What Makes a Good Scrum Master?

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What Makes a Good Scrum Master

In the quick-moving and ever evolving world of business and technology, “Agile” and “Agility” have become two buzzwords with which I’m sure anyone reading this will be familiar. Businesses and companies that want to compete in today’s market have to be able to adjust quickly to changing demands and circumstances and being “Agile” is one of the best ways to do that. We are also very familiar with the word “Scrum” and “Scrum Teams.” Even the job title of Scrum Master, which happens to apply to me, has become increasingly familiar. In fact, when I started thinking about writing this post, I wasn’t sure there would be anything interesting or useful I could add to the subject that hasn’t been said or written about many times before.

Classes, blog posts, certifications, and everything in between; the internet is chock full of just about any information you could possibly want or need on what a Scrum Master is and how to be a good one. Just a casual perusal of the internet tells me that a Scrum Master is the following: a coach, leading the team in Agile best practices; a vanguard, clearing obstacles and impediments for their team; a bridge, acting as a conduit between the development team and management, and so much more. I have even heard it said that the Scrum Master is anything and whatever the team needs him or her to be. That’s a tall order.

And what are the qualities that make for a good Scrum Master? I’ve heard “servant-leader”, “teacher”, “organized”, “empathetic”, “understanding”, “multi-tasker”, “neutral”, “good communicator” and on and on. As I read through the various lists of qualities that make a good Scrum Master it can be somewhat overwhelming. Other than pursuing a Scrum Master certification and gaining real-world experience where does one start? What are the practical steps in developing some of these qualities?

There’s a phrase I know that harkens back to my short-lived military career. In training, we often heard that 90% of our success stemmed from being in “the right place, the right time, and the right uniform.” And that phrase has stuck with me and I believe it applies even to the role of Scrum Master. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the “lofty” qualities of the Scrum Master and in our aim to be the best we can forget the basics. Showing up to meetings, being on time, and being in the right “uniform” by having the right attitude and being prepared.

I know this sounds so rudimentary it might be why no one is writing much about it. On the other hand, something that has surprised me in my time as a Scrum Master is how many people I’ve met have a hard time with this simple thing. And if something comes up and you can’t make that meeting (because we all know that it will)? Communicate communicate communicate. In our world of technology, there are very few legitimate reasons for not letting someone know you can’t make it to an appointment or meeting.

One other thing that isn’t talked about much but is perhaps implied is the willingness to do the jobs that no one else wants to do. I’ve seen “humble” used as a good quality for Scrum Master but what does that really mean? At least in part, it means that there are no jobs “beneath” you.

My last piece of advice is to utilize your downtime. We all know that job duties can ebb and flow in a natural state that moves from busy to slow. When you have some slow time invest in yourself. Try learning a new skill or getting better at one you already have. In my down-time I’ve worked on certifications and other classes.

I believe it is these three things, “right place, right time, right uniform”, willingness to do whatever job is put in front of me, and utilizing my downtime to learn new skills are what have helped me to stand out, not just as a Scrum Master but as an employee in general. No one is going to get every quality and skill exactly right especially when they first start as a Scrum Master but I believe if you start with these three you will be well on your way to success.

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