4 Signs of success for Scrum Masters – Guest blog post by Kiryl Baranoshnik

5303943819_e4fa8ab2dd_zAs Scrum Masters, we want to know when we are doing a good job. After all that’s what feedback is all about. However, defining the key indicators of success for Scrum Masters (SM) and Scrum Teams is not an easy task. There is no good source for benchmarking or guidance in this respect. In practice the industry still doesn’t have an agreement on what success means for a Scrum Master. Not only is the SM’s job still in the process of maturing, but it’s also hard to measure the main object it deals with: human behavior. Still, as a Scrum Master one needs some cues that would help understand that he or she moves in the right direction. After all Scrum is about inspecting and adapting.

Based on my experience with various teams I developed a set of signs that I found useful in setting a direction for a team’s growth and evaluating results afterwards. The definition is not strict and leaves some room for interpretation but it helps me understand whether I’m going the right way with a team or not. I’ve broken these signs down in four dimensions:

  • Expertise in Agile practices
  • Ability to continuously improve
  • Ability to ask for help
  • Ability to maintain an open culture

Expertise in Agile practices

15415369891_e5dbfea5c6_mAgile practices are what you usually start with in a new team. The end results of this dimension are the easiest ones to measure and evaluate. While focusing on Agile practices, you mostly act as the teacher and mentor as defined in the ACI competency model. Your goal here is to make sure that the team understands and follows Agile practices and is able to use them effectively.

Among the signs of success in this dimension might be:

  • The team does Scrum ceremonies on their own without the ScrumMaster
  • Backlog Refinement is performed by the team continuously, Product Backlog stays in good shape
  • The team applies engineering practices such as CI, TDD, etc.
  • Product Owner is able to work out a long-term roadmap on their own
  • If any estimation techniques are used, they are applied properly

Continuous improvement

As you start seeing that the team has grown enough expertise in Agile practices, you want to move to the other three dimensions. From this point on you act mostly as the coach and facilitator. In the continuous improvement dimension you want to see your team capable of maintaining their growth without active involvement from your side most of the time.

The signs of such behavior might be:

  • The team is able to conduct Sprint Retrospectives on their own and produce improvement action points
  • The improvements are followed up and completed without the ScrumMaster’s supervision
  • The team keeps their agreements and practices, performance doesn’t deteriorate over time

Ability to ask for help

As you see your team practicing Agile and improving continuously, you may want to start nudging them towards self-organization even more by switching your stance to occasional facilitation and on-demand coaching. Here you want to make sure that the team is able to demand this support as necessary, and is able to ask for your help when they run into an impediment they can’t resolve. The best way to move in this direction is to set the team’s expectations by stating a new coaching agreement, for example: “You guys seem to be taking ownership of the method and practice, which is great. So I’d like to step back a bit more. I’ll be here still, but I’d like you to take the lead in asking for my help when necessary. Is that ok with you?”

You can tell the team is able to ask for help when:

  • You get coaching requests from time to time and when necessary
  • When you visit the team to make observations, they don’t surprise you with hidden issues they haven’t told you about

Maintaining an open culture

An overarching dimension that I believe supports everything else is the culture of openness. Openness is also one of the Scrum’s values so it’s one of your tasks as a Scrum Master to make sure it’s maintained. There are different ways you can train the team to act openly. For instance, you can start showing them how to give constructive feedback or how to communicate effectively.

You can tell that they’ve learned the lesson if you see that:

  • Team members solve conflicts in an open and constructive way, don’t bear a grudge against each other
  • Team members help each other eagerly in everyday activities.

What next?

As you start seeing all or many of the signs of a successful team you can say that as a Scrum Master you’ve completed your job successfully. The obvious question arises: what next? Well, at this point you have a number of options.

Since a Scrum Master is not merely a team facilitator but also an organizational change agent as suggested by the Scrum Guide, you may shift your attention to organizational impediments. From my experience I can say that teams reach their growth cap quite soon and eventually bumps into organizational constraints. Those might be, for instance, organizational structure that produces cross-team dependencies or technical limitations such as lack of CI.

The other option is to detach from your original team gradually and move your attention towards the next team. Craig Larman and Bas Vodde argue in their LeSS framework that a Scrum Master may handle up to three teams. So if you started with just one team, now is the best time to expand your area of responsibility.

Good luck, and do share your experiences! How do you measure success in your role as a Scrum Master?

