9 Ways to Identify the “Perfect” Scrum Master

Preamble

Is there such a thing as a perfect Scrum Master? Likely not, because of course we are all human and not perfect beings. However, we can make a case for skills that contribute to becoming a perfect Scrum Master.

In 2017, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland updated the Scrum Values document, and in a video that same year discussed the changes they were making. They talked at length about the Scrum Master role. To quote Ken Schwaber, “It’s a very tough job”.

The 2018 new Scrum Guide states:“The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide”.

In short, the Scrum Master (SM) serves the Product Owner, the Development Team, and the Organization. This involves facilitating Scrum events, coaching and educating, removing impediments, and much more. It is safe to say that successfully undertaking those relational interactions requires good people-oriented behaviours, or soft skills.

We may not normally think of Scrum Mastering in the same breath as soft skills, but a discussion lead me to consider this. A colleague stated that a good Scrum Master must understand 4 things: the business s/he works in, the technology s/he works with, Agile and Scrum principles, and, most importantly, people! Based on his experience, he was adamant that Scrum Master certification is not enough – that soft skills should be part and parcel of their training.

How can some of these soft skills be taught?

The Certified Scrum Master Training

The first thing a CST can do is model soft skills in his/her training class: treat all the attendees with respect, be clear about the goals of training, listen and be attentive to questions and concerns, create a safe learning environment, demonstrate honesty and trustworthiness. Modelling these behaviours is one way a CST can teach without words.

But in two days, is role-modelling enough? Let’s look at the Scrum Guide for clues. “When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone.” http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide

How much are these values discussed in training? What does “courage” or “openness” look like? In-depth discussion, with examples/activities of each of those values/ skills, could go a long way in teaching soft skills.

Scrum Masters can be guided through specific exercises that help them understand and practice the Scrum Values of courage, openness, respect, commitment, focus. As well, specialized skills can be taught, including leadership, negotiation, conflict resolution, compassion and more.

I recommend a video called “Agile and Scrum Soft Skills Needed to Drive Process Success” which provides helpful guidance:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owa1fftIfzA&t=7s

9 Best Skills for the “Perfect” Scrum Master

After polling the readers of the REALagility Newsletter, I’ve put together this list of skills that many of us believe every Scrum Master should strive for:

  1. Listening well – to your team, your organization and especially your stakeholders
  2. Empathy, friendliness and respect – builds a collaborative culture
  3. Trust – you do what you say, walk the talk, and create safety
  4. Openness and transparency
  5. Identify and help solve problems
  6. Create a learning environment – for continuous learning and improvement
  7. Show courage – remember Schwaber’s “It’s a very tough job!”
  8. Support team, team members, PO and CEO! – why the CEO? S/he has to be on board with the changes and growth.
  9. Be service-oriented/team-first attitude – it’s not about you; it’s about serving the people and the process. This is why Scrum Masters are often called “servant-leaders”.

Post Script

Additionally traits that readers added: “Altruistic”, “has humor/fun-loving”, “proactive”, “easy-going & strict”, “can cheat”!


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Selling What Is “Right”

I recently had a scheduled call with a client that was aimed to level-set expectations around some upcoming Agile Consultation work that I’d booked. The work was specifically to help them visualize and build their workflow. I had my Sales Engineer come with me, as we both had the suspicion that the client had also bought a tool on the promise it would help them become more Agile.

Becoming “Agile” is not about a tool, just like visualizing and building workflow isn’t about setting up a Kanban Board. Being “Agile” is about the people and their interactions.

I’ve seen this a number of times, where a client seeks a tool to become “more Agile”. Usually a Director or higher executive, spends money on training some or all of their staff, more often opting out of the training themselves. After a short period of time, they realize that the promise of better results isn’t looking promising. So they then seek additional funding, and invest in a tool with the promise that “this” will help their teams become “more Agile”.

It became quite clear that this was the case with this client, as their original request “to help our people become more agile”, suddenly changed to “help us use this tool”. As most people in this field understand, the first Value of the Agile Manifesto is to value “Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools”.

I have that Value deeply embedded in my mind, as I’d had the fortune to work directly with two of the original twelve signatories of the Manifesto, and we often talked about the genesis of the Values. The creators of the Manifesto were people who had lived the mindset that this client presently maintains. Through similar experiences as my client, the Signatories began to foresee the pitfalls of the old mindset, and simply sought a better approach to become more agile.

So this particular client has the hallmark of having the old mindset. With great care, the Sales Engineer and I were able to demonstrate that the tool can support the interactions of their teams as they incrementally develop their products. And we would be happy to use the consulting dollars to look at their teams, leverage the training they already had, help visualize their workflow and ultimately help them understand that Agility comes from developing the Agile mindset.

By the end of the call, two of the three team members fully understood that they were perhaps going down the wrong road by placing the value of the tool over their people and the interactions of their teams. In this specific case, the third person had arrived to the meeting late, was the most senior person in the room, and in my belief, had missed information that might have also changed their perspective. It is impossible to know, but I strongly suspect that none of the three were in a political position to change course. Whether they had directly invested in the tool or not, is immaterial.

The agreement is now on hold, and that is probably the best thing for our client-vendor relationship in the long-term. We could have provided training on the tool and taken their money, but that would be unethical. As an Agile consultant-salesperson, and all of us here at Berteig, we deeply understand the nuances of the Manifesto, and as such, we need to sell and deliver what is right for the client.

For now, the personal and financial investment they made with respects to the tool will need to be seen through. Which I respect, for all the business, political and personal reasons. There is a high likelihood that their original request will resurface in a number of months. Obtaining “agility” is a journey and often takes such time.


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

Please share!
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