Skip to main content

[BLOG/VLOG] Habits of Highly Effective Scrum Masters

June 29, 2021

"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" is an awesome book. It is one of the biggest inspirations in my life! It is written by Steven Covey.

Maybe Steven is sometimes dogmatic or even a bit sectarian as if he was enlightened and the only one who knows how the world works. Maybe sometimes he uses language which is a little bit too "coaching" for me like: "Emotional Bank Account" or "I don't care how much you know until I know how much you care" or my favorite: "The Miracle of The Chinese Bamboo Tree".

But if self-development is important to somebody this is a MUST READ BOOK! There is a lot of real wisdom in it and it is very practical. The book describes... surprise, surprise, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People :) I will present them but in the context of Scrum Master's work.


The first habit...

#1 Be Proactive

A proactive person is someone who takes the initiative to take actions to achieve goals. To deliver value even when it is difficult. A proactive person is responsible for his or her own life and the results of taken actions. 

The opposite of being proactive is being reactive. Reactive people are driven by external circumstances. Their actions are a response to external stimuli.

They often adopt unproductive attitudes e.g.: 

  • complaining,
  • being passive,
  • generating waste,
  • getting into conflicts.

Proactive person - looks for a solution, reactive person - looks for an excuse!

In my work, unfortunately, I often see reactive Scrum Masters

For example:

They are focusing on Scrum "ceremonies". The fact that there is no valuable product It's none of their business. This attitude needs to be changed as soon as possible. Scrum masters at the highest maturity level are guided by:

  • the value of the product,
  • the Scrum values,
  • empiricism.

Scrum mechanics is secondary to them.

To be honest, I think I have only one allergy. It really pisses me off when a Scrum Master keeps complaining:

  • "this company is stupid",
  • "this project is hopeless",
  • "Scrum is not working as it should!"

...and they don't do absolutely anything about it. They are stuck in this situation. This attitude is unacceptable! For me it's simple.

You do not like the situation you are in? Then change it, there is always so much you can do. If you have tried everything and simply run out of ideas, you can always change your job. Nothing, absolutely nothing justifies unproductive complaining.


The second habit...

#2 Begin with a vision of the end

Very briefly, always know what you want to achieve and why. For a Scrum Master, this means that before you take any action, you need to have a plan or strategy: for the day, week, month, or even year. You have to be aware of what you want to achieve and why. Otherwise, your actions become random and most often suboptimal.

A Scrum Master has to be proactive and constantly inspect and adapt his or her vision and plans. The Scrum Master also needs to know which impediments need to be removed for the Scrum team to work in a productive way. His or her actions should strive to remove them. Wrong actions just to create motion are extreme stupidity.

To reinforce this habit it's worth getting familiar with concepts behind EVO AKA Evolutionary Project Management - probably there will be few episodes about it :)


The third habit...

#3 First things first

A Scrum Master can choose thousand different things to do and should always ask himself the following question: "Which of those thousand activities will give the most value?" and that's the one to focus on!

In the language of Theory of Constraints, the third habit means working on a constraint. That is, global optimization! Those who know me probably know what I'm going to say next:

"Begone, Evil Chupchik from hell!"


The fourth habit...

#4 Think WIN-WIN

This means that when there are a lot of possibilities, you should always look for one that fulfills the needs of all people involved. Not just only part of them, otherwise it is WIN - LOSE! Importantly, only the solution that fulfills the needs of all people involved in 100% - may be called WIN-WIN.

It is not about compromise when both sides sacrifice something. To find a Win-Win you need to take care of what I call the psychological hygiene of all involved people - they must feel psychological safety.

You also have to help them find out what are their true needs. What impact or value they are looking for? Do not focus only on actions!

For example:

My wife wants to go to the cinema and I want to go for a hamburger. We can't do both at the same time, but maybe my wife wants to see a romantic movie with me and I'm just hungry? We can watch a romantic movie on Netflix and order some pizza - that's true WIN-WIN!


The fifth habit...

#5 Seek first to understand... then to be understood

This is probably the hardest of the seven habits. It means, activating all possible soft skills and activating all sources of information. To get to the exact needs of the people you are communicating with. To truly understand them.

I mean, among other things: empathic observation, asking important questions, building psychological safety - to allow people to freely share what they feel. But what is probably the most important is listening! But active listening, with asking questions.

Only when Scrum Master knows exactly what the other person is really about he or she should take effective actions.

I often encounter a situation when developers and even Scrum Masters say something like this, "the customer, the manager, or the other team is stupid", "if only they would do as I tell them".

One of my huge inspirations is the realization that every person lives in their own reality and has own: experience, goals, needs, and fears. Every person has his own perspective. Sees every situation differently than we do. But most importantly, all people in their own bubble think that are rational. Leaving aside some psychopathic or sociopathic individuals:

  • all people in their own bubble ARE OK for others,
  • all people in their own bubble WANTS to be OK for others.

You just have to reach and understand a person and then you can find a WIN-WIN solution almost every time. 

Scrum Masters! ... Never again say that someone is stupid! Be proactive and seek first to understand... then to be understood


The sixth habit...

#6 Synergize!

Each of you must have worked with a team that understood each other without words, who were very creative, highly motivated, got along nicely with the customer, and produced a really valuable product. For me, such a team is the essence of synergy in Scrum

What is very important, Scrum Master can and should focus on building Synergy. Provide psychological safety and support to the whole organization. Remove impediments standing in the way of the Scrum Team. Help build self-management. Facilitate effective retrospectives. Prevent conflicts and when there are conflicts, help the teamwork through them.


The seventh habit...

#7 Sharpen the Saw

In the sense that a dull saw will not cut anything. This habit is to constantly develop yourself in important areas, according to the principle: "Who does not develop, goes back in development".

In the case of a Scrum Master, this has two dimensions.

First, Scrum Master needs to develop himself. In terms of managing the delivery process - especially with Scrum but also Kanban Method might be useful. In product, management to be able to help the Product Owner effectively. He or she should also develop soft skills and learn about change management.


  • read,
  • attend meetups,
  • participate in trainings,
  • train others (it is a great development!),
  • take up new challenges,
  • engage in discussions
  • try new things.

The second dimension of sharpening the saw concerns others. After all, a Scrum Master is a servant leader.

Scrum Master should be a teacher, a coach, and a mentor to

  • Developers,
  • Product Owner,
  • the entire organization.

Scrum Master should continuously drive development. 


Generally "7 Habits" is quite a thick book, and I only summarized it. I recommend reading the whole thing it is worth it!

What did you think about this post?