The 8 Skills Of Successful Scrum Masters – As Told Through Leslie Knope
The Scrum Master’s job is to realize the full potential of Scrum by facilitating meetings including all of the Scrum ceremonies, removing impediments, and resolving conflicts. It’s a good job, both in terms of financial, emotional, and intellectual gain. As teams adopt Agile, the need for certified Scrum Masters has risen as indicated by the skyrocketing rate of certifications and students. In 2013, Scrum Alliance reported 221,798 students. In 2002, there were only five.
But not everyone has the skills to be an effective Scrum Master just like not everyone has the skills and the personality to be Leslie Knope, the Deputy Director of Parks, for the TV show Parks and Recreation. While the day-to-day of being a Director of Parks is different from that of a Scrum Master, they share a set of hard and soft skills individuals need to be successful in both roles.
Scrum Master Hard Skills
A conflict occurs when there are differing interests, attitudes, or approaches between two individuals. It doesn’t mean those two individuals dislike one another. It means that they see and approach things differently, and maybe have some emotion around their approach. Scrum Masters should be comfortable with confronting conflicts and also possess mediation and problem-solving skills to help find solutions.
As a team develops, it goes through various stages. You may be familiar with Bruce Tuckman’s “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing” model.**
At the beginning (forming), there is little agreement between members of the team other than what comes down from the manager. It’s the manager’s responsibility to provide direction; there is no emergent leadership. Because of the top-down direction, teams tend to test the limits.
During stage two (storming), there are many disagreements between team members. Cliques and factions form and dysfunctions are out in the open. Teams often need help working past relationship and personal issues in order to focus on the common goal.
Enter the Scrum Master. A Scrum Master uses her conflict resolution skills to get agreement and consensus between team members. She helps build team unity so the team members can finally work on their own without a leader, thus making it through to the happier, more mature team development stages: norming and performing.
It’s hard to find a TV character that’s more capable of running a meeting than Leslie Knope. Facilitators make sure events meet objective goals with organized thinking and full buy-in and participation from all members. In spite of some misconceptions, there’s more to facilitating than ice-breaker exercise. In addition to the designing and planning before the event, facilitators work hard during the event to make sure they remain neutral and in control. A successful meeting means that all parties contributed and achieved a mutual understanding and a satisfactory outcome.
As the title states, Scrum Masters are masters of Scrum. I consider “master” to have two meanings: having Scrum expertise and also as the master of all Scrum ceremonies like Neil Patrick Harris was the master of ceremonies for the Oscars. When they’re leading a newer team, Scrum Masters easily have the most knowledge and experience with Scrum. However, as the team progresses towards the performing stage, Scrum Masters may find they have less to do. At this point they are usually able to work with more than one team, supporting the mature team and coaching and guiding the new team.
Scrum Master Soft Skills
A Scrum Master’s job is to support and enable the team, not run the team. This is not a top-down approach as we’ve seen with classic Project Management. Rather, it’s a raise-you-up-so-you-can-do-it-on-your-own, deal. It’s very similar to how a civil servant works hard to create the infrastructure for a thriving community. However, it’s important to note that the team can reject the SM’s efforts. Remember the time Leslie Knope tried to ban giant tubs of soda because it was giving Pawnee citizens diabetes? It didn’t work in her favor regardless of her well-intentioned actions.
Scrum Masters spend a majority of the day with other people. They should enjoy being around others and it shouldn’t deplete their energy to resolve conflicts or facilitate meetings. While they may still need some quiet time to rest and recharge, they must be comfortable dealing with people and issues for the majority of their time.
Sense of Humor
Life doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will, regardless of how much you plan. It’s the same with product development. Bugs happen, people leave, leadership changes their mind… Scrum Masters are often at the forefront of dealing with stressful situations. A sense of humor will help a Scrum Master handle curve balls thrown their way.
More than anything, a Scrum Master is the team’s advocate. They protect the team by making sure they don’t over-commit but they also help the team grow by keeping them from under-committing. To be a good advocate, they should have historical knowledge of what the team is capable of doing (past velocities) as well as the team’s trust.
It’s very difficult to be an advocate if people don’t trust you. Inspire trust from the team by always following through, remaining consistent with processes, being open, honest, and transparent, and remaining neutral.
Scrum Masters are essential to Agile teams. Becoming certified is the first step towards gaining the knowledge and experience to take on this fulfilling role. BUT while taking a CSM is a good step, working Scrum Masters will quickly realize that they need more resources. The Advanced Certified ScrumMaster course and certification is a relatively new offering that’s designed to equip a Scrum Master with new skills and tools that will make their day-to-day so much easier. Imagine facilitating every Scrum event with confidence or being able to resolve conflicts with more success. You can learn more about the Advanced Certified ScrumMaster course here.
As more businesses adopt Agile, opportunities for Scrum Masters will only continue to grow.
**A fifth stage, Adjourning, was added in 1975.