As a scrum master there is more to the role than running the ceremonies as the move from waterfall to agile is challenging for any team and requires particular attention. Often within many organisations the structure is such that the potential scrum team members sit in different teams or departments. So, not only do scrum masters have to manage the move to agile, but also breaking down the silos. Introducing transparency, inspection and adaption, requires nurturing, coaching, managing, informing, delegating and sometimes just telling new teams what to do.
At the same time, trying to introduce the ceremonies to a new team, scrum masters have to steer the team through Tuckman’s forming, storming, norming and performing model (Bruce Tuckman 1965 Team- Development Model). Also, just for good measure we can add, Herzberg’s theory of motivation to develop satisfaction, strong commitment and motivation to support the adoption of Scrum and Agile thinking (Fredrick Herzberg Motivation Theory 1959). Finally, not to be forgotten, being sensitive to the organisation’s culture!
Scrum master survival skills
I recently worked with new development team in an environment where agile ways of working had previously been introduced but were not successful. So, to survive in this environment a new approach and application of other skills outside of scrum knowledge was required, which I will outline below.
Relationship builder and negotiator
Scrum requires negotiation between the development team and the product owner. This also applies to re-introducing the team to scrum. Negotiations started with trying to align their current ways of working with agile principles.
In this case, further negotiations had to take place with the product owner with the aim of trying to move from an environment where the sprint content was pushed onto the development team to a negotiation based on capability and availability to deliver the required features.
Team building is always challenge and the scrum master must make time to get to know the members of the development team and product owner. How can you build a team if you do not know who is in it? Moving from being seen as an outsider to becoming part of the team is an absolute must if scrum masters are going to survive.
The thought of me dancing with my pom poms is frightening, but nothing boosts the team’s confidence more than having someone sharing their success with stakeholders, other teams and the business. Sharing the team’s success within the organisation will change the team’s perception and help the scrum master become one of the team. By publicising the team’s successes, the scrum master highlights the benefits of introducing agile ways of working and gain the team’s and organisations buy-in.
The personality of your favourite aunt
Part of helping the team to “form”, involves the scrum master being someone that the team can approach, especially when things go wrong or to assist in resolving those issues that the team cannot. Once this this type of relationship is formed, then the scrum master is ready to help the team to take the next step towards “norming”. It also provides the platform for having those difficult conversations. Scrum masters at times need to adopt a personality like that of your favourite aunt – you know, the one you can tell anything. Makes you feel valued, wanted, the one who always wants to help solve your problems and drives you on to do better. All part of Herzberg two factor theory that is used to drive job satisfaction.
One of the keys to keeping the team a team is to be able to solve problems without it becoming a finger-pointing session. This is especially true when the team previously came from separate silos. In the retrospective, when discussing those things that have not gone so well during the Sprint, helping the team to understand and identify the root cause and then empowering the team to resolve them, is key in generating a healthy culture of continuous improvement. Being seen as the problem solver, the scrum master with the help from his friends – fishbone diagrams, 5 whys and data – will help to create a healthy environment along with strong facilitation skills.
Why does a scrum master need to be more than an expert at the scrum ceremonies?
What I have learned is to be a successful scrum master, requires more than knowledge of the scrum ceremonies. You need a lot of soft skills which you do not necessarily have once you have acquired your scrum master certification.
As no two teams are the same, knowing when and how to use these skills comes with experience, reflection, coaching and sometimes out of necessity. It has become clear to me that it is important to be able to know when to direct and tell the team what, how and when to do things. Also, when to delegate and when to step in, including all the steps in between. Nurturing, active listening, communicating, coaching, mentoring and selling skills.
Being an expert of the scrum ceremonies is not enough. After all, the agile manifesto states “individuals and interactions over processes and tools”.