How (not) to begin your journey as a Scrum Master
3 min read

How (not) to begin your journey as a Scrum Master

In a strict sense the role of a Scrum Master is defined in the Scrum Guide as:

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.

I personally believe the mission of the Scrum Master is helping the team be happier and more effective at solving problems our customers care about.

(This wider meaning can also be used if Scrum is not accepted or actively disliked in your context; it might be more helpful to use the name Agile Coach then or just do it without using any name at all.)

This allows me to apply the concept in a wider context and also sanity check my methods by their results:

  • Is the team happier?
  • Are the customers happier?

If not you have your answer.

How not to start

Imagine you’re at working at a company, you feel you’re good at your job. One day the company hires someone to help you and your team improve.

This person has the best intentions and only wants to help you. Furthermore all his suggestions are actually true. We’re imagining things, remember? ;-)

He comes, looks at what you’re doing and starts pointing out mistakes you’re making and asking things like “Is this the best you can do?“.

How do you feel?

I don’t know about you, but I’d probably strangle the guy.

If you make this mistake you deserve:

(But do keep in mind that Scrum Shock Therapy is an option if the team accepts the challenge willingly.)

So how can you go about helping a new team in a less confrontational way?

sm-listenStep 1) Get to know them, let them get to know you.

A more promising way would be to first seek first to understand and then to be understood.

In the immortal words of Deckard Cain “stay a while and listen“.

While you’re learning about the company and the team and also letting them learn about you …

sm-splinterStep 2) Help them remove some painful obstacles.

The world is full of major and minor annoyances and every team is struggling with some things that are not that hard to resolve, but somehow don’t get the attention they need.

This is a great opportunity for a new Scrum Master!

If you solve a problem that the team actually cares about and not the ones you think are important and you do it over and over while avoiding major blunders along the way, you will watch the balances in your emotional bank accounts with them grow steadily.

After some time you might be ready to…

sm-looking-backStep 3) Facilitate a good retrospective.

The best Scrum Masters don’t tell people what the problems are and how to solve them.

They make reality painfully obvious so that the team can see it themselves.

A lot can be written about retrospectives and a lot has been, but for now keep in mind:

  • focus on the facts, not opinions; de-escalate emotional conflicts as much as you can,
  • try to find the root cause, don’t stop at treating the symptoms,
  • plan concrete actions and fit them in with your regular plans,
  • check the results of your changes: did they have the desired effects?
  • remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day; repeat retrospectives regularly,
  • be happy with incremental improvements as long as they add up to larger gains in the long term.

After some time slowly you can reach for more and more tools and then the sky’s the limit!

Do you want to learn more? Check out:

Outside the box:

User stories for this post:

  • As a manager or customer I want to understand what a great Scrum master can do for me.
  • As a Scrum Master I want to improve my own understanding of my role so that I can be successful.
  • As a member or a creative team I want to understand what a Scrum Master can do for me and my team.

Update 2014-07-31: more about steps to take when you start with a new team.