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

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