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What Makes a Good Scrum Master? The do’s and don’ts of the Scrum Master’s Role

What makes a good Scrum Master

What Makes a Good Scrum Master? The do’s and don’ts of the Scrum Master’s Role

In a previous post, ‘What does a Scrum Master do and what is their role?’ I explained that Scrum encourages collaboration and active involvement of all team members. This creates a self-organised and dedicated team as well as an enjoyable working environment.  The benefit of having a Scrum Master is that they help create the self-organised team and address distractions from outside influences leaving the team free to focus on the work of the Sprint.  A well-established Scrum team is not likely to need as much coaching as one that has only just started to work together.  Established or not, however, the team needs to stay fast and flexible as they grow; a good Scrum Master will help them achieve this.

Scrum Master Team Collaboration

Collaboration

As I said in What is Scrum Methodology and Scrum Project Management? collaboration is one of the main factors in a Scrum Team.  On the most basic level, it occurs when two or more people work together towards a common goal.  This is teamwork and “The best teamwork comes from men (and women) who are working independently toward one goal in unison” (James Cash Penney).  When you are part of a team, especially a Scrum team, your voice needs to be heard so that you can share your ideas and innovations and so that changes can be made effectively.  This also strengthens trust and accountability within the team.

Collaboration allows the team to work together at a high level.  They need to be aware of the customer’s requirements and the context in which they are working so that their approach can be adjusted accordingly.  To do this they need to understand the structure of the framework they are working within as well as the problems that structure is meant to address.  Emphasis is placed on communication here, as the Scrum Master needs to effectively communicate with both customer and team.  If you do not know what the values of your customers are then you cannot deliver value for them.  Similarly, if you do not communicate those values to the rest of the team, then again, value cannot be delivered. 

Effective collaboration does not mean that the whole team needs to be involved in every Backlog discussion, but rather it determines who of the team need to be involved and who don’t.  Different people often rely on each other, so knowing who is working on what makes for smooth collaboration.  It also means that conflict (if there is any) can be used to the team’s advantage.  By exploring conflicting assumptions and challenging them, a suitable solution can be arrived at and priorities can be agreed.

The benefits of collaboration include:

  • Improved communication between all team members (and other teams if necessary)
  • Giving a voice to all team members thereby erasing hierarchy
  • Innovations resulting from sharing ideas
  • A dedicated team
  • Accelerated project delivery times

Now that we have looked at the importance of collaboration within a Scrum team (within any team), let’s see the do’s of a Scrum Master’s role before looking at the don’ts (officially known as Scrum anti patterns).

Scrum Master Team Gathering

The Do’s of a Scrum Master’s Role

As Scrum Master your role is to support your team.  The best way to achieve this is to be open and honest.  If you say you will do something and then follow through, your team members will be more accountable for their own commitments.  Be aware of how each member is performing so that you can offer support if needed and above all, be approachable.  Below are more examples of how you can support your team as a good Scrum Master:

  • Engage your team in the bigger picture. This helps to maintain team motivation and dedication.  It makes for a happy team and workplace and the result is increased productivity.
  • Encourage open, honest communication between all team members. They are your greatest assets so allow them the comfort of being able to talk through their opinions and ideas without the fear of repercussions. 
  • Build trust through accountability (as detailed above) because trust is the cornerstone of any teamwork and accountability creates and strengthens that trust.
  • Reinforce the collaborative behaviours and efforts of the team by recognising and praising them. This lets them know that their behaviour and efforts count.  Everybody likes to be told that they are doing a good job.
  • Avoid regularly being directly involved in searching for the solution to a problem. Guide, suggest and propose solutions now and then but let the team make the decisions.  By doing this, the team will be able to resolve any similar issues that arise in the future which strengthens their self-organising abilities.
  • Protect your team from complacency. Whilst some teams constantly strive to improve, others may feel that they have reached their fullest potential and have no more to learn; they become complacent.  A good Scrum Master needs to make sure that their team constantly evolves and improves, so he/she needs to be constantly evolving and improving themselves.  Expand the knowledge for yourself and your team by gathering, experimenting and sharing new information. 
  • Get to know each individual member of the team. Learn their strengths and weaknesses so that you can help them work better together.
  • Serve as a mediator in a situation of conflict to help reach a solution. (Don’t take sides)
  • Encourage the team to give updates and feedback to each other rather than to you. If the team rely on the Scrum Master, then they lose their ability to be self-organising. 

The Don'ts of a Scrum Master Role

The Don’ts of a Scrum Master’s Role (Anti Patterns)

Whilst the Scrum Master’s role is to support their team, there is the danger of being overly supportive.  As Scrum Master you are potentially in a position of power and it can be tempting to try to micromanage your team because you feel responsible both for them and the product being developed.  You may try to control and direct them albeit with the good intention of teaching them how to self-organise.  By ‘managing’ the team in this way, however, rather than teaching them to self-organise you actually absolve them of their ability to do so and you reduce possible opportunities for them to learn how.  The Scrum Master’s role, remember, is to support by means of coaching, inspiring, mentoring and leading by example; not by managing.  So, what else should a Scrum Master not do?

  • Don’t always try to help the team solve a problem. It may be difficult to remain silent on times when your team is struggling but if you frequently interfere and try to solve their problems for them, they will wait for you to do so every time which diminishes the team’s self-organising abilities. 
  • Don’t overload the team with work. A team under pressure will take short cuts which will most likely result in defects in the product increment.  This in turn will create more pressure for the team, causing apathy and the loss of their dedication to the work involved.
  • Don’t commit your team to requests or deadlines without first consulting with them. Even if you know they can fulfil the requirements, it is their decision to make, not yours.
  • Don’t dominate the daily scrum. These meetings are more for the development team, so a Scrum Master who does most of the talking is not going to help them become or remain self-organised. 
  • Don’t act like a mother hen and treat the team like children. If the team come to rely on the Scrum Master, then they will again lose their self-organising ability.
  • Don’t act like the team secretary… It is not the Scrum Master’s responsibility to keep the Scrum Board up to date or to complete board administration tasks. (They can help if the team is too busy, but these should not be regular Scrum Master tasks).
  • Don’t deal with all impediments personally when any member of the team could deal with them. Again, if you do this it can mean the loss of the team’s self-organising abilities.
  • Don’t filter out any negative feedback from stakeholders by restricting or completely blocking their access to the team. Stakeholders offer important perspectives to the development of the product, so their opinions need to be considered by the whole team.  If the stakeholder tries to set a deadline that the team cannot deliver by, then it is up to the team to refuse that deadline.
  • Don’t tolerate damaging behaviour from a team member hoping that it will improve with time. It probably won’t improve and could have a detrimental effect on the rest of the team.
  • Don’t prevent the team from failure, even if that failure is going to have an impact on progress. A Scrum team learns by their mistakes (remember the 3 Pillars?) as the framework is based on empiricism, so failures are not really failures at all, but more like stepping-stones to success.

So, now you have some idea of the do’s and don’ts of a Scrum Master’s role and the importance of collaboration within a team, look out for my next post; Scrum Team: The Importance of Trust and Transparency.

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