What does a ScrumMaster Do Anyway?

By Resalin Gurka | Feb 12, 2018 |  Article,  Scrum,  ScrumMaster

what does a scrummaster do on a daily basis?

We’ve discussed what a ScrumMaster is and what their main responsibilities are. We’ve even discussed the hard and soft skills needed to make a successful ScrumMaster (thanks, Leslie Knope). But, still, what does a ScrumMaster do anyway? What makes up an entire work day? How does their day (and their effectiveness) change as they engage with more teams?

ScrumMaster As A Servant Leader

As a servant leader, the ScrumMaster’s main responsibility is to facilitate value delivery by removing roadblocks that stymie progress. It sounds accurate but vague at the same time. What does it mean to remove roadblocks? Or facilitate value delivery.

Our Senior Agile Coach, Braz Brandt defines a servant leader as “An individual who believes in the inherent power and abilities of the people and teams around them, and works to help elevate those people while creating the environment for their long-term success and happiness”.

So while ScrumMasters are not expected to play barista every day, it’s not uncommon for them to treat hard working teams to a coffee or a pint (or two) every once in a while. Other examples of servant leadership include:

Making sure the process works for the team, and not just for the unicorn. Most of the workforce is not made of up unicorns, just good workers who need systems like Scrum to make them more efficient. While the ScrumMaster is the “master” of Scrum, it doesn’t mean that Scrum is the only framework that will be used by their team. Being a master means knowing something so well, and the intent behind it, that they are able to adjust in the right way when necessary. ScrumMasters work with the team to determine the best solution for the problem, even if the final answer is not Scrum. Maybe Kanban is better in a particular instance; or maybe a hybrid of the two, Scrumban. Other examples of mixing it up are demo-ing in real-time instead of waiting for a planned Sprint Review or a team creating an experiment-driven learning mechanism for improvement that isn’t a Sprint Retrospective.

Protecting the team, by helping stakeholders understand and respect this new way of working. Agile is completely different. Teams are now empowered and don’t need managers to delegate tasks. Planning projects with Agile is also very different as the focus shifts from the plan to the result. Instead of having access to team members and assigning rush projects, leaders are encouraged to work with the Product Owner to prioritize the project in the backlog. It takes time for this shift to occur, and as the Agile champion, it is the ScrumMaster’s job to continue to educate and help stakeholders and team members navigate the new terrain.

Facilitating Scrum Ceremonies, there’s more to being a meeting facilitator than creating a Google calendar invite with the agenda. A great facilitator understands the goals of the workshop and makes sure the team is on track towards meeting that goal within the designated time frame.

For example, Sprint Retrospectives are meant to help the team improve by identifying issues and determining action items that will help solve them. A ScrumMaster should be prepared for the meeting by having the foresight to know what potential issues might be discussed, determining an activity to create space for the team to surface said issues, and then guiding the team to find a resolution.

Championing information radiators, like Kanban boards and burndown charts. There are two sets of information radiators: the ones for the team and the ones for stakeholders. Artifacts geared towards stakeholders prevent them from micromanaging because they have a view of the progress being made. Team-based information radiators help teams because they provide visibility into the Sprint, which allows them to raise issues and make decisions when they begin to see red flags.

A way to keep teams happy and productive is to make work and progress visible. This keeps stakeholders focused on strategic initiatives and away from micromanaging, which makes teams happier. Micromanaging is the number one thing leaders should do if they want to drive away talent.

Working with leadership to get tools and training for the team.
One way to prevent frustration and grumblings from the team is to make sure they are set up for success. Examples could be helping to secure Product Owner training for the Business Analyst who just became the new PO or getting an updated laptop for the QA so that they can test in multiple browsers simultaneously.

Example ScrumMaster Daily Agenda

To help you better understand the day-to-day of a ScrumMaster, we asked to see the calendars of actual ScrumMasters. Meet Link’s calendar. He is the SM for two teams, Avengers and Ultron. Below is an example of what his week looks like during Sprint end/beginning. Since the teams are working in a similar area of the product and have the same stakeholders, they have a combined Sprint Review.

