Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What a makes a GREAT scrum master?

Part time scrum master?

Many software teams who claim to be "doing scrum" have people “stepping into” the role of scrum master.
I frequently see project managers, development managers, testers, developers taking the reins with varying degrees of success. Often, willing team members take on the role of scrum master in addition to their development or testing responsibilities! I also see a lot of teams going solo, i.e. doing scrum without a scrum master. This is a practice that I think ultimately prevents a team from improving and getting full benefit from the scrum process. Even if someone possesses all of the soft skills to the do the role, they still need to have the core skills and knowledge required to be an effective scrum master.

The scrum master responsibilities

  • Be the Guardian of the scrum process
  • Be a servant-leader to the team
  • Be an impediment remover
  • Be an interference shield for the team
  • Be a coach
  • Be an agent of change
I don't think that a part-time or temporary scrum master can fulfill all of these responsibilities and to do this role successfully you need to be all of the above things to the team. I think that someone who steps into the role can be a good scrum master, but will they be a great scrum master?

Two levels of scrum mastering?

I think there are 2 levels of scrum mastery.

Level 1: B.A.U.

This is the layer of scrum mastering that keeps a team ticking over. The part-time or temporary scrum master tends to operate at this level. The list of responsibilities include (but are not limited to):
  • Be the Guardian of the scrum process
    • Ensure PO has a backlog of stories for the team to work on
    • Ensure PO has prioritized a list of stories before planning
    • Ensure the team is clear about the requirements
    • Encourage the team to make a projection of the amount of work they can achieve in the sprint
    • Ensure team feels comfortable with projection versus current velocity
    • Protect the sprint backlog
    • Limit W.I.P.
    • Ensure the team focuses on quality
    • Monitor the stand up (make sure people don't waste time, keep updates short, stay on topic)
  • Be a servant-leader to the team
    • Set up all scrum ceremonies
    • Point of contact for Scrum updates.
    • Send out reports/ burn-up charts
  • Be an impediment remover
    • Remove barriers to productivity
    • Help to resolve issues/ arguments/ debate
  • Be an interference shield for the team
    • Maximize time available for developers to develop (protect dev time )
    • Reduce waste/ non sprint activity
    • Protect team members from being dragged away to work on non-sprint activities
    • Protect the team health and well being

Level 2: Strategic

This is where all the good stuff happens. A full time, "proper" scrum master will operate at this level.
  • Be a coach
    • Help team to self organize
    • Help the team to improve engineering practices so that each sprint/ story is potentially deploy-able
    • Help the team understand Scrum/ agile principles and techniques (rather than just mindlessly following a process)
    • Help the team understand the benefits of these techniques
    • Help the product owner manage the backlog
    • Remove the distance between the PO and the team
    • Teach the PO how to maximize R.O.I. and meet objectives through SCRUM
    • Ensure the team is learning in retrospectives
    • Promote continuous improvement
    • Coach a team to self sufficiency (e.g. how to remove own impediments)
  • Be an agent of change
    • Observe & identify areas for the team to improve
    • Create a culture of continuous improvement in the team
    • Facilitate creativity and empowerment
    • Determine where the Scrum process is compared to where it could be
    • Potentially look beyond scrum, for techniques that can help the team improve (e.g. Lean/ kanban)
    • Challenge the team to improve engineering practices (CI, TDD for example)
    • Look to improve things outside of the team that are slowing the team down (e.g. business stakeholder involvement, handover to dev ops, poor communication across the organisation)
    • Keep an eye on the future 

High performing teams through great scrum mastering

The scrum master who operates at the strategic level will give teams a massive boost over time. To have someone who is focused on improving a team and making a team awesome and improving a team's working environment means that inevitably, positive change will occur within a team. The alternative is stagnation. 

If your team has a level 1 scrum master or worse, no scrum master at all, who is going to constantly beat the drum for improvement? who will keep an eye on the future and the health of your scrum process? Who will promote constant improvement? Who will ensure the team is always learning?

In my experience, having a great scrum master with a strategic remit, facilitates the growth and nurturing of awesome, productive, high-performing teams. This stuff doesn't just happen!

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