With the rise of agility and the cultural transformation that organizations live in their agile evolution, the role of the Scrum Master takes center stage. This short article aims to give you an idea of what it means to be a good Scrum Master and what path you can take to strengthen your skills.
What is Scrum?
I'm not going to spend a lot of time answering this question. If you want to be a good Scrum Master, the first thing you need to know is what does it mean to be a Scrum Master? Scrum and why it is important. However, the short answer is that Scrum is a framework - it's a framework that is framework - that promotes collaborative work. Scrum is oriented to small teams of people and promotes providing value and solutions to challenges in a creative and continuous way.
Scrum is oriented on people and their interaction and not necessarily on resource optimization. This is particularly important and effective in environments where the solution or outcome is not fully or partially predictable.
In short, imagine you're going to a party and the host person already has minute by minute what the attendees should do. It doesn't sound like a very fun party. In some contexts it's better for the process to involve experimentation. In the case of our party example, the freedom to meet people, or choose what music to play. Consider the actual spirit of the party - mood - and allow things to flow at their own pace.
Conversely, if you want to build a house, the last thing you want is for the person in charge of construction to "experiment" with your money. Most of us prefer efficient budget execution. As efficiently as possible. Experimenting on a known context, like building houses, becomes inefficient.
What does Scrum Master mean?
In the words of the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master is the person in charge - the person in charge of accountable – to make Scrum happen in the right way in the organization. To achieve this, he must help people understand the theory and values. It must also accompany people to apply and appropriate the theory in their day-to-day work.
What are the responsibilities of the Scrum Master?
The Scrum Master serves different stakeholder groups and roles.
Scrum Team Responsibilities
Of course, the Scrum Master's priority is to attend and support the Scrum Team. That is, the people in the same team that "adopted" Scrum as a working model. I could win several enemies if I use the word methodology instead of "working model", but imagine that it is something very similar.
In this regard, and in accordance with the Scrum Guide - the canonical document par excellence, the Scrum Master serves the Scrum Team al:
- Offer coaching to team members on topics such as self-management and interdisciplinarity. Something like helping people to organize themselves. That everyone learns to assume their responsibilities, organize their work and, of course, have a collaborative, open and learning posture.
- Help the team stay focused on creating valuable increments. I could sum up the concept of incrementalism as partial results, but with a business sense - Did I say I was summarizing?
- Promote or manage that impediments are removed, i.e., mitigated, resolved or avoided. Impediments are those things that slow down or limit the team's ability to produce results.
- Ensure that all Scrum events are conducted successfully, on time, with a good attitude and in a productive manner.
Responsibilities to the Product Owner
The Product Owner is part of the Scrum Team, but has a role that differentiates him from the rest. For this reason, as Scrum Master you must support the PO, not only with what we have already mentioned before, but also as Scrum Master:
- Assist the PO in effectively defining the product objective and the process of backlog management of the product. Keep in mind that you may use your facilitation skills to support the PO in his or her own meetings and activities. Your job is not to decide on the product. Your job is to help those who decide on the product understand the advantages of having a model like Scrum in place.
- Help the Scrum team understand the need to have clear and concise product backlog elements. Please, no more parroting ? that the backlog can only have user stories, that makes you look bad.
- Help establish an empirical product planning model. Keep in mind that Scrum, as I said before, is designed to complex environments that require adaptation
- Facilitating collaboration between the PO and other stakeholders - external to the Scrum Team
Scrum Master's Responsibilities to the Organization
The Scrum Master has a clear scope in front of his Scrum Team, i.e. developers and Product Owners. However, the Scrum Master cannot ignore the context of his work within the organization.
For this reason, the Scrum Master must consider:
- Lead, train and coach the organization in the process of adopting the model. That model that we can't call methodology - XD
- Plan and advise on Scrum implementations within the organization
- To help employees and stakeholders understand and appropriate the empirical approach to complex work.
- Remove barriers between stakeholders and Scrum Teams. The latter is helping the organization "feel" flatter and less bureaucratic. Beyond the organizational structure, bringing Scrum teams closer to other people outside the model.
