12 important lessons learned by experienced Scrum Masters
Since 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 Bourguignon, Luis 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:
- Did the team deliver production-ready software this sprint?
- Was everyone happy with and proud of what they achieved?
- 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:
- Do we have a Team Vision?
- Do we have a clearly defined Sprint goal or focus?
- Do we keep our Scrum board up to date to make our work visible and transparent?
- Do we have a dashboard to communicate to others the status of our product?
- 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
So 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 everything
By measuring and keeping all metrics we are able to track trends over time. Here´s what you should do on daily basis:
- Keep notes on everything. In meetings, after conversations, all the time.
- Measure everything you can: tasks completed, cycle time, features, interactions, etc.
- 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?
- 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 Blog, Brad Hagan and thinkpublic
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