“Do or do not; there is no try.” While this is certainly Jedi Master Yoda’s most famous quote, it doesn’t exactly apply to agile development. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite of agile. If Yoda were a Scrum Master, however, the quote would look a lot more like this: “Try and again try; that is how you do.”
The Scrum Master facilitates the Scrum team, leading them to hopeful victory. It’s rewarding, but the Scrum Master role is filled with pressure. The success of the Scrum and wellbeing of the team falls on the Scrum Master’s shoulders.
If you’re a Scrum Master or aspire to become one, you’ve come to the right place. Master Scrum theory and your leadership skills with our six strategies for Scrum Masters.
Understanding Scrum values and the role of the Scrum Master
Scrum is an agile practice commonly used for product development. It’s based on completing a set amount of work in short bursts — called sprints — so that teams can continuously create iterations as they learn more about a product and its stakeholders.
Ken Schwaber co-created the Scrum framework in the early 1990s to help teams manage complex development projects. He also founded Scrum Alliance and established Scrum.org, an online resource for agile teams.
At the beginning of a Scrum, the product owner decides which product backlog items will be moved to the sprint backlog. From there, the Scrum Master takes over, leading the team through Scrum events, including:
- Sprint planning
- Daily Scrum or daily standups
- Sprint review
- Sprint retrospectives
The role of the Scrum Master is to guide the team through the Scrum process. They facilitate the process, helping the team to master the framework and improve from one sprint to the next.
Read our six strategies for Scrum Masters to improve your skills or prepare for your future role.
1. Don’t forget to be agile yourself
Do you live by agile principles yourself? How agile are you in your leadership style?
Effective Scrum Masters know that they also need to continually improve based on new experiences, successes, and failures. It’s important to learn from your mistakes so that you don’t make them again, but it’s just as important to learn from your successes. Take the time to review your process, including what went well and what didn’t, so you know how you can improve as a leader and facilitator.
2. Get to know your team
Your ability to lead your team is tied to how well you know them. You should continually get to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. How well do they work together? Who brings out the best in one another, and who doesn't work so well together? Dig deep to truly understand the root dynamics of the team.
Learn more about each individual on the team as well. What do they need help with? What do they excel at? What feedback can you provide to help them grow in their role? How can you help them succeed? Build rapport with your team members by asking how they’re doing, giving and receiving feedback, and finding common ground.
3. Foster a culture of continuous feedback
The agile methodology is based on continuous improvement. How will the individuals on your team improve if you don’t provide them feedback? Likewise, how will you improve if you don’t ask for, and accept, feedback from the team?
Feedback is a two-way street, and it only works if it’s constructive and continuous. Don’t wait until you have something negative to address — you need to regularly provide both positive and negative feedback. Doing this on a regular basis will help you and your team become accustomed to hearing feedback, so it won’t be jarring or off-putting when you do.
As the Scrum Master, you should foster an environment in which all members give and receive constructive feedback.
4. Hone your communication skills
Being in charge doesn’t mean you’re always doing the talking. The opposite is true: Great leaders are great communicators. As a leader, you need to constantly listen to your team, keeping both ears open for any issues your team or the individuals on it may be dealing with.
Actively listen to the concerns of the development team, and consider how each individual on your team prefers to communicate. Do they prefer bold and to-the-point interactions? Or do they need time to ease into a conversation? Everyone communicates a little differently, and understanding your team's preferences will help you make the most of each interaction.
Scrum Masters need to hone their communication skills in order to be effective leaders for their teams. Regularly assess your communication style and its effectiveness, and ask your team for feedback on how you are doing.
5. Make the most of every retrospective
The retrospective is the final event of a Scrum. They are an incredibly important part of the Scrum process, and they should not be overlooked, rushed, or underutilized. As the Scrum Master, you need to take responsibility for making sure retrospectives are effective and occur after each Scrum. Go in with a plan to make the most of every retro meeting.
That doesn’t mean you need to take charge of everything. It’s helpful to let your team run the occasional retrospective. Everyone involved should continually contribute their own ideas for improving the meeting.
Collect regular feedback from your team on how they think your retrospectives are going. Ask for ideas on how they could improve, and change things up. Repeating the exact same questions and retrospective activities will bore your team and lead to reduced engagement.
For more retrospective perspective, read our five steps to holding effective sprint retrospectives.
6. Become a certified Scrum Master
A Scrum Master certification can take you from simple Scrum Master to masterful Scrum Master. While certification isn’t required to become a professional Scrum Master, it certainly helps.
Scrum.org, the website founded by the co-creator of Scrum, offers a three-part certification program called The Professional Scrum MasterTM. The program has three assessment levels that validate your knowledge of the Scrum framework and practical application of Scrum theory.
- The Professional Scrum MasterTM I (PSM I)
- The Professional Scrum MasterTM II (PSM II)
- The Professional Scrum MasterTM III (PSM III)
We’re also big fans of Pretty Agile’s SAFe training programs:
- SAFe Scrum Master SSM Certification
- SAFe Advanced Scrum Master
A certification is a great addition to your resume, and it will help you fine-tune your facilitation skills and Scrum knowledge.
Easy Agile for Scrum Masters
“Try and again try; that is how you do.”
The beauty of agile is that regardless of how many certifications or years of experience you have, there’s always more to improve. Agile is an iterative process in which learning continues from sprint to sprint and project to project. As a Scrum Master, it’s up to you to continue learning the craft and perfecting your facilitation skills, the Scrum Master role involves life-long learning.
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