Q: Becoming a good ScrumMaster

Q: “What is your advice on becoming a good ScrumMaster?”

A: This is a good and difficult question. The difficulty is where to start and how best to express it.

First, what is a good ScrumMaster? What makes one better than usual?

You may think it odd, but the first thing I want to say is: The team is having more fun. Why do I say that?  Mainly because more fun will lead to higher Business Value, and it leads to a virtuous cycle or circle of cause and effect.

I do not mean silly fun. Well, it could be silly (as in a joke and some stress relief), but I mean more ‘serious fun.’ People are enjoying their work. They think of work almost as play or fun. They would almost pay the company to allow them to do their job. That kind of fun.

For example, they enjoy working in the team. While they are serious, they often smile and laugh as they work with each other and talk to each other.

Second, more self-organization.

This is hard to explain, I think. “You make people self-organize” is my joking way of saying it. It is a joke, because you cannot really make the team self-organize. You can, as a SM, coach and advise and set up the right conditions for self-organization, and then address issues that inhibit it.

Allow people be free. Well, yes and no. You help people to become the best each person and the team has ever been before, and you do not inhibit self-organization yourself.

Actually, we all want to control things, and while some control is good, most of us want to control too much. At least, that is a common problem, even with the best intentions. You do not ‘tell’ people to do things, although you might ask ‘could you help with X?’ But, gosh darn it, do not act like a ‘command-and-control’ style project manager. “I have a list of things for all of you to do, and I will be checking the list daily to see what you got done.” Not that. Not even anything close to that.

Still, you might need to explain why they need to have detailed tasks and answer questions in the Daily Scrum and why that is useful. Paradoxically, they will need to self-manage themselves rather closely.

Third, more impediments are removed, and the team gains Velocity.

You have to aggressively attack the most important impediment. When that one is ‘fixed,’ attack the new most important impediment aggressively so that the Velocity of the team easily doubles in no more than six months. (OK, some of you are in organizations that are hard to change, so you will work hard to double in one year.)  Then, keep on improving!

Fourth, more Business Value.

What? That is the SM’s responsibility? Yes, as I have already hinted, but let me say more.

The SM should be helping the team get better in every way. The team of course includes the Product Owner, so the SM is helping the PO get better.

And the goal of the team, of course, is to maximize the Business Value (in whatever way they define that) from the team, to the customers. (There is no maximum.) And release more quickly and frequently.

Obviously, if the Velocity increases the BV will increase, but I really mean more than that. The SM should be helping the PO learn to do all those things a PO should do to help the team maximize the BV.  Examples include: Clearer requirements, focus on one release at a time, a clear minimum (minimum!) Market Feature Set (a.k.a. Minimum Viable Product), slicing the stories smaller and re-Pareto-zing them, try to improve the odds the customer will really be excited when they get it; maximizing the feedback (see Lean Start-Up), after the release and then ‘adjusting’ (pivoting, as appropriate), etc., etc.

I do not mean to suggest that the SM does the PO’s job. I mean ‘only’ that the SM helps the PO become a better PO, and not only the PO. The ScrumMaster helps all the people (on what we often call ‘the business side’) to work better with each other so that the BV is maximized and delivered more frequently (which also helps maximize it).

So, at least as a general goal, the SM wants to make the team the best possible team ever.

Specifically, that means:

  • More fun
  • More self-organization
  • More Velocity
  • More Business Value

It is, of course, more blessed to give than to receive, so they will start to feel that delivering more Business Value faster is more fun.

It can be said that ‘removing impediments’ is the way to make those four things happen. Put another way, anything that is holding things back is an impediment for the team. Fix it!

Have I fully answered the question? No.


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