitation – A strong grasp of facilitation techniques to help individuals, teams, and organizations to brainstorm, organize ideas, and better make decisions.
- Servant Leadership – Having a genuine desire to help others. ScrumMasters don’t need to be the center of attention. Rather, they create an environment where those around them can succeed.
It’s likely that you or your ScrumMaster may be green or still maturing. If that’s the case, below are recommendations to improve and evolve in the role:
- Training – Recommended training courses include (in order):
- Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) – A deep dive into the basics of Agile and Scrum
- Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM) – This is an advanced class that delves further into topics and allows the SM to apply more advanced concepts.
- Agile Coaching – An Agile Coaching course focuses specifically on developing the SM’s coaching skills.
- Agile Facilitation – An Agile Facilitation course focuses on learning and developing facilitation techniques.
- Certified Scrum Professional – ScrumMaster (CSP-SM) – This advanced practitioner masterclass allows the ScrumMasters to perfect their skills.
- Mentoring – Having a more advanced SM or Agile Coach offer guidance to more junior SMs.
- Pairing – In pairing, you have two SMs of relatively equal skills work together to help each other learn and grow.
- Conference – Going to either physical or virtual conferences or events. There are national and even global events led by the Scrum Alliance and Agile Alliance as well as smaller regional conferences. I recommend attending the conferences not only to learn, but also speaking at conferences to share personal growth and experience.
- Books – Some helpful books for ScrumMasters to read include:
- Browsing the Internet – Look for Scrum websites and blogs. Some great resources include ScrumAlliance.org and ScrumMasterChecklist.org.
- User Groups – Find a local Agile or Scrum user group and learn from the local community Agile.
- Community of Practice – Join or create a ScrumMaster community of practice in your organization so that SMs in the organization can share their experiences together.
- Experience – And, of course, growing day-to-day experience is the best way to learn.
So, how do I know if my ScrumMaster is effective? Consider these three questions:
- Are we making the same mistakes time and time again? – A good ScrumMaster will work with the team to ensure that once a mistake is made, that the team develops practices to ensure they do not continue repeating the same error. Mistakes are things the team does that does not have the outcomes or consequences they intended.
- Are we encountering the same issues time and time again? – A good ScrumMaster works with the team so that when issues arise, the teams can recognize issues as they arise and will put in practices to ensure that those issues are effectively dealt with going forward. Issues are problems that arise that the teams did not directly create.
- Are we getting better over time or are we stuck where we are? – The concept of having highly effective teams versus ineffective teams is relative. What we really want is that our team is getting better over time.
If we see that our teams are not repeating the same mistakes, that our teams recognize issues as they arise and are able to effectively deal with those issues, and that our teams are constantly improving, then that’s a signal that we have an effective ScrumMaster. If these things are not true, that’s a sign that your ScrumMaster needs to improve their abilities to work through these issues with their team.
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