Skills of a very good Scrum Master
I'm sure you already know this, but the Scrum Master is a service leader. And in this sense, the Scrum Master shares the same skills.
Inspiring is not the same as motivating. Once upon a time at a conference I attended, the idea was put forward that to inspire was to sow the seed of self-motivation. Motivating, on the other hand, was like pushing a car. If you stop pushing it, it stops.
And when I talk about inspiration I'm referring in particular to promoting a love for the work, what we do and our team. This is not an attempt to put on a pair of glasses and see everything in that rose color. Being inspired will help you and your team take an optimistic approach to the challenges of the job.
Helps to strengthen our capacities
The Scrum Master is like a coach. He doesn't seek to teach you everything first hand. He is not a mentor. It is the person who, through critical and focused discussions, leads you to constantly evaluate your strengths, opportunities and weaknesses.
The Scrum Master's goal is to improve the team's performance and, of course, that the results the business needs are achieved. But it can go further and build capabilities, interest in experimenting and values such as trust in other team members. The Scrum Master promotes a cultural transformation that, inevitably, is a personal transformation.
Promotes always maintaining focus
Of course, the Scrum Master is the first one who must keep the focus on what is important - which is not always what is urgent. He must support the PO to not lose focus and to play strategically. But also the whole team. We are not different "subgroups" working together. We are one team looking for one goal.
If the Scrum Master does not maintain focus, it is possible that the team will always play the game of completing all the work, and that does not necessarily mean achieving the business objectives. And that doesn't necessarily mean achieving the business objectives. How many times do your teams do everything that is asked of them and don't achieve what is needed? You must maintain focus.
We've all had challenging jobs or times. Some boss in a past life used to say "chalenyear" - from the fluent English "challenge" and "to put pressure on". And as funny as that term still sounds in my head, I share what he was trying to do (though not always very well). Excellence, not to be confused with the blind pursuit of perfection, is above all things, a challenge to ourselves.
If we do not maintain a challenging mindset, we will surely never achieve anything exceptional. And I don't mean exceptional and world-changing, we can be exceptional in our environment, for our team and our product or project.
Of course we can include other qualities such as knowing how to communicate, results-oriented thinking or a continuous learning perspective. As well as being a good human being and respecting others. But, we are talking specifically about those you need as a Scrum Master. You can't be a good service leader if you don't have good human qualities. This is a role of contact with other human beings.
Recommendations to become a good Scrum Master
As with everything we desire or aspire to, dedication and commitment to your work - or future work - is key to success. So if you want to become a good or very good Scrum Master the most important thing is to be committed. Here are some useful tips on your way to master the role.
- Learn about Scrum. While there is a lot of literature, I recommend you read the bases in the Scrum Guide - let's say, the canonical version. And maybe a book like Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
- You don't need to be a Scrum Master to be a service leader in your team.. Even if your team already has a facilitator or Scrum Master, nothing prevents you from contributing. Be patient, wait for the moment to support, coordinate, facilitate, support your team. You should not neglect your work, but you do not have to be 100% of the time, only when you see the opportunity and the team needs it. Then you are already taking the first step.
- Look for the opportunity. You may not have the opportunity to work as a Scrum Master in your job, but I assure you that there are multiple options. From volunteering activities, to your own projects.
- Participate in agile community activities in your region or country. It's not about connecting with all-knowing experts, they don't exist and we all, to a greater or lesser extent, learn on the job. Some challenging jobs offer you more learning scenarios, other simpler ones allow you to apply and consolidate practices and tools. Connecting with the community can open doors to a lot of shared knowledge and experience.
- Discover the benefits of the role and identify where it can take you in your work, profession or trade. Not everyone is aware of the advantages and limitations of the role. So take a look at the job offers, the positions on the market and find out how far you can go with these new skills.
- Get certified. I'm not a fan of getting certified for the sake of getting certified. However, I can't deny that many job opportunities require certification. Look for the best certifications. Don't waste your money on PDF files that claim to be "international certificates" and are just files with pretty logos and aspirational names.