How to Be the Scrum Hero Driving Digital Innovation in Your Company


on June 12, 2017

In my previous post about why Agile fails, I mentioned the Scrum Master as being a critical person in the whole Agile process. The Scrum Master is responsible for helping the team follow best practices and for removing impediments. Even though they have “Master” in their title, they are not really a master in any way. They are a servant-leader, and they service the team and the product owner. Thus, a complete mindset change may be required, especially if you are a “Type A” personality. To drive digital innovation, the most important skills to have as a Scrum Master are to be able to change and constantly be willing to improve yourself and your team.

Here are 3 skills to learn and acquire to become a better Scrum Master:

1. Listen

If you are a Type A personality or a traditional manager, you probably enjoy taking charge and telling people what to do. Sometimes you might even feel like you must take charge in order for things to get done. For example, you might be the first to speak and lead the Scrum meetings. You might already know the best way to do things, and sometimes you actually do know.

However, the focus with Agile development is on the team achieving a common goal and delivering a product. The goal is to get the team to work as effectively and efficiently as possible. You cannot achieve your goal if you don’t stop to listen and learn from your team. It is important to listen to what issues the team brings up, what suggestions they have, and what improvements they want to make.

How can you listen effectively?

If you are not a natural listener, you can start by acting like a good listener. First, do not talk until the other person has made their point. Secondly, do not argue with others in your head or think about how to make your counterargument. Lastly, repeat what they said to ensure that you understand what they meant. Practice your listening skills with one-to-one conversations, and then upgrade to the Scrum meetings.

2. Facilitate

As a Scrum Master, your goals include facilitating meetings and coaching others on best practices. This means that you do not direct others or tell them what to do. At every meeting, the team should function together. The best facilitators are sometimes the ones we don’t even notice were in the meeting.

What does an effective facilitator do?

Effective facilitators have good listening skills and ask smart questions to understand everyone’s viewpoint and move the group forward. The facilitator has to be neutral and not favor anyone’s opinion. They have confidence in themselves and in the group that consensus will be reached and solutions will be achieved. Because if the facilitator gave up on reaching consensus, how would the group feel?

There are a number of great resources to help you learn these skills, such as this Guide to Meeting Facilitation and a book I’ve found helpful called Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great.

No one is born a facilitator, so anyone can learn to be an effective one.

3. Coach

Your team is the most important part of the whole Agile process. It is important to help everyone in the team flourish. If you notice a developer is struggling, do not brush it under the rug. Reach out and assist them. Coach them through the problem one-to-one and help them succeed. This one-to-one time at the beginning of a project is essential and will help you avoid headaches later. If there is an individual causing a problem, address the issue head on. Do not be shy or try to avoid talking about it. A small problem ignored today can become a showstopper tomorrow.

How should you effectively coach people?

The key to coaching is to provide feedback to individuals and to the team. Do this as often as possible and for anything and everything. Did an individual developer or the entire team do something well? Say so! Praise them privately and/or publicly, depending on their personality. Is there something that someone can improve? Address it head on. Start by saying what went wrong, and then make suggestions on how to improve. If you give feedback often, people will learn to expect and appreciate it. Most importantly, as feedback becomes the norm, your team will learn not to take it personally or shy away from it.

Hard Work and Rewards

In conclusion, being a Scrum Master requires a lot of hard work in addition to skills that might not come naturally to everyone. However, it is very rewarding to see a team functioning together and achieving results much faster. While the skills highlighted above are essential for great Scrum Masters, everyone should learn to listen, facilitate, and help others.