Example of a daily agenda for the ScrumMaster of 2 teams.
Coverage And ScrumMaster Effectiveness

In order for a ScrumMaster to be effective as a servant leader, it is important that they have ample time to teach and coach teams and leaders, and just be available for the team. They also need time to prepare for meetings, analyze data, mentor team members and meet with stakeholders and leaders to remove impediments that prevent the team from making progress.

The best ScrumMasters have this one thing in common: time for their teams. If a question or problem arises, they need to be there to help find a solution. They have an open-door policy; they are available. Imagine if Link was the ScrumMaster of three teams? Four? What would his calendar look like then? Check out Ana’s below. She has 3 teams.


Example agenda of the ScrumMaster of 3 teams
Doesn’t leave a lot of breathing room. During Sprint week she basically goes from meeting to meeting with no time for other work that will help make the team really effective. With this many teams, the consequence is the teams have to schedule their meetings around her rather than her scheduling them to meet the teams’ needs. Or in this case, you might notice that she doesn’t have a Review on the books for Fight Club due to calendar conflicts with the other two teams. You might also see that the Retrospectives and Sprint Plannings are shorter than recommended for maximum outcome. It’s hard to fit it all in when ScrumMasters have too many teams. Our recommendation is to limit 2 maybe 3 teams per ScrumMaster.

Get started on the right foot. Learn about onsite Agile training.

We hope this article clarifies questions about the ScrumMaster role. In the meantime, let us know if we missed anything. What is your definition of servant leadership? How do you exemplify that as a SM and as a leader?


Order Up! Agile and Lean Lessons From The Restaurant Industry

By Resalin Gurka | Mar 15, 2017 |  Article,  Lean

Pizza similar to the pizza found at Aviator's--A surprisingly Agile restaurant
Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

Three weeks ago. It’s Friday night. We’re in a lazy mood so we hop in the car and go to the new neighborhood pizza place, Aviator Pizza. It’s our second time to go and it’s even busier than the first time, which is a good sign. The burger joint that occupied this space prior to Aviator didn’t last long.

Seems like blue skies are ahead for Aviator.

We order at the bar and find an open table to wait for our food and I spot the sign next to the side door. Written on a small chalkboard, “Grand Opening – March 4th.”

Since I started working in the Agile industry, I’ve started to see Agile and Lean thinking outside software development. Apparently, work followed me to pizza night. (more…)


Technical Skills And The Product Owner

By Resalin Gurka | Jan 24, 2017 |  Article,  Product Owner,  Scrum

Product Owner Skills require a lot of multi-taskingProduct Owners are in high demand. Searching on Indeed for “Product Owner” pulled up 103 new jobs posted this month. While its existence is relatively new compared to a Product Manager, it’s gaining attention as Agile and Scrum begin to overtake traditional methods of building software and managing creating projects.

The Product Owner (PO) is responsible for creating the product vision and guiding the team as they work to make the vision a reality. They are the bridge between stakeholders, team, and the end users. It’s a job that requires a number of different hard and soft skills, from knowledge of Agile and Scrum to a Mama bear instinct to protect the product.

One of the most frequently asked questions in our CSPO classes is whether technical knowledge is required in a Product Owner role. The short answer is no, but the long answer is that technical skills are helpful, but not in the way you might think.

When you’re looking for a new PO, you want someone steeped in product development experience (clearly). The list below consists of hard and soft skills required in the PO role in addition to the years of experience needed. Because this post pertains to product ownership, we prioritized it in order of least to most important. You’re welcome.

Analytical Brain

From looking at usage stats, user demographics, resource allocation, and market data, you need a PO who is at home with data and can put the various points together to make smart decisions and see the big picture.

Technical Skills

As someone in product development moves through their career, they will pick up an understanding of how products are made and be familiar with architectures, languages, and build cycles. However, that’s really all they need to have in terms of technical skills. Remember, they’re not building the product, they’re just collaborating with the people who are. They need to learn to rely on and partner with the assembled team of technical experts.

Written, verbal, and presentation skills

Can they listen to understand instead of listening to reply? Can they articulate their thoughts and ideas so that anyone within earshot can understand them? Can they present information to stakeholders with confidence? Product Owners use their communication skills-written and verbal–on a daily basis. In addition to listening and talking, their user stories must be clear so that the team understands the work while at the same time capturing the task’s intent. The vision statement must be inspiring enough to carry the team through the months of work ahead.

