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StrategyJul 23, 2020

How to Be a Scrum Master: 5 Tips for Success

Hannah Falkenberg

Have you ever found yourself sandwiched between demanding stakeholders, a frustrated development team, a tight deadline, or a long list of new high priority requests? Learning how to become a successful scrum master can help you overcome the chaos and deliver outstanding results.

Scrum masters manage agile delivery teams to quickly iterate on development, pivot on priorities, navigate obstacles, and continuously improve their approach. This role requires mastery as the bridge between the business, the product owner and the development team, ensuring that user needs are matched by technological capabilities. What does it take to successfully juggle all these responsibilities?

1. Know Your Team

Engaging your team and modeling consistency builds game-changing trust and rapport.

Scrum masters are the day-to-day team leaders who understand both the development team’s challenges and the business’s requests. Leading a team to pivot quickly, iterate in real time, and continuously improve requires substantial rapport and trust. Trust requires relationships rooted in consistency and humility. To establish yourself as the scrum master, take time to onboard developers one-on-one. Get to know each team member, their goals, their concerns and questions, their preferred method of communication, and their ideas for adding value. Once team members feel heard and appreciated, they will be more willing to collaborate.

2. Define Roles

Setting crystal clear expectations for yourself and your team creates standards for collaboration and communication.

Because projects have many moving parts and team members can onboard or roll off at any point, it can be challenging to keep track of everyone’s roles. During onboarding, always clearly outline the project goals, value, risks, implementation methodology, team roles, and the expectations you have for each role. Clearly define your role, providing a list of activities you’re responsible for as a scrum master, and review examples of issues or questions that team members should escalate to you. Once expectations and roles have been set, execute on and reference those expectations with consistency. When role changes occur, clearly but tactfully communicate those changes to your team. If the team understands your expectations, feels heard, and sees you consistently abide by the expectations you’ve modeled, they’ll be able to trust you even through hard conversations.

3. Document, Document, Document

Thoroughly recording all communications and outcomes enables better coordination and accountability across all team members and stakeholders.

In order for the development team to effectively execute the business’ requirements and priorities, a clear understanding of key processes, requirements, and constraints must be established. The scrum master, serving as the bridge between all parties, is uniquely positioned to document and communicate these important criteria, thereby enabling the team to align on and design the right solution quickly. Strict documentation on requirement and scope change is critical, because this provides a written record of deviations requested by business users and the date by which the development team has agreed to deliver them. Clear documentation of processes and requirements enables conversations on timeline, resources, and scope; it also holds all parties accountable by providing a standard against which deliverables can be objectively measured.

4. Use Clear Agendas to Set Expectations

Communicating specific objectives for every interaction creates habitually focused, efficient, and action-oriented meetings that drive decisions.

From time to time, a scrum master will need to meet with the development team to iterate on designs, review change requests, report daily progress, evaluate areas for improvement, etc. In order to empower fast and quality development, scrum masters must critically manage and justify every minute taken away from development time. If discussion is not needed, an email rather than a meeting should be used. When discussion is necessary, a scrum master should always clearly outline:

  1. The objective of the meeting.

  2. The specific questions that need to be discussed or answered.

  3. Any prior documentation that should inform the discussion (e.g., any decisions regarding the subject, requirements on the subject, email discussion on the subject, etc.).

A scrum master should only include the individuals needed in attendance and should set the tone of the meeting by defining meeting objectives, desired outcomes, and expectations of participants. A scrum master should always issue clearly documented discussion notes, outcomes, and attendees; this provides a written record of decisions made and establishes greater accountability.

5. Measure

Defining and tracking critical metrics sets an objective, achievable standard of success.

Successful scrum masters know the important variables in a project that need to be measured and drive data collection and measurement using those criteria. By doing so, they can hold the team accountable to the progress, issues, risks, and milestones of each step along the way. At any point in time, a scrum master should always know their team’s velocity, capacity, rate of implementations, major bottlenecks or blockers, and estimated date of project completion based on existing data. However, they also maintain awareness by asking themselves questions such as:

  • What are the major variables that impact the success of this project and how can I quantify those variables?

  • Does my data model measure those variables and its own accuracy, to enable continuous improvement and iteration?

  • What does the data tell us about our current trajectory, and what decisions need to be made to stay on target?

Clear project metrics transparently reveal current progress and risks, while providing the data needed for stakeholders to make decisions that either accelerate project velocity or mitigate critical risks.

applying scrum master tips and tricks

When executed properly, a scrum master operates as the project flywheel, coordinating many moving parts to create successful, coherent results. Do you need someone who can align a development team with business goals, enable fast iteration and execution of ideas, and facilitate data-driven decisions that keep your project on schedule and within budget? We’d love to help you. Reach out to us at findoutmore@credera.com.