Things your team wants from you as their Scrum Master

by Andrea Roux

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What is expected from the Scrum Master? Why should a Scrum team have a full-time Scrum Master? The Scrum Master is responsible for making sure a Scrum team lives by the values and practices of Scrum. The Scrum Master is considered as the coach for the team, assisting them to perform their best work possible. Think of the Scrum Master as the owner of the process creating a balance between the development team, product owner, and the organisation.

There is no secret, magic or mystique to being a Scrum Master. Much of it is doing for your team what you’ve appreciated what past leaders or managers did for you. But what are those things your team would appreciate the most?

1. Ensure they know and follow Scrum

As the Scrum Master you need to live and breathe the Scrum values and practices, and you need to ensure your team is familiar with Scrum. Ensure they understand the framework, and what the boundaries are for them as a development team. As a team they will be experimenting with the process, and this experimentation is a good thing. Some examples where they will need your assistance are changing the sprint lengths, adding in their own technical work, or how the team self organises amongst themselves. This list is long. Guide, mentor and teach your team the Scrum framework and the boundaries they can operate in.


2. Praise like sunlight, helps all things to grow (C Pentz)

Praise is one of the most powerful things a Scrum Master can offer their team. When delivered a good sprint, praise gives the team the drive and motivation to continue doing the caliber of work you want to see.

When the team delivers a good sprint, let them know.


3. Ensure healthy collaboration between the Scrum team and stakeholders

Both parties (the Scrum team and stakeholders) play important roles in the success and future of the product. The team usually brings a perspective from a technical side, with new technology initiatives and views. They are close to the product and technical solution to know the possibilities and comment on the effort required. The stakeholders on the flip side have a business perspective. They have knowledge of the market trends, customer views and come with the company or product strategy.

Both parties' needs should be valued equally in the Scrum sessions. Scrum Master should create a safe productive environment to ensure either party can raise their opinions. They must be heard and tolerated, and collaboration should be healthy and productive amongst all.


4. Your team must feel safe

The Scrum Master is responsible for creating safety for the team. Safety implies the team knowing that they won’t be in trouble for no valid reason. When required to have difficult conversations with the team they will feel more comfortable having open conversations and answer truthfully.

The team should feel secure and safe to perform their work knowing their Scrum Master, product owner and leadership trust and support them. Giving the team this safe environment not only makes them happier team members, but empowers them to deliver high-quality products.


5. Learn to listen to your team

One of the best traits of a Scrum Master is to know when to keep silent and listen. When the team needs to figure something out and they are having healthy discussions getting to the bottom of it, stay silent and allow them to get to the answer without your input.

This is extremely hard especially when it’s a known topic to you and you want to advise them. To allow the team to solve their own problems is often more valuable than solving their problems for them. They learn that problems or impediments can be solved without leaning on their Scrum Master every time.

Allow your team to solve their own problems, otherwise, they don’t get the chance to learn how to for themselves.


6. Support your team

The Scrum Master is also often viewed as a protector of the team. He or she does anything possible to help the team perform at their highest level. This includes removing their impediments, facilitating meetings to ensure a safe collaborative environment, ensuring healthy relationships between the team and stakeholders, and many more. A while back I was working for a big retailer where I had to support a team member who’s mouse and keyboard were constantly broken and needed replacement. For another team member, the lighting was bothering her and maintenance had to come to replace the light bulb.

Another example of where the Scrum Master needs to support their team is ensuring they do not over-commit to work in a sprint due to a product owner putting pressure on them. The Scrum Master will have to stand up against the product owner as it’s important to continue work at a sustainable pace.


7. Make the team look awesome!

Make your team look good. It’s not about you, but about the team. When the team performs, you are doing your job. Good Scrum Masters help team members be the best they can be. They then ensure the organisation is aware that the team is doing amazing work.


8. FAIL stands for First Attempt In Learning

Most teams I’ve worked with have had a failed sprint at some point. It’s a sprint where they or over-committed, or operations removed their focus from the Sprint goal, or inadequate planning, or many other reasons. The team basically does not achieve their sprint goal and don’t have a successful increment to deliver to the customer.

These sprints will occur, but they are not failures. They are attempts. They are valuable learnings. As the Scrum Master, support your team and assist them in realising their shortcomings, where to improve and actions required to ensure continuous improvement.


9. Don’t make a commitment on behalf of the team

In Scrum the dev team commits to the work to be ‘done’ in the sprint. As the Scrum Master you do not have the authority to take on extra work on behalf of the team. You can not add to the sprint goal, scope, extra deliverables or deadlines. This is a team decision and should be validated with the team before providing feedback.


10. Encourage independence

A good Scrum Master has a high performing happy team. A great Scrum Master has a high performing happy team that does not require much assistance from the Scrum Master.

A good Scrum Master removes impediments for the team. A great Scrum Master teaches the team to remove their own impediments.

The above mostly applies to mature Scrum teams. Much as a Primary School rugby team that will still heavily rely on their coach for guidance. Teams new to Scrum will rely heavily on their Scrum Master for guidance and knowledge. They will have to be coached on the framework and the Scrum Master will have to play the role model for the team.

A mature team that has been doing Scrum for a while would benefit from taking over the straightforward Scrum Master tasks (such as Daily Scrum meeting time management) from the Scrum Master. Much the same as our High School rugby team that knows the game, however, rely less on their coach than the primary school rugby team.