Agile & Scrum Knowledge

For those who are new to Agile and Scrum, the Product Owner may seem like a hydra with three heads: Product Manager, Project Manager, and Business Analyst. It is similar to these roles but has specific responsibilities which are unique to Agile. It is important for anyone stepping into the PO role to take a CSPO workshop so that they are able to communicate with their Agile team. They need to understand their role and the daily interactions required with the team.

Prioritization Skills

I have already discussed how product owners are the liaisons between stakeholders and the team. Another primary PO responsibility is to create and prioritize the Product Backlog. The Product Backlog is a prioritized list of all the features or components of the project with user-centric descriptions. It can contain bugs, technical work, and knowledge acquisition. A Sprint Backlog is the work that needs to be done in the upcoming Sprint. The PO should come to the Sprint Planning meetings with the Product Backlog Items (PBI’s) prioritized, ready to be discussed by the team. In order to create this list, the Product Owner needs to be able to work with a disparate set of stakeholders and leverage their input to create an ordered list of priorities for the team to pull into their Sprint Plan.


Guts, determination, courage–people with gumption have all of the above. Product Owners bridge the gap between stakeholders and the team, which can be a difficult task because what stakeholders want (more, more, more!) can be at odds with what the team believes can be done within scope. They need to be able to say no to stakeholders if their desires are out-of-reach, which takes a lot of courage. They need the determination to make sure the product vision becomes a reality, even if that means extra work.


While creating a vision may seem soft and squishy, communicating a vision is a hard skill Product Owners should have. Vision statements explain why accomplishing the mission contributes to a better future. Part of Apple’s current vision (revised by CEO Tim Cook) states:

“We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple, not the complex.”

This part of their vision explains their guiding principle when it comes to design: simple is best.

Visions can also explain how teams will work together and values that will carry them through the project. Apple goes on to explain:

“We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company…”

Finally, a vision explains what makes the product or company unique in the space, which requires a substantial amount of market analysis. The job of the Product Owner is to clearly communicate a vision that aligns the team around a common motivating purpose.

Domain Knowledge

Speaking of market analysis, the number one skill a PO must possess is domain expertise. Whether it’s an EMR or finance software, Product Owners are the subject matter experts for that tool’s domain. They know the user to the point of obsession and the value the product will bring. They know what users are using now and how and why the new product is different from the rest and they use the UVP to make it a success.

The Product Owner is an important role in the Scrum Team. We offer public and private training to help existing team members develop the above soft and hard skills.


Should The POTUS Be More Like A ScrumMaster Or a Product Owner?

By Resalin Gurka | Nov 04, 2016 |  Article,  Product Owner,  ScrumMaster

Neil Armstrong on the moon -- getting to the moon is like a sprint, is the POTUS a Scrummaster or Product Owner

Did you guys know it was election season?

Don’t worry, we’re not here to discuss the five candidates on the presidential ballot. We’re here to discuss and debate the following question…

If the United States was a development team, would POTUS be a ScrumMaster or Product Owner?



Adventures in Agile Marketing: Estimating Story Points

By Resalin Gurka | Nov 01, 2016 |  Agile Marketing,  Agile Tools,  Article

Use story points estimation for Agile Marketing--separating out by tasks, like by tea, shown hereA lot has happened since my last Agile marketing post about revamping the editorial calendar. For one thing, I still use my editorial calendar, but it’s become a brainstorm repository instead of an organizational tool. Also, I now have another person on my marketing team which has been a tremendous help and immense relief as we’ve been really busy with conferences, white papers, blog posts, and started the arduous process of updating the website in addition to creating physical marketing collateral.

It is a lot to manage for a two-person team so I started to look for ways to become more effective with time and bandwidth. I have a backlog and a Kanban board to visualize the work, a good first step. Now, how do I discuss what’s involved with my team and stakeholders? Specifically…

  1. How do I have meaningful conversations about scope with my team?
  2. How do I show productivity in a way that’s meaningful to stakeholders*?
  3. How do I use data to discuss and prioritize with stakeholders?

I know story points are used in development to estimate work. Can it work for marketing?

Development teams assign user story points to describe their relative size to one another. This is different from how I estimated work in the past, which was time-based. For example, writing a blog post took two hours while a white paper may take six.

