More Scrum Master tips

Scrum Master Tips to Help Your Teams Succeed

I previously wrote Tips To Be a Successful Scrum Master.  Over time, more Scrum Master tips have come to mind so today I’d like to extend my list of tips by ten.  Each of these tips are borne out of my mistakes or experiences, and I hope at least one of these tips is something you can take back to your team.  So let’s get started on these new Scrum Master tips.

  1. Never surprise the Product Owner. The Product Owner should be our partner so create a strong relationship with him or her.  After it’s created, reinforce it by ensuring s/he knows everything we know.  By talking to them before a major change or event, we avoid unnecessary resistance.
  2. Scrum is not scripture. It’s not enough to know the Scrum framework.  We should know why each element exists and what happens if we remove an artifact or ceremony.  Be intimately familiar with the nuance of the framework.  Question it.  Explore it.  The team will ask innumerable questions on this front, and it’s never acceptable to say “because ‘scrum’ says so.”
  3. Put yourself out of a job. I’m of the opinion that a Scrum Master should feel valued, not necessary.  Are team members—not you—willing to pull another out of a rabbit hole?  Do they—not you—remind others of a meeting agenda if things get off track?  If you take a week off, are you comfortable the team can perform just as well in your absence?  I hope so.

We should be teaching ourselves out of a job not so we can be fired but be promoted.

  1. Challenge the system, not the people. By making the conversation about the system, we can often avoid conversations that could otherwise be contentious.  I agree with Lewin’s equation which states behavior is a function of the person and his or her environment.  That’s not to say we should overlook misbehavior.  Recognize it and address it.  Then, evaluate the system to see what instigated it.
  2. Managers as assets. Scrum doesn’t speak to the role of managers in an organization.  As such, many Scrum Masters overlook their value.  Not only do managers have insight into team members, they also make excellent sounding boards for organizational impediments.  Establish relationships with them and use those conversations to affect positive change.
  3. Map the critical steps. Often, the hardest part of change is getting started.  Help the team to understand what they want to affect in easy and straight forward terms.  Why are they changing?  What’s the change look like?  How do we hold each other accountable to this change?  SMART applies and credit for this tip goes to Chip Heath in his book Switch.
  4. Solve the team’s problems, not our own. As a Scrum Master, we often have a good perspective of dysfunctions within our team.  However, until we can convince the team of a problem, they will show little interesting in solving it.  Be a mirror for the team’s behaviors, and if the problem is real, they’ll begin to see it for themselves.  Conversely, we may discover what we thought was a problem wasn’t.
  5. #ICouldBeWrong. I borrow this tip from Mike Cohn in the Front Row Agile series Let Go Of Knowing.  Never enter a conversation assuming we’re right.  Instead, enter it as if there’s more to learn.  It’ll not only keep us from digging in our heels, but it can also have the same psychological effect on our audience.
  6. Plan for the pain points. Many times, we need to strategize as to how to remove an organization impediment or how to approach a difficult situation, and my advice on a bias toward action applies here. That’s not to say we enter a situation unarmed or without thought.  Instead, think through what the first and second steps might be and then invest the rest of our energy into how these two steps could go wrong.
  7. Epitomize agility. As a Marine, I was often reminded that the world around me was watching, even if I wasn’t aware.  As such, it was up to me to epitomize our reputation at all times.  I continue to apply that wisdom as an agile coach.  Is my cell phone put away during a meeting?  It better be.  Am I listening to others to reply or to understand?  Am I solving problems iteratively and incrementally?  After all, people are watching me to understand agility, and I should set a solid example for others to follow.

That’s all for today.  If you have any Scrum Master tips to offer, I hope you share them in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “Scrum Master Tips to Help Your Teams Succeed”

  1. I love this blog post, Tanner. And I think I know where #1 on this list came from 😉

    One of my favorite parts was this quote: “until we can convince the team of a problem, they will show little interesting in solving it. ”

    I am a much more effective Product Owner (and my team is a much more effective team, and the product is a much more effective product) if I can convince them of the user or business problem. Get them to really understand the fundamental issues. Grasp why this matters, and which elements are most important.

    A poorly explained problem (or worse yet a pre-baked solution) yields a poor solution. Or a solution to the wrong problem. But being transparent and explaining the real issues at play motivates the team to work together to think creatively and deliver a solution that truly solves the underlying customer or business problem.

    I think in Scrum, if Scrum Masters can be transparent with the team and persuasively explain what they perceive as a problem, both the team and PO will be much more inclined to throw their weight behind helping to fix it. Just my two cents! And I think I’m preaching to the choir! Thanks for the post! 🙂

    1. #1 is one I’ve practiced for many years but never realized it. It’s funny how that works. And I agree. When we give the team a problem (whether process or product), and ask them to solve it, we achieve a higher level of ownership and engagement.

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