Tag Archives: scrum master

Mastering Soft Skills as a Scrum Master

We may not normally think of a Scrum Master in the same breath as mastering soft skills, but a recent discussion with peers lead me to consider this.

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

The 2018 Scrum Guide states:“The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide.” An extensive list of the Scrum Master’s responsibilities follow in the guide.

In short, the Scrum Master (SM) serves the Product Owner, the Development Team, and the Organization. All of 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.

In recent conversation, a colleague categorically 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 when people are trained to become Scrum Masters, certification is not enough – soft skills should be part and parcel of their training!

How can some of these soft skills be taught?

The Role of the Certified Scrum Trainer

Not all Certified Scrum Trainers have soft skills training or behaviours under their belts. However, the first thing a CST can do is modelsoft skills in his/her training. That means s/he will treat the attendees with respect; s/he will be clear about the goals of training; s/he will listen and be attentive to attendees questions and concerns; s/he will create a safe learning environment; s/he will be honest and trustworthy. 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 buildtrust for everyone.” http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide

To what degree are these values discussed in training? What does “courage” or “openness” look like? It seems to me that in-depth discussion with examples/activitiesof each of those values would go some way in teaching soft skills.

Soft Skills Training for Scrum Masters

Two CST’s I know invited an Agile Team Developer into their CSM classes to give a half-hour workshop on soft skills. This is a very brief time to be effective, but it provided a taste of listening skillscreativity, risk-taking, etc.

The following is from an article I previously published in Agile Advice: Everyone has the potential to grow their soft skills. However, a company may not have the resources to help unlock this potential in its employees.

If team development is not part of a company’s culture there may be discomfort in dealing with friction arising from a lack of soft skills. In this case, an external facilitator or coach can be a very helpful resource to guide a work team, using thought-provoking activities and role-playing, to find greater connection and trust amongst themselves, and to address issues with a detached point of view.” http://www.agileadvice.com/2017/05/29/scrum-team-improvement/soft-skills-revolution-may-want-team-development/

Scrum Masters can and should be offered at the very least a one-day training by a good coach/ facilitator.

Scrum Masters can be guided through specific exercises that help them understand and practice the skills of openness, courage, respect, commitment, and focus (the Scrum Values), as well as the practice of compassion, communication, creativity, listening, building trust, and so on.

This video called “Agile and Scrum Soft Skills Needed to Drive Process Success” can provide some further helpful guidance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owa1fftIfzA

As a Scrum Master, do you feel you would benefit from soft skills training?


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Quotable Quote: Scrum Master has authority over the process but not over the team

Jerry Doucett 201601 white background - head - 275 squareHaving a good process is only part of the equation.  A good Scrum Master will champion and enforce that process, protect the team, encourage collaboration, highlight (escalate when necessary) and encourage the removal of obstacles, facilitate discussions, provide fair and constructive feedback, cultivate a culture of continuous improvement and learning, and work to help the team live the Agile values.

Remember that the Scrum Master has authority over the process but not over the team.  As the process champion the Scrum Master may sometimes even find themselves in a conflict between maintaining the Scrum rules and guiding the team as they discover the need to adapt practices to better align with their own needs and ways of working.  In that regard a Scrum Master should understand and embrace the servant leader role.  In the end, a Scrum Master needs to be the person that helps the team make decisions, but not the person that makes decisions for them. (By Senior Agile Coach Jerry Doucett)


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The term Scrum Master can cause it’s own confusion.

I recently had a revelation about the Title “Scrum Master” and why it seems to be so confusing in some companies, especially those that are moving from Command and Control to an Agile Environment.

I was observing the activities of a new team that did not have a Scrum Master but were trying to use the SCRUM Framework. The company had unfortunately not added this role in their new SCRUM team(s). The reasons why are not important. Let’s just say, they now have those roles.

When the Scrum Master was selected, some issues showed up over a perception of that person getting a “promotion” to a management type position. They were now the “Master of the Team” (or so the perception was).

I managed to help that team out by simply reminding them the intention is that the Scrum Master role is as a Master of SCRUM, not a Master of the Team.

There are some management type abilities to be a Scrum Master for sure, but they are more directed to interfacing with the outside world and removing obstacles for the team. There are some management skills required to be able to have the confidence to keep the rules of Scrum and push back and deal with different levels within the organization.

Remember, the word is SCRUM Master, not TEAM Master, Team lead, Project manager, etc.

Of course, changing the order of the words would be inappropriate, but perhaps explaining the distinction to others might help clear up some of the confusion for your teams.

The term is SCRUM Master

Mike Caspar


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Book Commentary

AGILE Project Management with Scrum -A book by Ken Schwaber

Prior to the Certified ScrumMaster seminar I attended in August 2008, I read the book by Ken Schwaber called Agile Project Management with Scrum based on a recommendation from Mishkin Berteig.    After attending the seminar and becoming certified as a ScrumMaster I re-read the book.   The second reading was much more valuable than the first for I had a much better understanding of Scrum.   Here are my comments on this book.

What have I learned?

1.    The adoption of Scrum methodology is more about changing roles and behaviours than it is about embracing a new process.

It was obvious to me and to Ken that one of the greatest challenges facing those individuals when moving from a their current environment to a scrum environment was that they would need to change their behaviours.    In the former environment the team member would be directed and inspected based on what their project manager told them to do.  The PM is the boss and the team members are somewhat powerless.  In Scrum the team members take responsibility for their commitments and communicate their accomplishments on a daily basis.  The hardest change occurs when the project manager is asked to become a ScrumMaster.  The project Manager is familiar with assigning tasks and personally inspecting results. In the scrum environment they are the servants of the team, removing obstacles and facilitating the process.   As Ken states in this book some project managers have great difficulty transitioning into the ScrumMaster role.  They are unwilling to give up the power and position as a project master.   It is hard to move from the leader of the pack to become the sheep dog herding the sheep!

2.    Scrum is unforgiving for if you do not apply the fundamental principles it is likely your efforts to adopt Scrum will fail.

As I reviewed the numerous case studies Ken chronicled is was apparent that when organizations, Team members, Product Owners and ScrumMasters followed the terms, conditions and guidelines of the Scrum methodology, they tended to deliver on their commitments.   When they misunderstood, misused or deleted some portion of the methodology they tended not to accomplish their objectives.   The methodology is well thought out and works in many situations when used appropriately.

3.    Scrum enhances individual and team expertise.

I agree and totally support Ken’s opinion about the value of Scrum.   I have no doubt the individual team member is empowered and has a greater sense of achievement.    Obviously based on his case studies, Ken builds a strong case that Scrum allows the team to deliver quicker.  The process is more change adaptive, responsive to customer needs, timely and economical than traditional methods.   Greater energy and capacity is released in the team and individual team members.


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.

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