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PHOTO: Becca Tapert

Most products on the market today were not created by a single person.

One individual might come up the initial idea, but then a team of people will help move the idea forward. They work together to review, evolve, design, develop, produce and continually improve the idea into a product.

Delivering a product to market requires the members of the team to work closely together at times and apart at others. As is the case with any “team,” the group is actually a collection of individuals with different personalities, skills and opinions — and that mix can help the team succeed in some situations but hinder progress in others. A strong leader can help ensure that the members work well together, eliminating friction and keeping people focused on the goals. In Scrum, we call that person the scrum master.

The Scrum Master

According to the Scrum Guide, scrum masters are “responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum” and they “do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.”

The Scrum Guide goes on to describe the scrum master as “a servant-leader for the Scrum Team” who “helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t” and then “helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.”

A Scrum Master’s Job Is Never Done

When their scrum teams are working effectively, scrum masters face less pressure but still have plenty to do. As servant-leaders, scrum masters need to stay in tune with their teams. They should listen to how things are working and be ready to support the team as needed. This may mean that they have to take on different roles as the team matures.

To support their teams, scrum masters need to keep acquiring more knowledge and expanding their abilities. They need to be able to quickly “read a room” to understand what is happening and guide a team as needed. Scrum masters may just need to coach their teams or specific individuals in some cases but directly teach them new things in others. While doing all of that, they learn and improve.

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Continuing Education to Improve Capabilities

In a perfect world, we all are always learning to expand our knowledge and capabilities. Scrum masters must do the same. Education can come in many forms, including these:

  • Classroom training.
  • Formal online training.
  • Informal online training, such as reading or watching videos.
  • On-the-job experience, which can be enhanced by coaching, mentoring and co-working.

Formal training is helpful, but we need hands-on experience to master what we learn in class or online. By being part of scrum teams, scrum masters understand what is happening in the “real world” and learn how to deal with simple to difficult situations.

Of course, the process of learning and acquiring new skills has to start somewhere, and formal training, either in the classroom or online, can provide an all-important understanding of Scrum processes and roles. After that, experience starts to kick in, because it’s only through on-the-job experience that we hone our skills and learn how to deal with situations.

Barry Overeem, a Scrum.org professional scrum trainer, explains that being a scrum master involves these eight “stances:”

  • Servant-leader. Scrum masters must focus is on the needs of their team members and those they serve (the customers), with the goal of achieving results in line with the organization’s values, principles and business objectives.
  • Facilitator. Scrum masters must set the stage and provide clear boundaries in which the team can collaborate.
  • Coach. Scrum masters must coach individuals with a focus on mindset and behavior. They must also coach the team, to ensure continuous improvement, and they must coach employees of the organization who aren’t part of the scrum team, to ensure that they truly collaborate with the scrum team.
  • Manager. Scrum masters are responsible for addressing impediments, eliminating waste, supervising the process, looking out for the team’s health, enforcing the boundaries of self‐organization and managing the culture.
  • Mentor. Scrum masters must transfer agile knowledge and experience to the members of the team.
  • Teacher. To ensure that team members understand and carry out scrum methodologies and other relevant processes, scrum masters must act as teachers.
  • Impediment Remover. Finding ways to overcome roadblocks that impede the team’s progress and taking into account the self‐organizing capabilities of the development team are key responsibilities of scrum masters.
  • Change Agent. Scrum masters must enable a culture in which scrum teams can flourish.

Each of those roles requires a different set of skills, experience, understanding and patience. They also take practice.

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Keep Practicing Your Skills

Never take it for granted that just because you learned something or did something once that you will be able to repeat it. Situations change, audiences change, and skills need to be honed and enhanced over time.

Scrum masters can stay on top of change by getting involved and staying involved with their teams. Don’t be overzealous about practicing your skills, but be sure to use your skills, and learn new ones, when opportunities arise.

You won’t be perfect the first time that you, for example, try to facilitate an event. But without a doubt you will be better the second time and third time. But even as you gain confidence, you will find that each event will differ from the others and you will have to call on other skills each time — most importantly your ability to change on the fly and your ability to “read the room” to make sure you are being effective. This is all a part of learning and practicing.

Professional athletes are always practicing their craft, no matter how long they have been at it. Professional golfers have been putting since they could barely walk, yet they are on the practice green every day hitting hundreds of balls and making slight adjustments. We all need to take the same approach to our roles at work. The big difference between most working people and professional athletes is that we have to practice while doing things on the job — there are no practice areas.

This means that we work with the team, evolve our thinking as we go and adjust as needed. Keep practicing. You most likely will never be perfect, but you will keep getting better and you will be prepared for harder and harder situations.