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Dos & Don'ts of a Scrum Master

Scrum Master is a key to having streamlined project development and timely deliveries. Here's a quick look at some crucial dos & don'ts of a Scrum Master.
February 22 · 5 min read
Learn what you can and cannot do as a scrum master

Scrum is an easy-to-use framework that any corporation can adapt and grow through. As Agile methodology is becoming more popular, more and more organizations have started to implement Scrum. Some organizations that have used traditional approaches in the past might face a few obstacles when trying to adopt Agile project management methods. For example, some team members can present resistance and be uncooperative when given the Scrum framework to collaborate in. Some of them might not understand how the framework is run or used. However, most of these challenges can be easily dealt with proper guidance. This is where the Scrum Master comes in.

The Scrum Master replaces the traditional "project manager" who used to be the only authority figure in control of any project. A Scrum Master is meant to provide guidance and motivation to the team members who need it. Moreover, a Scrum Master is expected to do a lot of things and stay away from certain others. Therefore, this article conducts a comprehensive discussion on the dos and don'ts of a Scrum Master for a better understanding of the role.

Scrum Master – A Brief Overview

Let's start with discussing what exactly a Scrum Master does? The Scrum Master is responsible for a lot of things and the first one is ensuring team members follow the Scrum framework. He makes sure that each team member has a good understanding of the concept and coaches them through it so they deliver efficient results.

Think of the project like a football match, with the Scrum Master as the coach. It's his responsibility to explain the rules of the game to the players, ensure that they function within those parameters, and keep a lookout in case any of them need extra attention, help, or training. He also keeps the lines of communication open and encourages each player on the team to grow and learn to take ownership of their responsibilities.

The Dos and Don'ts of a Scrum Master

Every Scrum team needs a trained Scrum Master for streamlining the whole project development cycle. A good Scrum Master ensures that all members feel motivated and rewarded during the project, leading to a better working environment and increased productivity. Here are some key things a Scrum Master should and shouldn't do.

The Dos of a Scrum Master

  • Provide Aid but Don’t Get Involved: Scrum Master is a valuable asset in Scrum because he allows team members to grow and learn. A big part of this evolution occurs when members are forced to look for creative solutions on their own. A Scrum Master can guide members towards a certain solution but he does not step in and take the reins. A good Scrum Master will know he has done a good job when team members can work out complex problems independently instead of relying on him.
  • Plan 1-on-1's with Members: When you are overseeing a project, it's beneficial to know all the members working on it. A good Scrum Master has plenty of 1-on-1 sessions with the members in order to create a sense of trust and comfort. What's more, he comes to know each individual's strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to execute tasks more efficiently.
  • Praise the Team: Everyone loves being recognized for a job well done. As the team goes through various tasks and milestones, a Scrum Master should praise them accordingly. This ensures he builds trust and friendship with the members.
  • Remind Team of the Big Goal: A Scrum Master holds a unique perspective, i.e., a bird’s eye view of the whole project. He needs to keep reminding his team of this bigger picture so all members feel continually rewarded and motivated.
  • Facilitate Open Communication: A Scrum Master needs to be an excellent communicator. This is important because when the lines of communication are open, teamwork flows very well. Each member of the team is an important asset to the Scrum Master, so they should be able to voice their ideas and concerns without hesitation or fear. Encouraging transparent communication ensures that team members will be comfortable reaching out to each other and the Scrum Master, ultimately delivering a great project.
  • Expand Team's Knowledge: It can be easy to become complacent during a long-running project. A good Scrum Master makes sure that the team doesn't become lazy or unmotivated. He keeps sharing knowledge and interesting information to allow the team to keep evolving throughout.
  • Mediate when Necessary: It's not unusual for arguments or minor disagreements to break out during a project. Even the best team members can have a difference of opinions sometimes. A good Scrum Master knows not to get involved in these clashes and instead sets up mediation sessions. He can intervene indirectly in this way and make sure that everyone ends up getting along so nothing disrupts the workflow. This also helps team members resolve minor conflicts on their own down the road.

The Don'ts of a Scrum Master

  • Don't Talk over People: While the Scrum Master is in charge of facilitating sessions, he shouldn't monopolize the conversation. This will stop team members from being able to discuss their ideas and opinions, inevitably resulting in a communication breakdown. They might also start depending entirely on the Scrum Master and therefore won't be able to coordinate their sessions independently.
  • Don't Overwork the Team: A Scrum Master should motivate and encourage the team and make sure you don't cause members to burn out. Assigning too much work or too many tasks in short time spans practically guarantees that the team will be worn out and will stop caring about the work, producing sub-par results.
  • Don't Set Ad-Hoc Deadlines: The Scrum Master shouldn't commit to any deadlines without consulting the team. Since the team is responsible for delivering tasks, they should have a say in when they can hand them in. In fact, discussions around deadlines should be actively discussed during sprint planning sessions or during Planning Poker or Async Poker product backlog estimation sessions so that all members can give their inputs effectively.
  • Don't Prevent Failure: This sounds counter-intuitive but it's not. A wise Scrum Master allows the team to experience the occasional failure because he knows it's important for members to learn and grow from their mistakes.
  • Don't Micromanage the Board: The Scrum board is an important tool for managing deadlines and tasks. However, it isn't the Scrum Master's job to keep it up to date, erase old tasks, or add new ones. Board administration should be assigned to another member and the Scrum Master should function in his managerial role instead of trying to micromanage the board.
  • Don't Ignore Problematic Behavior: If a team member is exhibiting annoying or dangerous behavior, the Scrum Master should reprimand him/her. This will help the team function better together and root out any potential arguments early.
  • Don't Ignore Feedback: Consistent and constructive feedback is an important addition to any project and its outcome. A Scrum Master should know to take feedback not only from team members because this will help them feel heard and will foster a sense of independence and growth. Moreover, a Scrum Master should also be open to feedback from external stakeholders. Sometimes, a third-party perspective can be extremely insightful and ensures better results. However, he should know to filter out any feedback that isn't constructive or conducive to more efficient results.

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

While it may be true that a Scrum Master and Project Manager seem to have similar responsibilities, the two are quite different. A Project Manager is a more traditional role with the manager overseeing coordination and responsibilities but from a place of control and leadership.

On the other hand, a Scrum Master facilitates growth and independent management for all team members. He is there to streamline processes through which projects are delivered instead of controlling the process entirely. He employs a collaborative and guidance role, instead of acting as an authority figure or problem-solver. He also ensures that teams become self-regulating and therefore don’t need upper-level management to step in.

Wrapping Up

Scrum allows teams to become autonomous and capable of delivering complex projects in simple ways. A good Scrum Master provides a comfortable and motivating space for each team member and streamlines processes through which projects are delivered timely and efficiently. In a nutshell, if you are doing the Scrum Master role, then following the above dos and don'ts will definitely help you in becoming an efficient and wise Scrum Master your team needs.

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