The Art of Scrum Mastering

women on her agile journey looking into the distance to guide her team through stormy waters

Every team member has a unique spark that might light up the entire team if aimed in the proper direction, and the Scrum Master can ignite this spark. Scrum Mastering can be visualized as an art that requires a good amount of investment to master and excel. It comes with experience working with teams on the ground and being present in the moment. It cannot be acquired simply by reading books.

The Scrum Master is a constantly evolving role, which metamorphoses from a coach, facilitator, and servant leader to a change enabler/influential cheerleader and an evangelist. My personal experience is that the Scrum Master continually switches these hats, and many others, based on the need of the hour.

The saying goes that a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. A Scrum Master would not be able to experience the richness of this role unless he or she gets an opportunity to wear these different hats and live the role and experience the turbulence of change. Here are a few arts that the Scrum Master must master for the ship to sail through turbulent seas!

  • Art of mastering Scrum knowledge. The Scrum Master is considered a "master of Scrum," one who understands and can articulate Scrum from the value perspective. One of the prime responsibilities is to ensure that teams understand and enact Scrum well.
  • Art of keeping a neutral mindset. A Scrum Master is empathetic, approachable, and unbiased while talking to team members so that they understand different perspectives.
  • Art of asking powerful questions. The Scrum Master uses powerful, open-ended questions to enable the team to think through their current state by asking: "Who can do this? Who is interested? How can we solve this?" and "What are the available options?"
  • Art of facilitating constructive disagreements. The Scrum Master facilitates discussion among team members that helps them assess the situation, generate options, and determine the right course of action.
  • Art of igniting the need for reflection. The Scrum Master coaches the team on the benefits of continuous improvement cycles and strives to lead the retrospectives using various innovative and creative techniques to make them interesting and lively.
  • Art of driving self-realization. The Scrum Master helps teams self-reflect and come up with what works, given the situation and context of the teams.
  • Art of shielding the team. The Scrum Master shields the team from external and internal distractions to make sure that the team can focus on the current Sprint Goal. The Scrum Master protects the team like a sheepdog from outside interference and serves the team by removing impediments so that the team can focus on the Sprint Goal.
  • Art of facilitation. The Scrum Master facilitates the Scrum implementation across teams, keeping in mind the purpose of each event to ensure that the goal is realized. The Scrum Master also strives to keep them effective and engaging by using effective facilitation techniques like timeboxing, focus, engagement, and visualization.
  • Art of interpreting team behaviors. The Scrum Master masters the art of understanding team dynamics, is approachable, and coaches members one-on-one to transform them into a high-performing team.
  • Art of communicating. The Scrum Master is an excellent communicator, often acts as a liaison between the team and the Product Owner, and is great at articulating and communicating the right things in a timely manner.
  • Art of listening. The Scrum Master is a patient and persistent listener who understands an individual's emotions and concerns, including those of the people who don't speak up.
  • Art of nurturing an environment for celebration. The Scrum Master fosters an environment in which team efforts are rightfully rewarded, thereby ensuring that the team stays focused and motivated throughout.
  • Art of radiating information. The Scrum Master understands the importance of radiating as much information as possible and guides the team to effectively use the information radiators.
  • Art of building trust within the team. The Scrum Master strives to build trust within the team so that its members are eventually courageous enough to voice their opinions, willing to share their work, and thus collectively focus on the team goal.
  • Art of role modeling. The Scrum Master, while coaching other Scrum Masters, behaves as a role model and becomes an embedded ScrumMaster so that others learn by observing!
  • Art of influencing and enabling organizational changes. The Scrum Master is able to influence and drive organizational changes to ease the ecosystem into the Scrum journey. They look out for systemic impediments in the organization, thus enabling their timely resolution. The Scrum Master has mastered the art of influencing and bringing about effective changes that are conducive to the Agile culture working, such as changing the way team members are appraised.
  • Art of exhibiting situational leadership. Team formation typically follows the stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing. The Scrum Master works with teams in each of the stages as per Blanchard and Hersey’s delegating leadership style. This kind of leadership model is called situational leadership. All teams do not necessarily go through all four stages in a sequential manner; they wobble back and forth between stages, particularly when new team members are added or existing ones leave the team. The Scrum Master is aware of these different stages, looks for signs in each of the stages, and coaches the teams accordingly. An effective Scrum Master can actually reduce the journey time from forming to the performing stage.

Tips for easing the Scrum Master's Agile journey

Here are some tips for the Scrum Master to ease the agile journey as they sail through the rough waters.

  1. Detect the team dysfunctions, as described in Patrick Lencioni's book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. For example, if you notice there is an absence of trust in the team, focus on promoting constructive disagreements and try to foster an open culture. If one notices there is a lack of accountability, focus on coming up with team-working agreements.
  2. Watch out for team behavioral problems, such as individual silos, heroism, resistance to change, inhibitions, waiting for task assignments, looking up to the Scrum Master as a problem solver, and management asking for status reports.
  3. Watch out for team-practice issues, such as
    • Never-ending meetings
    • The team waiting for input from the product owners during Sprints
    • Team experiencing many quality issues after Sprints
    • Same patterns of problems arising within the teams
    • Too much work-in-progress during Sprints
    • Many interdependencies cropping up; managing dependencies becomes a nightmare
    • Dedicated hardening Sprints
    • Sprint Planning meetings always ending in a surprise
    • Occasional system crashes during Sprint Reviews
  4. Check the health of the agile adoption by holding regular checks-ups.
  5. Check the team’s cross-skills health and promote cross-learning so that team members can swarm to complete what had already been started instead of starting with new items.

A Scrum Master is more than a leadership role, as they lead the team by example and is adaptive to the changing environment like a chameleon responds to changes. The Scrum Master thrives on the philosophy of, "Don’t catch me a fish, but teach me to catch one."

There are five levels of Agile leadership, according to Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change: Expert, Achiever, Catalyst, Co-Creator, and Synergist, by William Joiner and Stephen Josephs. Research shows that most of the crowd is at the Achiever level, whereas the need for today’s environment is to transcend to the Catalyst and Co-creator levels. The Scrum Master must be able to operate beyond the Expert and the Achiever levels to be instrumental as a servant leader and a change agent.

Scrum Mastership is a journey, and it could take years to reach a stage of a leadership role! The sooner the Scrum Master gets the teams self-organizing, the better they can watch out for things beyond the team level, thus helping the organization and business units with their Agile journey.

Scrum Masters can potentially coach organizations as they navigate through the organizational turbulence of change and become versatile enough over time to handle any kind of turbulence with ease. However, it takes time to get to this stage, but the investment is totally worth it!

Stay Connected

Get the latest resources from Scrum Alliance delivered straight to your inbox