About Kiryl Baranoshnik

captureKiryl Works and lives in Minsk, Belarus. He is an experienced ScrumMaster and Agile Ambassador with EPAM Systems. Accredited ICAgile trainer with AgileLAB. Co-founder and leader of a local Agile/PM community. Former software developer.

Photo Credit by Yosoynuts @ Flickr
Photo Credit by Kanban Tool @ Flickr

12 important lessons learned by experienced Scrum Masters

scrum masterSince the beginning of the year 2015 we´ve been running one of the most popular scrum podcast in the world “Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast”. Hundreds of Scrum Masters around the world share with us their own experiences, learnings as well as failures throughout their career journey.

Credits to the lessons learned in this article belong to: Jeff Kosciejew, Dominic Krimmer, Stefano Porro, Andy Deighton, Matt Dominici, Tim BourguignonLuis Goncalves, Steve Holyer, Neil Killick & Antti Tevanlinna.

1. Define your way to measure success, and follow your own development

To achieve success as a Scrum Master you must first define success and measure your way there. There are 3 questions you can ask yourself in order to assess your success:

  1. Did the team deliver production-ready software this sprint?
  2. Was everyone happy with and proud of what they achieved?
  3. Did we improve our way of working (e.g. did we deliver more value than in the previous sprint?)

Having a checklist to assess your performance as a Scrum Master is another good option to measure whether you´re on the right track:

  1. Do we have a Team Vision?
  2. Do we have a clearly defined Sprint goal or focus?
  3. Do we keep our Scrum board up to date to make our work visible and transparent?
  4. Do we have a dashboard to communicate to others the status of our product?
  5. Do we have good quality stories?

It´s important that you sent your own list of questions or your own checklist, which you can regularly follow. This list will help you to focus on the right topics so that you develop your skills as a Scrum Master.

2. Be away for a few days and assess how the team took ownership of the process and meetings.

The most common definition of success is that the Team “owns” the process. This could be in different forms: teams owning the meetings or actively interacting with other teams or stakeholders in the organization. However, the tough question for Scrum Masters is: how do we help teams to “own” the process?

The level of ownership can only be seen when you are away. When you are away for few days, you come back and find the team lost and the process abandoned, that’s a clear sign that the team is not yet ready to “own” the process.

3. Focus on defining and providing a platform for your team.

You as a Scrum Master you should provide teams the right conditions and the environment that enables others to succeed. A very important characteristic for Scrum Masters is being in the background, this is supporting and enabling role.

Each practice requires a different approach to creating the platform. When teams have daily standup meeting, you can stay in the background, not interfere with anyone. Only step in when the team needs your support, in such situation you should facilitate the meeting. Stepping back allowing team to handle meeting themselves is a great step for them to realize that you´re there to support them and encourage them to take the ownership of the meeting.

4. Have many 1-on-1 conversations and take notes
scrum masterSo simple, yet powerful. The conversation is the most often used tool by the Scrum Masters we interviewed. Conversations are a simple tool, but often forgotten. One way to improve your conversation skills is to read How to win friends and influence people, by Dale Carnegie. The author talks about a list of things you must have in mind when you want to grow a relationship with people you work every day. You should always start talking about something other person cares about, don´t judge or argue, be interested in what their opinions are.

5. Help the team define their purpose, so that the team finds their own definition of success

Having a clear purpose is one of the keys to motivation and to success. Without having a shared purpose the team is not able to align their actions. A good idea is to do a workshop to define a team´s purpose. As an inspiration, take a look at the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us written by Daniel Pink. We run this workshop very often, so if you´re interested in having us to facilitate that workshop, do not hesitate to contact us at info@oikosofy.com

6. Learning to coach the team is one of the most important journeys for Scrum Masters

Scrum Masters do not get successful unless the team succeeds too. For that Scrum Masters must learn to work with the team. That means they must enable the team and their work, not do the work for them or solve their problems for them.  The coaching stance is a key aspect of the Scrum Master’s work. In a bonus episode, Bob Marshall describes Nonviolent Communication (NVC). It´s an approach that can help the Scrum Master with concrete tools, which will help the interaction with teams. NVC means we can’t force anyone to do anything, rather we must ensure that the reasons to do something are clear and and accepted.

7. The team you worked with yesterday is not the same you will work with tomorrow

Every team is constantly evolving, literally every day. The way we work with teams must also evolve to adapt to the stages of development of that team. Speaking of team development stages, according to Tuckman there are 4 different stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing. Understanding what stage the team is in and what is the right approach for that stage is a key skill for Scrum Masters.

