Ten Tips to Choose A Great Scrum Master

About two weeks ago I published a blogpost on facilitating better daily standups. I called the blog post “Who’s Responsible for the Daily Standup”, and got the following response from Jim Coplien, the person who inspired inventors of Scrum to have the daily standup in the first place:

“The ScrumMaster owns the process. The Daily Scrum is part of the process. if the Development Team is not holding the Daily Scrum the ScrumMaster should intervene and challenge the team to do so. Whether or not the ScrumMaster does so, if the team persists in not holding the daily standup, the ScrumMaster should be fired.”

— Jim Coplien (by whom the Daily Scrum came into Scrum)

So to help you choose Scrum Masters that should not be fired, here are my ten tips for your next recruit:

  1.  A people’s person. This person should communicate easily and create good relationships easily. The kind of person you know you can trust, and you feel comfortable sharing with.
  2. A technically excellent software professional. I am assuming you are part of a software organization. If not, ‘convert’ software to your own business domain. We, software professionals, are a suspicious bunch. Many of us have this notion that only software people can understand software teams, and tend to demean people who attempt to ‘meddle’ with us. A great Scrum Master should be able to pair with programmers, as well as with other experts, and not make a fool of himself. So to gain trust, you want your Scrum Master to be proficient in your domain.
  3. A product expert. An important part of Scrum is getting great requirements. Otherwise, you get garbage-in, garbage out. So a great Scrum Master should be able to sit together with the Product Owner, and assist in getting good-sized, concise, well-communicated, requirements. To do that the Scrum Master should be experienced in working with Agile requirements (for example generating great User Stories) and, preferably, is highly familiar with your business domain, too.
  4. An organizations expert. Organizations are complex. The more we learn about organizations, the more we realize how complex they are. We used to think that division of organizations by components is great; Now we know it is not. We used to think that strategic planning and goals are key; Now we know that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (H. Ford) and that “Culture follows structure” (C. Lerman). We used to think that Scrum of Scrums is a good scaling technique; Now we know that scaling is highly complex. So you want a Scrum Master that understands and keeps learning how organizations operate.
  5. An organization savvy. Its not enough to understand organizations. Your new Scrum Master should be able to talk to managers, senior managers and other key stakeholders, and get them to a) understand b) operate and c) lead in an agile manner suitable for Scrum.
  6. A keen learner. With Scrum (or any Agile framework for that matter), we want to foster a learning culture. So you want your Scrum Master not only to learn you stuff continuously, but to put learning to practice and set an example as a learner.
  7. Walk the talk person. Following from the above, you want your new Scrum Master recruit to exhibit agility in his or her conduct, so as to set an example as an Agile person, leader and professional. It’s not much help if the Scrum Master tells others what and how to do Scrum if she’s not doing it herself.
  8. Expert working with data. Visualizing effectively where we are is critical. So your new Scrum Master should know which data are good to collect, and then to present these data in a way that will inspire people – teammates, leaders, seniors, to act.
  9. A great facilitator. It’s not enough to know what Scrum is. Your new recruit should have the knowledge and knowhow of how to mobilize discussions, how to get meetings unstuck and how to plan ahead ceremonies such as retrospectives.
  10. A great coach. We live in an uncertain world that is changing all the time. And most people don’t like change very much. So you want your next recruit to be able to coach people – team members, product owners and others through change and through become ever more agile.
  11. A great teacher. Organizations are dynamic. People join in, people leave, people change roles. To keep a proficient practice of Scrum, the Scrum Master should be able to teach new recruits on what Scrum is, what being agile means, how to enact Scrum in a productive manner.
  12. Humble person. It is rarely helpful when your coach, teacher or facilitator is also a show-off. So you want your new Scrum Master to exhibit humility in the way he operates.
  13. An expert in Scrum. Well, it goes without saying that your new Scrum Master must be experienced in being a Scrum team mate, experienced in coaching teams, product owners and managers, experienced in talking and teaching groups, experienced in guiding managers through change to successful Scrum implementations. And beyond.
  14. If possible, your Scrum Master should also know how to count. I am stopping at 14 tips for recruiting, although I am sure you have your own must-have competencies and expected outcomes for the designated Scrum Master.

What we’re looking here is for a Superman. Or a Wonder Woman. Otherwise, we might have to fire her, or him, because the team pushes back on the daily standup.

I say, let’s not fire the person on whom we’ve put all the elements for failure, and little room for success. Instead, let us all exhibit more humility. Let’s propose means for success and not more reasons for firing people.

After all, “A dead Scrum Master is a useless Scrum Master” (K. Schwabber).

Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/superman-lego-egg-hatch-hatched-1367737/

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