Qualities of a good scrum master

Qualities of a good scrum master

Scrum master plays a very important role in a scrum project even if they are not directly involved in execution of the project. If I can take the analogy of a machine that takes in raw material as input and produces finished products as output. The role of Scrum Master is like a supervisor who constantly monitors  the machine, applies lubricants, ensures power supplies not interrupted and does everything to ensure the machine is working smoothly. Here the job of supervisor is not to make the product itself but to ensure the conditions are right for the machine to work smoothly and make the products. Similarly the job of scrum master is to create an environment where the scrum team is able to work smoothly to deliver the product. Let’s see what are the qualities of a good Scrum master.

Should recognize that a scrum master is not a project manager

First thing that a Scrum Master needs to do is recognize is that the role of  scrum master is not the same as a project manager in a project executed in waterfall model. Today many organizations are embracing agile methodology for execution of projects and are switching from traditional waterfall model to Scrum framework. As a result, many project managers are switching to the role of Scrum Master. That is fine, provided they understand that they are going to lose all the power they had to direct the team. The scrum team reports to and are accountable to each other and not the scrum master. The scrum master is not going to lead the project as the project manager does. In fact scrum master is not even directly involved in the execution of the project but only act as a facilitator. 

Should be an expert in Scrum framework 

One of the main responsibilities of scrum master is to act as a scrum coach . To do this the scrum master needs to understand the scrum framework thoroughly. He/she needs to understand various scrum roles, their responsibilities, scrum ceremonies or events in which the team needs to participate and artifacts. 

Every team members may not be aware of the scrum framework and scrum master needs to handhold everyone in the team until they are comfortable to work as a scrum team. Scrum master should be available to clear any doubts or correct team members if they are not doing their scrum responsibilities correctly.

The involvement of scrum master reduces gradually as the team members are more comfortable with the scrum framework are able to handle there responsibilities as part of scrum ceremonies independently.

Good interpersonal skill

The scrum master will have to be in constant touch with people. As a scrum coach, scrum master will have to interact with the development team members as well as the product owner.In Fact interacting with people constitutes bulk of a scrum master’s task . So interpersonal skills is a must have for a scrum master. 

There will be situations where the scrum master will have to motivate the team and encourage them to take challenges and provide appreciations. There might be conflicts between team members where scrum master will have to pitch in and resolve the conflict impartially. 

Scrum master may also have to interact with other people in the organisation in order to resolve impediments that the development team have and prepare the ground in the organization  fit for the team to work smoothly. Scrum master will also need to work closely with the product owner to ensure that the product backlog is defined clearly so that the development team does not waste time trying to fill the gaps.

A scrum master with good communication and interpersonal skills will certainly be able to do his or her job better. This doesn’t mean that the scrum master should always be an extrovert sort of person, but should have good people skills.

Watchout for impediments

An important aspect of Scrum Master’s role is to remove impediments faced by the scrum team. Scrum master attend the daily stand-up meeting in order to see weather in team members are facing any impediments. The scrum master maintains a list of implements and will take all necessary actions to resolve the impediments as soon as possible.

Good scrum masters will not wait for the team members to come to them and request for help to resolve the impediments. They should be constantly watching out as a silent observer and should jump in whenever an impediment is seen.

Sometimes it happens that the team members don’t realize there is an impediment, may be since they are so used to doing things a particular way that they don’t realize there are better options.Scrum master should intervene in such occasions and guide the team members in getting those issues fixed.

Constantly look for ways to improve 

Work of a scrum master doesn’t end once the team understands the scrum framework well and is able to perform this daily task smoothly. He/she needs to constantly monitor the process and see what improvements can be brought in.

The core essence of working in an interactive model of delivery like scrum is that, one should learn and improve with each iteration. As a silent observer of the process, the scrum master is in a good position to identify inefficient process and take steps to improve it. Efficiency of the scrum master lies in not only identifying scopes for improvement but also getting those improvements implemented. People are resistant to changes and the scrum master doesn’t have a commanding authority to enforce a change in the team. So it totally depends on the skills of the scrum master to convince the team and build consensus to adapt a change.

Understanding of the domain

Since the scrum master is not directly involved in execution of the project, it is argued that it doesn’t matter if the scrum master doesn’t have expertise in the domain of the  project being executed. However, the fact is that a scrum master will always be in a better position if he/she understands the business. 

A scrum master, as part of resolving impediments for the team, will have to interact not only with product owner but also other stakeholders of the business. They may have to discuss on subjects which are specific to the domain. Here the scrum master can do his or her job better if an understanding of the domain is there. This doesn’t mean that the scrum master need to be a domain expert, however a basic understanding of the domain is desirable.

Understanding of the technology

As in the case of domain knowledge, similar arguments are often given on whether a scrum master should be technical. This point also come when a scrum master is hired for a project, whether to higher a scrum master with management background or someone who have previously worked hands-on technically. 

Here also the argument in favor of having a person with some sort of technical knowledge is that they will have to interact with the scrum team on a daily basis. They will be present in daily stand-ups where the team is talking technical stuff. The scrum master will be able to understand technical impediments better if they understand technology. 

Similarly while interacting with product owner, they will be able to guide the product owner to define user stories clearly with a developer’s perspective.

Here again, to have a technical scrum master who is so keen on getting involved in technical stuff that he or she is directing the way the product is built, will be counterproductive because that is not the job of the development team.

Closing note

For a scrum team to function efficiently the role of scrum master is very important. Though the scrum master do not take part in the direct execution of the project and acts as a facilitator, the success of the scrum team as a whole depends to a great extent on the ability of scrum master. We saw various qualities of a good scrum master. Though some of these skill set can be acquired through theoretical training a majority of the skills are acquired by experience and practice.