But there are problems with the Hours method. In marketing, estimating work in hours meant being a slave to answering a stream of continuous questions. Are we writing from scratch? How many sections? Is research involved? Any interviews? It was constant, exhausting re-estimating.

Story points are a measure of scope. A white paper has more scope than a blog post; a blog post has more scope than a tweet*. They are evaluated and estimated in relation to each other. Regardless of how many sections or research needed, a white paper will always have more scope than a blog post; a blog post will always be more scope than a tweet. In this way, the scale is fixed. Now, team members can discuss and debate just how much scope something is. Is it twice as big or three times as big? Using story points, if a blog post is a 3, is a white paper an 8 or a 21?

An advantage of using this strategy is that it frees managers to spend time on helping the team or setting strategy.

Why Use Story Points For Marketing?

In an Agile team, product owners use story points to discuss scope of the work in upcoming sprints with stakeholders. What happens if stakeholders have something they want to add to the product backlog and it’s an 8-point story. What should the product owner do?

There are a few options that don’t involve time manipulation. If stakeholders really want the feature added, the product owner and ScrumMaster can request more team members to help the heavier workload. The other option would be to cut planned scope to make room for new work. If planned scope was estimated ahead of time, the product owner has an idea of how much needs to be cut.

Story point estimation can be a valuable tool, especially for teams with limited time and manpower (every marketing team ever). Without getting in the weeds of estimating using time, there is still a concrete, data-driven way to evaluate scope, measure productivity, and negotiate with stakeholders.  

First Estimation Exercise

We ran our first estimation exercise a couple of weeks ago. We’re a very young team, in terms of working together, and the exercise gave us time to discuss our personal experiences with the items at hand. After we finished grouping the items in t-shirt sizes and allocated a point system, we were able to create our own marketing story point cheat sheet.

Example of t-shirt size estimating using sticky notes for Agile Marketing
Marketing items grouped by complexity


Agile Marketing story point cheater card on yellow index card
Our story point cheat sheet

If we add more members to the team, we will need to re-do the bucketing exercise to create a new scale.

It has been two weeks since we began this agile marketing experiment and I’ve noted how many points we’ve accomplished every week. I need a few more data points to calculate an average velocity. I’m really excited because I think story points will help me plan work better and improve my relationship with stakeholders. I can use our average velocity to have reason-fueled discussions with stakeholders on what work should be completed and how much of it will be done in a given time frame.

More on Agile marketing here:


For more on our approach to building lasting business agility, you can check out our Agile Marketing Bootcamp page.


Q&A: Allison Pollard Answers Myths, Mobbing, Morals & Craftsmanship

By Resalin Gurka | Aug 10, 2016 |  Agile Technical Practices,  Article,  Video

Principal Agile coach Allison Pollard was kind enough to take a break from her busy Keep Austin Agile schedule to discuss how to create an Agile tech practices craftsmanship culture, management’s role during a tech turnaround, and the developer secret handshake.

Watch the full video below…full transcript also included.



5 Non-Agile TED Talks About Agile

By Resalin Gurka | Jul 07, 2016 |  Article

Ted Talks about Agile, without being "about Agile"It was 1984. Explorer, architect, and author Saul Wurman began to notice a convergence of multiple disciplines, and in an interview with Fast Company, Wurman noted that he saw what people in the groups did not.

‘They just didn’t see they were one group…they didn’t realize they were growing together.

He decided to bring representatives from the Technology, Entertainment, and Design circles together starting what would become one of the most celebrated conferences in the world, the TED conference.

Each TED talk taps into our curiosity by sharing the ideas of today’s thought leaders and innovators. The following TED talks cover the spectrum, from slime mould to storytelling via code. Not only is each talk brilliant and inspiring, they also discuss various Agile principles and show agility in action, without speaking of Agile outright.



#SGFLA – To Infinity And Beyond…

By Resalin Gurka | Apr 21, 2016 |  Agile Marketing,  Article
Astronauts and Agilists Kate Megaw and Anu Smalley kick off Global Scrum Gathering Orlando
Astronauts and Agilists Kate Megaw and Anu Smalley kick off Global Scrum Gathering Orlando

My first Scrum Gathering was a great time! I met so many interesting, smart, and kind people from the Agile community from all over the world. While there were big names who have contributed and helped grow the community over the years, a majority of attendants were like me: first-timers. According to Scrum Alliance, 55% of this year’s crowd have never attended a Scrum Gathering. This is in line with the major growth spurt Agile has experienced in the last five years.



