Mastering the Art of Scrum: The Top Skills Every Scrum Master Needs to Succeed
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How did the role of scrum master come into existence?
The role of Scrum Master came into existence in the late 80s with Scrum. It started becoming more official after 1995 when Scrum was officially introduced in the paper “The Scrum Development Process".
However, it was around 2010 that it started gaining larger significance in the form of recognition, demand, and wider industry application with the rise of Agile and Scrum in particular.
Who is a Scrum Master
The short and simple answer is “Scrum Master is one of the 3 roles as defined as part of the Scrum framework.”
As the name indicates, a Scrum Master is the master of Scrum. Scrum Master, is expected to not just understand Scrum well but also help the team, stakeholders and organization understand and implement Scrum in the correct way so as to maximize the benefits provided by the Scrum framework. The Scrum master is responsible for ensuring the team adheres to Scrum principles and practices, and for removing any obstacles that may impede the team’s progress.
Who is not a Scrum Master?
It is equally important to understand who is not a Scrum Master. We, humans, have a way of learning. Whenever we come across anything new that we are not aware of, we try to map it with what we already know. We learn by cognitive mapping and relationship establishment. This helps us be more comfortable about the newness, by still being able to look at and associate it with the aspects that we already know about. This tendency is an anti-pattern for teams, organizations, and Scrum Masters themselves. So, to be clear, a Scrum Master is not:
- A project manager
- A team leader
- A program manager
- A technology expert
- A report creator
- A domain or product expert
- An administrator
- A user story writer
If a Scrum Master is not any of the above, then what do Scrum Masters really do?
What is the role or stance of a scrum master?
Scrum.org very clearly and accurately gives 8 stances of Scrum Master in its whitepaper. It summarizes these stances below:
- A Servant Leader whose focus is on the needs of the team members and the people they provide value to (the customer) with the goal of achieving results in line with the organization’s values, principles, and business objectives.
- A Facilitator by setting the stage and providing clear boundaries in which the team can collaborate.
- A Coach coaches the individual with a focus on mindset and behavior, the team in continuous improvement, and the organization in truly collaborating with the Scrum team.
- A Manager responsible for managing impediments, eliminate waste, managing the process, managing the team’s health, managing the boundaries of self-organization, and managing the culture.
- A Mentor that transfers Agile knowledge and experience to the team.
- A Teacher to ensure Scrum and other relevant methods are understood and enacted.
- An Impediment Remover solves blocking issues to the team’s progress, taking into account the self-organizing capabilities of the Development Team.
- A Change Agent to enable a culture in which Scrum Teams can flourish.
Read this whitepaper for a thorough explanation of these stances.
What are the challenges for a scrum master?
Considering the number and diversity of the above-explained Scrum Master role stances, do I need to tell you that it’s not easy to be a true and effective Scrum Master? Well, there are organizations and leaders that have a limited understanding of the role, and in those instances, a Scrum Master could be playing a more mechanical Scrum Master role only or just a very restricted stance of the role. These situations restrain the individual to realize the full potential of the role and deliver the intended benefits of Scrum for the team, product, and organization.
However, there are other kinds of organizations and leaders who understand the gravity and the scope of the role and provide the supporting environment for the Scrum Master role to flourish to the fullest. In such places, there are frequent instances when a Scrum Master has to be in multiple of these stances all at the same time in order to do his duties. This presents another kind of challenging experience with tremendous growth and learning potential to Scrum Masters in the form of:
- Expectation management
- Collaboration avenues
- Facilitation, training, and coaching opportunities
- Help to maintain focus
- Building an open, positive, and productive working environment
- Driving a cultural shift towards self-inspect and proactive adapt
Doing all these is not easy and require a specific set of skills to succeed in the role and enrich Agile and Scrum value through day-to-day practice.
What are the top skills for great scrum masters?
Although there are many skills that a Scrum Master leverages to become effective, below listed are the ones that are critical to the success and impact of the role.
- Facilitation Skills: This is the one skill that you would be leveraging on a daily basis. You would be expected to facilitate many meetings and discussions such as sprint planning, sprint retrospective, conflict resolution discussion, etc. especially if your team and team members are new to the team, organization, or Agile.
- Coaching skills: Scrum Master acts as a coach for the team, helping team members understand and apply Scrum practices. They need to be able to provide guidance, support, and feedback to help the team improve. Scrum Masters help the team to learn and improve their skills and should be able to coach team members on Scrum practices and Agile principles. They should also be able to help the team identify and remove any impediments to their progress.
- Conflict resolution skills: Scrum Masters are responsible for helping the team resolve any conflicts or issues that may arise. They need to be able to listen to different perspectives, facilitate discussions, and help the team find mutually beneficial solutions. They need to ensure to be impartial, empathetic and act in the best interest of the team and organization.
- Leadership skills: Scrum Masters should be able to lead by example and inspire the team to work towards a common goal. They should be able to build trust and foster collaboration within the team. Scrum Masters need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and be flexible in their leadership style. They should be able to adjust their leadership style and approach based on the needs of the team and the project.
- Communication skills: Scrum Masters need to be able to communicate effectively with the team, product owner, and other stakeholders. They need to be able to clearly articulate the team’s progress, challenges, and needs, and help build understanding and alignment around the product objective.
- Problem-solving skills: Scrum Masters need to be able to identify and remove any impediments that may be blocking the team’s progress if the team is struggling to handle it by themselves. They need to be able to think creatively and come up with practical solutions to help the team overcome challenges.
Scrum Master is a role in the Agile Scrum framework that's in limelight these days and it genuinely deserves to be there due to its ability to create a deep-rooted, organization-wide, impact creation ability of this role through a shift in mindset, approach, and culture as a whole, if performed well.
If the role of scrum master has this much potential then it is definitely poised to be equally challenging as well. However, if the Scrum Master masters the key skills of Facilitation, Coaching, Conflict resolution, Leadership, Communication, and Problem-solving then he/she is well-positioned to be in the driver’s seat of the journey and take the team, product, and organization on the right path leveraging empiricism and lean thinking towards the strategic objective.
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About the Author
Priydarshan Jha (PJ) is a Product Leader with a vivid interest in working with People, Processes, and Platforms to create Product First organizations. He expertise in Product Consulting, Product Strategy, Product Management, Product Agile Transformations & Coaching. He is passionate about mentoring and coaching learners in the Product and Agile space.
Connect with Priydarshan on LinkedIn and DM for more in-depth discussions!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the company they have been associated with. The information contained in this post is for professional learning purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional consultation and advice. The author makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability with respect to the content of this post. The author will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information or any losses, damages, or other liabilities that may arise from its use. It is the reader’s responsibility to verify the accuracy and reliability of any information provided in this post before relying on it for any purpose.