8. Coaching happens between consenting adults; get consent before you get started

We cannot force a team to be coaches, it required the consent of all who are involved. You should design your own coaching alliance with the team before you even start work as a Scrum Master with a specific team. This is a shared goal and set of expectations that will later enable you to ask the teams if they are committed to the initial agreement and remind them on what they agreed. This coaching alliance is your “contract” with the team and help you to redirect the team on the overall goal.

9. Measure all the things, and keep notes about 7343762168_d58fe252e2_oeverything

By measuring and keeping all metrics we are able to track trends over time. Here´s what you should do on daily basis:

  1.  Keep notes on everything. In meetings, after conversations, all the time.
  2. Measure everything you can: tasks completed, cycle time, features, interactions, etc.
  3. Get numbers on everything you do as a Scrum Master. How many times did you talk to each team member this week? How many times did you feel lost, or did not know how to go forward?
  4. Look at trends. Only numbers can help you see trends. So measure and stand back to see the big picture.

You don´t have start with every possible metrics. Start from small and define 2-3 metrics you would like to keep track of. Use the next retrospective as the trigger to your measurements. Choose a topic you would like to discuss in your retrospective (or ask a team to do that). Keep metrics related to that particular topic.

10. Measure team happiness to assess sustainability

There are few tools that you can use to measure team happiness. Journey Lines is a tool that you can use in the retrospective to evaluate a sprint from the individual or the team’s perspective. Happiness Door is a tool that combines a few other tools with the goal of measuring happiness on a regular basis.  This is a more real-time tool, designed to help the team reflect and react to what is going on at specific points in time. There are few other tools and methods to measure happiness, the idea is that you can measure happiness as a symptom of sustainability and design the methods to specific topics that affect the team.

11. Success is about producing something of value, help the team measure the value produced

It is actually possible to produce high quality software without producing any value. It is the success of your product in the market that defines your success at software development! Important lesson learned! As Scrum Masters we must be able to help the team understand if what they are producing is valuable. We can do this by having the Product Owner interact with the team, and the customer to define and validate the value of the software we produce. It´s not always possible to ask a customer about the value of the produced software, therefore Scrum Master must work closely with the team and the Product Owner to define ways to measure the value of the software delivered by the team. Take a look at the Lean Startup community where some methods are being discussed.

12. The feedback cycles are the most important tool for Scrum Masters

Scrum Masters must understand what type of feedback the team needs to get their job done. The review meeting is where basic feedback cycle starts. The team demonstrates the functionality they have accomplished and collect feedback from all stakeholders. The Scrum Master has to ensure that this feedback cycle is quick and effective (1-2 weeks). Proper ways to collect and process feedback is necessary so that the feedback is received with positive open mind.

When the team finally “owns” the process, people think that the work of Scrum Master is over, but it never really is. Once the team “owns” the process, we need to focus on these areas: the team dynamics, organizational impediments, interaction with stakeholders, etc.

After interviewing many Scrum Masters, we see two major definitions of success for a Scrum Master:

1. helping the team to succeed as a team

2. helping the organization succeed as a business

Both points are very important for us to understand the role of a Scrum Master. We must assess our work in these capacities and help the team and other stakeholders to understand both of them.

What is your definition of success as a Scrum Master? Let us know 🙂

Picture credits go to: Search Engine People BlogBrad Hagan and thinkpublic

In case you are interested in Agile Retrospectives I am at the moment preparing a 10 DAYS FREE AGILE RETROSPECTIVES PROGRAM. This is a complete self-study program where you will learn anything that you need to become a great Agile Retrospectives facilitator.

If you are interested in sharing your Agile Retrospective exercise with us please contact us: info@oikosofy.com.

The 1 Thing You Must Do To Be Better At Scrum

by David Horowitz

Scrum is not a quick fix. It won’t make your software better overnight. It won’t increase trust between your team and its stakeholders in a flash. And, especially at first, it will seem like it causes additional overhead, not less.

But there’s a secret to making Scrum work for you, and it’s not hiring an agile coach or getting a certification.

Bruce_Lee_as_Kato_1967Let’s Start With Bruce Lee

You’ve probably heard of Bruce Lee, American-born and Hong Kong-raised martial artist and actor. In addition to founding the “neo-classical” Jeet Kune Do fighting style, he’s famous for his martial-arts related movies, such as Enter The Dragon, Fist of Fury, and The Big Boss.