VersionOne 2016 State of Agile Report – Agile Has Hit Its 30’s

By Resalin Gurka | Apr 14, 2016 |  Agile Transformation,  Article

Banner for the 10th Annual State of Agile Report from VersionOne

It’s no longer the kid it once was. From 1957 to 2016, Agile has progressed through the stages of cute kiddo, awkward teenager, eager twenty-something, to mature thirty-ish adult. With this new stage in life comes a lot of positives (steady growth, deepening maturity) but also some negatives (hesitancy, failed adoptions) as shown in the 2016 report.

Here are some of the most telling trends found in the annual State of Agile report. (more…)


Adventures In Agile Marketing: The Editorial Calendar

By Resalin Gurka | Apr 04, 2016 |  Agile Marketing,  Agile Tools,  Article

Agile Marketing plannerWhen was the last time that your editorial calendar got a makeover? As a marketer before Agile (BA), my editorial calendar was pretty standard: title, info, status, and dates. It was the piece of data that, I now know, was a very waterfall way of creating content. Before Agile, I never realized how much risk was involved with every blog post that went out the door.

Agile Marketing vs. Regular Ol’ Marketing

Agile marketing took root from Agile Methodology, an approach to building software that followed the clarion call of individuals and interactions, customer collaboration, responding to change, and working software as the true measurement of progress. Agile Marketing has similar values:

  1. Responding to change over following a plan
  2. Rapid iterations over Big-Bang campaigns
  3. Testing and data over opinions and conventions
  4. Numerous small experiments over a few large bets
  5. Individuals and interactions over target markets
  6. Collaboration over silos and hierarchy

Like Agile Software Development, Agile Marketing has a mindset geared towards communication, continuous improvement, gathering feedback, and collaboration. Instead of placing a big bet by creating a giant strategy set to execute over a long period of time, Agile marketers favor short campaigns that allow them to gather intel to improve the next campaign. An Agile marketing campaign is the equivalent of a sprint.

For example, I have an idea for a white paper that I am pretty sure will resonate with my audience. One way to be more Agile is to test the topic with a smaller investment like a blog post. If the blog post flops, I change direction; if it’s a hit, then I proceed.

The Agile Editorial Calendar

An editorial calendar keeps a team organized by providing visibility into the work that is being and will be done. They are absolutely necessary if you have more than one person on your team. Here are snapshots of my editorial calendars over the years.

Traditional Editorial Calendar

Agile Editorial Calendar V1

Agile Editorial Calendar V2


What Makes The Agile Editorial Calendar “Agile”

The first version (V1) of my Agile editorial calendar was similar to the traditional one. There was a column for the title, audience/target person, keywords, and due dates for each phase. The new additions were columns for the user story and acceptance criteria. So far, my adventure in user story and acceptance criteria land has stuck. In addition to the blogging, I include user stories and acceptance criteria for emails, infographics, and a majority of my marketing efforts. It keeps me focused on my audience and has even improved my writing.

We begin refining the Agile editorial calendar with the second iteration (V2). Because the user story includes the target audience, I removed that column to streamline. The biggest change between V1 and V2 is the status column. Instead of three rows with due dates, I decided to remove the due date and instead use those rows to signal with the color orange where the post is in the production process, sort of like a Kanban board. I still have a place to indicate the target publishing date, but as far as the other due dates, I removed them after realizing that they weren’t necessary as long as I hit the last one. I was documenting for the sake of documentation, a very un-Agile approach.

Another modification – a reflection of my new writing process – is to revise after review. I used to do a line edit before the peer review. However, I have swung and missed enough times to know that I don’t always get it right. Why put in the effort to perfect a piece if there are big flaws–informational or structural–that are wrong? The switch allows me to better “respond to change over following a plan,” the first principle of Agile marketing.

My journey as both a marketer, an Agilist, and an Agile marketer continues. I’m excited to see where it takes me and how it will make me better at these aspects of my professional life. If there are any marketers, Agile or otherwise, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

More on Agile marketing here:


For more on our approach to Agile Marking, you can check out our Agile Marketing Bootcamp page.