Two weeks ago, I wrote up a post about Product Owner Quick Tips and thought it would be a good idea to follow that up with one for Scrum Masters. While Product Owners have the most difficult role in Scrum, Scrum Masters have the most impactful role on the team. The Scrum Master is the “herd dog” for the team, keeping the “business wolves” at bay while helping the team focus on the work we’ve committed to complete.
Scrum Master Quick Tip #1: Continual Learning
If you’ve just started on your journey as a Scrum Master, you may have earned (or signed up to earn) your CSM (or PSM). Congratulations! That’s important but it’s just the first step on your thousand-mile journey. When I teach Scrum Master classes, I always teach the basics and use exercises to reinforce those basics, but those are basic concepts. New Scrum Masters need to keep the momentum from their classes going by reading books, articles, blogs (like this one), and engaging with others.
One quick way to get good support from people who are further down the path is to create a Guild. Guilds are great ways for people in the same role (Product Owner, Scrum Master, etc) to come together and discuss in a safe environment the challenges they face and bring up the questions they have. There are no “stupid questions” in a Guild – every question has value. The benefit, of course, is that you get advice and guidance from people who are walking the path. It ends up being less “ivory tower” theory and more practical advice. And that can be critical to making positive change.
There are also plenty of conference slides, blogs, articles, podcasts, et al, that can expose you to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Ever hear of “no estimates” Scrum? What about Scrumban? How about DevOps? All of those topics have elements that a good Scrum Master can adopt for their teams. Sometimes it’s everything. Sometimes it’s one small piece. But knowing that those things are out there adds to your toolbox and we all want more than just a hammer in there.
Scrum Master Quick Tip #2: Get Help
Being a Scrum Master can be very demanding. You have to insulate the team from thrash, be an evangelist for the process, keep the team focused on their work, and help resolve impediments. And sometimes that’s more than a Scrum Master can do on their own. In those cases, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Most new Scrum Masters I see tend to try to eat the whole elephant in one bite. They think that with their CSM (or PSM) certificate that they’re now officially qualified to boil the ocean. DON’T! Get help. First, it’s going to be a learning process and a journey, not a destination. You need to keep working to improve yourself (see Tip #1). That will take some guidance. So don’t hesitate to find someone – perhaps a seasoned Agile Coach – to act as your mentor or even just collaborator.
Also, if you’re trying to resolve impediments, you’re going to need to enlist help to get that done. Whether it’s contact information for someone or getting someone with some authority to help expedite something, get comfortable asking others for assistance. With the right people and the contacts in your “back pocket”, you can fulfill your responsibilities to address those impediments.
Scrum Master Quick Tip #3: Create Trust
One of the most important things you can do as a Scrum Master is to create an environment of trust with the team. Be very open and honest in your communications. Be willing to fail openly. Discuss those failures. Demonstrate to the team that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s okay to make them. By creating judgment-free spaces, your team will open up and share things they won’t otherwise.
Patrick Lencioni puts Lack of Trust at the bottom of the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. It is the core item that will destroy team cohesion and teamwork faster than anything else. If a team lacks trust, there is a shaky foundation that can’t really support any of the other team dynamics. This is perhaps the most difficult of the quick tips but it is critical to helping the team create a strong foundation so they can become a high-performing team.
We have a few Scrum Masters here at Velocity Partners who are working with teams. We’ve established a Scrum Master Guild as a forum where they can discuss amongst themselves – inside an open, trusting environment with coaching support – their challenges and their successes. Our Scrum Masters get direct one-on-one support from one of our agile coaches so we can help our teams not just perform but really excel.
Scrum Masters have the most direct impact on whether a team is going to succeed. By following these tips and continuing your learning by engaging with others, you can help your teams really soar.
Feliz entrenamiento, mis amigos! (Happy coaching, my friends!)