Beyond Hollywood and his martial arts career, Lee was also a philosopher, and to a certain extent his sage advice is the most powerful part of his legacy. Here’s one thing Lee said: I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”


Let’s Continue With Jeff Hoffman

Jeff Hoffman is a serial entrepreneur, motivational speaker, film producer, and jazz artist. He’s has been involved in many highly successful companies, including Priceline.com and UBid.com. In a post on Inc.com, Mr. Hoffman tells the story of a pair of startup founders who were pitching him on a new business idea. Mr. Hoffman describes the founders as bright, motivated, and passionate — all necessary character traits in the startup world.

In their pitch, the founders started with a brilliant idea that excited Mr. Hoffman and made him interested in hearing more. But by the end of their pitch, the founders had also tried to sell Mr. Hoffman on second and third ideas. Big mistake.

According to Mr. Hoffman, What do you think happens when you try to launch three ideas at once? Nothing.”

What Do They Have in Common?

Bruce Lee and Jeff Hoffman may be in different fields. They might have different talents. But they also have something important in common. They both are big believers in an important truth: to be good at anything, and I mean really good, you have to focus on a single thing at a time.

18Coming Back to Scrum

Which leads us to Scrum. Scrum is not a “set it and forget it” project management framework and, I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t have all answers to all of your team’s problems. (In fact, it’s not really a project management framework at all! It’s much more of a state of mind, though that’s a story for another day.) Scrum is, however, a great starting place for your team. But after you’ve internalized its principles and realized its shortcomings, what then?

Fortunately for you, Scrum provides a method for inspecting, adapting, and improving your team’s processes: the retrospective. Retrospectives are a chance for your team to go over what’s going well, what’s going not well, and what it can do to improve.

But you’ve probably been running retrospectives already, hopefully with some amount of success. Is there a way we can apply the principle of “being good at one thing” to retrospectives?

Action Plans and Follow Through

46Let’s focus on the outcome of a retrospective — the action plan. Action plans are a list of things the team has agreed to try to change, fix, and improve upon. Action plans consist of one or more action items, each of which should be written in an actionable format. Some teams choose to follow the SMART acronym (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-related). Others follow the Who, What, When paradigm (who will be responsible, what will be done, when will it be done by). Both work well.


As a former Scrum Master, I’ve come across many teams that have a tendency to create lengthy action plans consisting of 5, or even 10, action items. These teams finish their retrospectives excited and energized, only to discover at their next retrospective that nothing’s really changed. Why is that consistently the case?

Here it is: The 1 Thing You Must Do To Be Better at Scrum

Let’s go back to Bruce Lee and Jeff Hoffman, both of whom tell us that to become really good at something we have to focus on it alone, at the exclusion of everything else. Applied to Scrum and retrospectives, their advice means that the action plans we create should have a single action item. That’s it. Just a single thing that the team has agreed upon, prioritized, and committed to fixing.

Focusing on a single action item means that there will be a much higher probability that the team will follow through on implementing it. Let’s face it: change is hard. The default state of the world is to remain constant, and most people have a natural inclination to stay with what’s comfortable. How likely is it, really, that your team will be able to change 10 things at once? Slim to none. How likely is it that your team will be able to change a single thing within a specific time period? Much, much higher.

And therein lies the secret to being better at Scrum. It’s not running retrospectives; your team already does that. It’s not producing action plans; your team already does that too. It’s having a laser sharp focus on a single action item that will have a measurable impact on the team’s performance.

If you follow this advice, you will soon discover the true power of Scrum and agility. It’s not that Scrum has all the answers — it doesn’t. It’s that it provides the conceptual framework for continuous improvement, which enables your team to get better and better over time.

All you have to do is focus on the one thing.

About David

David Horowitz is the CEO and Co-Founder of Retrium. Retrium makes retrospectives easy and effective for distributed scrum teams. It provides simple interfaces to some of the most common retrospective techniques, including 4Ls, Mad Sad Glad, and Start Stop Continue. If you have any questions related to this blog post, you can contact David on Twitter @ds_horowitz

Picture credits go to: Wikipedia.org and Startupstockphotos

In case you are interested in Agile Retrospectives I am at the moment preparing a 10 DAYS FREE AGILE RETROSPECTIVES PROGRAM. This is a complete self-study program where you will learn anything that you need to become a great Agile Retrospectives facilitator.

If you are interested in sharing your Agile Retrospective exercise with us on the format of Guest Blogging please contact us: info@oikosofy.com.