Scrum is a project management methodology that allows a team to self-organize and make changes quickly. The scrum master, therefore, is the leader of the team following this approach. If you’re a new scrum master and you’re looking for a crash course on how to be the best you can be, you’re in the right place. In this post, we’ll be looking at what a scrum master is, what they do, and some of the best practices top scrum masters follow.
What is a scrum master?
A scrum master is largely a facilitator for an agile development team. You might call them a ”task master” of sorts. This person is responsible for ensuring the team executes agile principles and follows the processes and practices for it throughout the project.
If you’re wondering where that funny word comes from, “scrum” is a term used in rugby. It’s the term for an ordered formation of players in which the forwards of a team come together with their arms interlocked and their heads down, pushing forward against a group from the opposing team. As you can see, it’s a good analogy for orderly, strategic teamwork.
Much like in a game of rugby, scrum masters protect their work teams from outside interruptions and distractions so they can execute efficient, focused work. They also manage the process of how information is exchanged between group members so that communication is crystal clear.
Keep in mind that a scrum master is NOT:
- The boss or project leader
- The sole person responsible for project failures
- There to point out under-performing team members
- The person in charge of roll-call and “herding cats”
Instead, think of a scrum master as a coach who’s looking out for his or her teammates, directing plays, and encouraging players so they can ultimately win the game.
What’s the purpose of a scrum master?
The purpose of a scrum master is to:
Spot problems or obstacles to project progress. If issues, conflicts, or problems get in the way of the project’s process, it’s the scrum master’s job to handle it and get the team back to work.
Educate team members on their roles/responsibilities. The scrum master reminds team players who’s responsible for what and and keeps them on-task by helping them understand how their part impacts the larger project as a whole.
Facilitates agile project management. Scrum masters help ensure the team is following best practices around agile project management and reinforces those values in regular meetings and one-on-one conversations with team members.
Serves as point person. Scrum masters are that go-to person that guides a successful project with many moving parts. They’ve got answers and help sort through challenges.
Helps determine a sustainable work pace. Scrum masters help figure out a realistic project pace and work to keep everyone moving at the same clip (which is no small task.)
Statistics on scrum masters
So what are some of the numbers around scrum masters? According to the State of Scrum 2017-2018 report:
- 4 people is the average size of a scrum team. Smaller teams of less than 10 are more effective for this style of project management.
- 63% of all scrum projects are successful. More than half of all projects succeed when using this project management approach–not bad, right?
- 87% of scrum masters hold daily meetings. Regular communication is essential for the success of a scrum master-led project, and daily meetings keep everyone in the loop.
- 71% of executives say the scrum master approach helps deliver value to customers. C-suite leadership largely sees using a scrum master as a smart move for overall customer experience improvements.
- 87% of employees say having a scrum master improves the quality of work life for teams. A majority of team members say having a point person for projects makes work happen more efficiently and effectively.
As you can see, there are some clear benefits to using a scrum master with an agile project management approach–the numbers don’t lie. If you’re wondering how one can become a good scrum master, here are a few simple tips that you can put into action right away.
Leverage your emotional intelligence
Use your emotional intelligence to read team members and spot/address issues proactively–try to tune up your sensitivity to issues that aren’t being vocalized but are causing friction. Be observant and work on getting team members to communicate their frustrations and challenges verbally so they can be moved past, and generally be empathetic with teammates. Act as a sounding board when needed and actively listen during these conversations.
Be a humble leader
Being a humble servant leader is all about putting the needs of your team ahead of your own, so if you want to be a good scrum master, be sure that you’re always looking to contribute to the greater good of the project. This sometimes means doing the unpleasant or un-fun tasks and getting them out of the way of your fellow teammates so they can do their best work.
“For me, being a humble leader means I’ll be the bearer of bad news (defects, delays, etc.) rather than burdening my team members with that responsibility. That way they stay focused and positive.” -Tony Bailey, CEO and Founder of 1K App
Keep communication flowing
To keep communication flowing, a good scrum master regularly asks for feedback and encourages cross-team conversation. Find out how team members best communicate: What tools or platform best serve the group? It’s also a good idea to regularly recap and reiterate conversations to the group as a whole to eliminate ambiguity.
“If you want to use scrum as a delivery process, you have to take it and adapt it to your project needs–but don’t skip events, actors, or artifacts. You have to do daily standups, planning, retros, demos. This is where the communication really happens.” -Raluca Apostol, Co-founder of Nestor
Spotlight a job well done
Be a leader that spotlights hard work and jobs well done. If someone on the team goes above and beyond, point that out to the organization as a whole and celebrate that person’s hard work. Make it a point to acknowledge successes and create a culture in which team members are compelled to do their best work.
Be the scrum master your team deserves
If you decide to step into the scrum master role, we hope you have some good tips that will help you execute this title with ease. Remember: Listen closely, take a service-based approach to leadership, and keep your team members on-task. Want to learn more about agile project management? Read more here.