3 Tips for Being an Effective Agile Scrum Master

How to thrive as a scrum master in an agile scrum team.

I’ve been a Scrum Master for almost 4 years working with 10 different teams across 3 different company cultures.

No matter the product, business area, or company environment, there are several common skills needed to be an effective scrum master and help your team deliver value to the customers.

Here are three of the biggest tips for helping your scrum teams thrive.

1. Develop Continuous Alignment

One of the most important things to do as a scrum master is to make sure there is consistent alignment among the team, stakeholders, business partners, and upper management. The product vision and initiatives will vary from team to team and company to company, but constant alignment on goals and objectives will keep everyone on track and eliminate miscommunication.

Luckily, scrum has two feedback loops built into the process:

  1. Product feedback loop (Sprint Review)
  2. Process feedback loop (Retrospective)

A problem I see with many new teams is when the scrum team and business partners do not engage with each other in these feedback loops, which results in a misalignment in goals.

Continuous alignment will help also identify impediments toward chosen goals, whether these impediments be related to the team dynamics, organizational constraints, tools, processes, or product development.

The main takeaway is that an effective scrum master will help the team develop a regular cadence for these meetings that focus on alignment across the organization.

2. Face-to-face conversations

A large part of a scrum master’s role is people management. The ability to build and develop relationships with your team and business partners will be the difference between a thriving team that delivers constant value and a team that slowly falls apart at the seams.

The human factor is the key in team building. A prerequisite for building a high-performing team is first developing trust with that team among team members (and yourself).

In The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey, trust is developing credibility based on two factors:

  1. Competency – capabilities and results
  2. Character – integrity and intention

Low trust within organizations have a hidden “tax” that slows down every transaction: communications, interactions, decisions, etc.

High trust has the opposite effect and adds a performance boost to these same transactions, which increases the speed and quality of these transactions within the organization.

As a scrum master, how do we improve trust within our team to convey competency and character?

Answer: Face-to-face interactions.

This second point builds upon the first point of continuous alignment. The best way for that alignment to occur is by face-to-face interactions.

While we can direct message, email, and even call each other, the most effective type of interaction to improve trust will always be face-to-face conversations.

In The Like Switch by former FBI agent Jack Schafer, understanding the elements of the “Friendship Formula” is important to developing trust and building relationships. It is the same framework he used to recruit informants and convert people into double agents.

Friendship = proximity + frequency + duration + intensity

Having consistent, face-to-face interactions among team members will help develop those relationship over time These interactions can include meetings for technical problem solving, or less formal occasions such as relaxed retrospectives or happy hours. The variety, frequency, and quality of these interactions are small “deposits” into a relationship’s bank of trust.

I’ve witnessed this with many of my own teams. While I don’t have quantifiable metrics, there was a clear correlation between consistent, face-to-face interactions and levels of trust. Teams with higher levels of trust always outperformed teams with lower levels of trust in terms of delivering value to the customer consistently and on-time.

3. Track & Leverage Metrics

Aside from coaching the team in the scrum methodology, another major role for the scrum master is helping change mindsets.

Showing a team the scrum framework is easy. Selling them on embracing the scrum framework and adopting an Agile mindset is hard.

Resistance to change is human nature. If you’re lucky, the organization you work with already embraces this mentality of welcoming change and adapting the process.

However, more likely than not, you’ll encounter resistance to an Agile transformation. This could be with business partners, managers, or within the scrum team itself.

In addition to building trust within the organization, you will also have to convince people on why they should listen to you and wholeheartedly adopt this methodology.

The best way to do this is with data. While you’ll inevitably encounter resistance, it’ll be hard to argue against metrics you provide.

Examples of metrics could be a team’s improvement of velocity, throughput, carry-over stories, or cycle time. These are all great metrics to use.

However, phase one when working with a team will always be figuring out what metrics are important and how you’ll be tracking it.

Once the team understands how to consistently keep their scrum board updated in whatever tool you are using, you will be able to track their steady improvement over time.

While this process will take several sprints, the data will prove scrum’s effectiveness for your team’s value delivery.

A sample schedule of phases might look like this:

  • Phase 1: stabilization (5 sprints)
  • Phase 2: “Before” snapshot (5 sprints)
  • Phase 3: “After” snapshot (5 sprints)

At this point, you should be able to illustrate your team’s improvement using your metrics from before and after states.

While opinions may change, it’s impossible to argue with hard data.

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