So you’re going to be a ScrumMaster?

June 30, 2014 Terry Densmore

Team

"Well I am a PM now but they are making me a Scrum Master.” I have heard that statement countless times. Some PMs are happy about the new challenge, some aren’t and some just want to keep making those Benjamins. I have to admit even though being an embedded software engineer by trade the ScrumMaster role is my favorite role on a Scrum team. When asked what is a ScrumMaster I always respond with a servant leader and Agile champion for your team. Yes there are more details but I think simple is the best approach sometimes.

I thought it might be a nice time to talk about some of the qualities that a great PM has and how those look in an Agile environment. PMs tend to get a bad wrap from the Agile world so lets clear the air. I just so happen to have a fiancee that is a PM for a large company. She tries to give me a gantt chart for the week and I hand her story cards daily at breakfast. I asked her to take a survey of her peers which consisted of development, product management and other PMs. They came up with five qualities a PM has, here they are in no particular order.

Issue / Risk Assessment
Issue Resolution
Listening Skills
Manage Expectations of the Business
Process Oriented
On the topic of issue/risk assessment I can help your stress level by letting you know that issue assessment and risk assessment take different routes. Issue assessment gets the chance to happen everyday in team’s standup meeting. Of course if this is urgent it may be brought to your attention sooner. Risk assessment is happening all the time by way of the entire team. Is the sprint going to be completed, what stories might be slipping and what can we do as a team to deal with that.

Issue resolution is a key quality that will carry over. As a ScrumMaster you should do everything in your power to resolve issues or impediments for the team. This not only keeps the team adding value all the time it also builds their trust in you as the ScrumMaster. Issue resolution also requires a good listening skill.

Listening is a skill or quality that I think everyone is challenged with in life. Listening before you speak, listening before you start to think of your response etc. ScrumMasters have to fine tune this skill, even when it makes things uncomfortable at times. Some ScrumMasters tried to lead the team too often with words. I am a fan of posing the question and then letting the silence get uncomfortable enough that someone from the team answers. Which breaks the ice and conversation begins to flow. This also starts the baby step path to the team becoming more and more self organized.

Our next quality, managing expectations of the business, which is easier now! You get to manage it two weeks at a time or however long your sprints are. You will work with product owner to sprint plan and release plan if you are making use of that planning method. Better yet, let’s remove manage and add rank. Ranking is what a product owner is doing with the pieces of the value the business is looking for. Your job as a ScrumMaster may be to help the product owner provide details necessary to get the conversation and collaboration going! Those specs are you are used are gone and I challenge you to ensure the story doesn’t turn into a spec.

Being process oriented is good thing since you have new processes to learn. Scrum as a concept isn’t hard to understand but mastering it can take quite some time. That being said a Scrum team can take a year or more to fully mature. A good ScrumMaster is more than a certification, not to knock them. You will have times when you have to figure out the best way to passively guide the team towards better Agile values. You have to truly believe that what you are saying has value and can be successful.

So I go back to my definition, a servant leader and Agile champion. Live everyday for those around you and remember the values that Agile stands for. Go have fun with the rest of the pigs! (Search for it) I’m sure I didn’t paint rainbows and unicorns for the PMs out there reading this. I can assure you the ScrumMaster role will be one of the most challenging and enjoyable roles you’ve ever played on a team.

 

About the Author

Terry Densmore

Terry Densmore is a Product Manager at CollabNet VersionOne. Previously, Terry spent three years as an agile consultant on the Services team. He has introduced agile to multiple disciplines including software, mechanical, and electrical engineering teams. Terry also helped conquer the myth that agile cannot be as successful with distributed teams.

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