Architecture & DesignThe Top Ten Ways to Be a Great ScrumMaster

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By Zubin Irani, CEO of cPrime

Having worked in the Agile world for more than 10 years now, I have seen teams succeed, fail and everything in between—often largely based on the competency of the ScrumMaster and his or her ability to manage teams to project completion.

Following are the top ten ScrumMaster do’s and don’ts derived from watching more than 250 Agile projects.

1. Shut Up and Listen.

It’s fun to be the expert, but that isn’t the ScrumMaster’s job. A good ScrumMaster lets everyone else shine and focuses on making each member of the team successful. Achieving this requires listening over speaking.

2. Don’t Jump to Conclusions.

No matter how obvious the problem is, investigate further before commenting. You’ll be surprised how often your “obvious” conclusion was wrong—and you’ll be glad you kept your mouth shut.

3. Park Your Ego at the Door.

Agile and the ScrumMaster position isn’t about you. It’s about the Team. Focus on serving their needs, above all else.

4. Solve the Problem.

Conflict can explode with little warning. When it does, you have to find and implement an effective solution. Stay calm, and focus on the facts. Keep bringing people back to the problem, and away from placing blame and emotions.

5. Take a Gentle Approach with Difficult Team Members.

These individuals often don’t know they are causing a problem, and most of the time they will pay attention and heed your guidance if they respect you.

6. If That Fails, Escalate.

You can’t let one lemon sour the Team. Talk to the Team member’s manager about moving the problematic person to a more appropriate Team or position, and then talk to the Team member. Start with, “You don’t seem to be happy here. It seems to me that it might work better if you….”

7. Give Everyone One Chance to Screw Up Spectacularly.

Most people will do it once, and learn. A second major failure gets a warning. If they hit three, it’s time to move on.

8. Exercise Authority.

Use your authority in the most diplomatic way possible, but use it when the need exists. You are supposed to make everything work, which means you enforce the process. Do your job. When you get pushback, diplomatically remind people that some things are in your area of authority, and you are making the call.

9. Recognize You Can’t be Everyone’s Buddy.

It’s important to be objective and direct with team members and friendship can influence how you respond or make decisions, which may create resentment amongst other team members. Build a relationship with other ScrumMasters and Agile practitioners to provide an outlet as well as get unbiased input to help you tackle tough problems.

10. When All Else Fails, Do the Right Thing.

You have responsibilities to your Team, to your company, to your customers, and to your conscience. There is no rule book to fall back on when these responsibilities collide. Strive for win-win solutions when you can, and strive for the best fallback solutions when win-win isn’t possible. Recognize situations where you cannot accomplish anything by pushing. Ask yourself if your self-respect is worth losing your job, and then make the right decision.

About the Author

Scrum Zubin Irani is CEO of cPrime, a full-service consultancy focused on Agile Transformation and Project Delivery.

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