How do you know if a Scrum Master is doing their job well? Drop in on a meeting, and if it´s the Scrum Master doing all the talking, then you can quickly tell something isn’t quite right. This was just one of the best practice tips that came out of last weeks Scrum Master roundtable (#ScrumMaster2015). We brought together four of Belatrix´s most senior Scrum Masters, as well as Jeff Glennon, Agile coach and facilitator, to discuss in detail the Scrum Master role. A recording of the session is available here.
During the discussion we spoke about a variety of topics including the best practices for Scrum Masters, how the role changes with distributed teams, and how best to work with senior executive stakeholders, such as the CTO or CIO.
While we will also be publishing a more detailed analysis of the role of the Scrum Master and best practices for success, here are some of the highlights of the discussion:
Why is the Scrum Master role necessary, and how does it differ from the typical project manager role? Both are critical roles for project success, however they are also very different and should not be confused. The project manager role is in charge of managing the resources and the milestones of the team. But the Scrum Master is responsible for supporting the team – the word “facilitator” was mentioned by several of the panelists. The Scrum Master needs to provide the team with the tools they need to solve the problems they face and build the environment for success. The Scrum Master will also handle the expectations of the team and make sure these are aligned with stakeholders. The difference can be thought of as the project manager role being more of a planner, versus the coach and guardian role of the Scrum Master.
How do you know if a Scrum Master is effective? The focus of the Scrum Master should be on the well-being of the team, as well as making the team reliable- in other words delivering software reliably and on-time. Although accurate estimations can be challenging, and teams are not machines, the team should be hitting their commitments on a regular basis. One test mentioned by Jeff Glennon and which we already highlighted at the beginning of this blog post was to drop in on a meeting- if the Scrum Master is doing all the talking, then you know something is up, and it is likely that team members are not empowered or taking responsibility for project success.
How does the Scrum Master role change when working with a distributed team, versus when the team is sitting together? The panel discussed some of the challenges of working with distributed teams, and some of the ways these challenges can be overcome. Having a distributed team means you lose important face-to-face communication, so you have to pay more attention to organizing your meetings. With a distributed team it becomes harder for the Scrum Master to manage the team environment- so you need to provide the tools the team will need, such as visibility into the team progress. Sharing the visibility of the project becomes even more essential- for example, how are things going, the status, the burn-down chart. Meanwhile, Jeff Glennon gave an example of when a team which was distributed and where the quality of the finished project wasn’t as expected- in this case, they got the quality assurance (QA) members on the outsourced team to partner with the local team to walk through the test cases so they learnt the project together. In other words, help team members figure out what success means for their role. In many cases there are simple solutions which can have a significant impact.
How can a Scrum Master work effectively with the CTO or CIO? Regardless of who is sponsoring the Agile project, it is important to understand what success means to them, and how they will be measured. Is it speed of delivery, time to market, or even growing leaders within the organization? You need to understand, as best you can, what are these metrics for success very early on- for the team, for the Scrum Master, and for the key sponsors of the project. Ultimately you want to make the key stakeholder sponsoring the project look good, and you can only do this if you understand how they themselves will be assessed. Also, as one of Belatrix´s Scrum Masters, Mauricio Bessé, mentioned on the call, this is essential in order to align expectations.
These were just some of the highlights of the discussion. Do you agree with these best practices, or is there anything you would add to them? Leave a comment below – we’ll include a selection of the best comments in our upcoming whitepaper on Scrum Master best practices.