August 2, 2017

A Day in the Life of a Scrum Master

In a couple of short blog posts I’ll share the most common questions I get asked during the Scrum.org Professional Scrum Master courses.  I’ll focus on the Scrum Master role and will provide an answer based on my personal experience as a Scrum Master. This for sure isn’t the ultimate answer, it’s how I’ve fulfilled or experienced the situation myself. I would love to learn from your experiences as well!

As part of this series I've already shared my view on the questions:

This blog post will be about the question:

What is a Scrum Master actually doing during the day?

Participants of my training that are completely new to Scrum often wonder what a Scrum Master is actually doing during the day. The answer is something they discover themselves during the training. However, it's not only a common question during courses; also lot's of organizations I coach find the Scrum Master role difficult to grasp.

In this blog post I'll use different sources to answer the question:

  • The description the Scrum Guide offers
  • My personal description of a Scrum Master
  • My white paper with the characteristics and skills of a "great Scrum Master"
  • Questions a Scrum Master should consider every day

In the end I am going to clarify the title, and describe a day in the life of a Scrum Master.

The Scrum Guide

The most obvious answer can be found in the Scrum Guide itself. It offers a clear description of the services a Scrum Master provides to the Development Team, Product Owner and the organization. Some examples of these services are coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality, helping the Product Owner finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management and supporting the organization in its Scrum adoption.

My Personal Description

Being a Scrum Master myself, I've tried to capture my role in a few sentences. It's part of the "about me" page on my personal website. According to the Scrum Guide, I also emphasize offering services to the Development Team, Product Owner and organization (from the perspective of the Scrum Team).

As a Scrum Master...

My main focus is creating successful teams with strong skills in self-organization and cross-functionality and a drive for continuous improvement. I support Product Owners in visualising progress, creating a transparent Product Backlog and maximizing the value of the product. I help organisations in making Scrum successful by supporting management in changing processes, procedures, culture and behaviour. Due a strong focus on the principles of Agile and the values of Scrum, I try to ensure the spirit of Scrum is truly understood.

Characteristics of a Great Scrum Master

In the white paper 'Characteristics of a Great Scrum Team' I offer a detailed description of the characteristics and skills of a great Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development Team. Below I've shared some of the characteristics of a great Scrum Master. These aren't all tangible tasks but will give you an idea what to expect from a Scrum Master.

A great Scrum Master...

  • Ensures the entire team supports the chosen Scrum process;
  • Manages the impediments that exceed the self-organizing capabilities of the team and it prevents them in achieving the Sprint Goal;
  • Recognizes healthy team conflict and promotes constructive disagreement;
  • Is prepared to be disruptive enough to enforce a change within the organization;
  • Understands the power of a self-organization;
  • Understands the value of a steady sprint rhythm and does everything to create and maintain it;
  • Knows how to truly listen and is comfortable with silence;
  • Understands the strength of coaching and has learned some powerful questions by heart;
  • Teaches the Product Owner how to maximize ROI and meet objectives;
  • Is also competent with XP, Kanban and Lean.

The Most Important Part

So far I've described the services a Scrum Master offers according to the Scrum Guide, the personal description I use, and some characteristics of a great Scrum Master. Hopefully this will already offer you some insights on what a Scrum Master is doing during the day.

But... I probably haven't yet clarified the title of this blog post "A Day in the Life of a Scrum Master". That's because I haven't mentioned the most important part of the Scrum Master role...

First of all: a Scrum Master should always prevent a fully booked schedule. A smart Scrum Master has lot's of free space in his/her agenda. The more the better.

As a daily preparation a Scrum Master could consider questions like:

  • How is my Product Owner doing?
    • Is the Product Backlog in shape?
    • How is he/she managing the stakeholders?
    • What about delivering business value and return-on-investment?
  • How is the Development Team doing?
    • Are they working together?
    • Is there conflict in the team, do they resolve that?
    • Is the team making decisions?
  • How are our engineering practices doing?
    • Is the team caring and improving them?
    • How is the test automation?
    • Is the team expanding their Definition of Done?
  • How is my organization doing?
    • Is there inter-team coordination?
    • What organizational impediments are in the way?
    • What about the HR practices?

Of course these are not the only questions to consider. These are just some examples based on the LeSS training I've attended. Continuously refreshing the questions to determine my daily schedule as a Scrum Master, has become sort of a habit for me.

A Day in the Life of a Scrum Master

If you're still reading this article: great! I'm finally going to clarify the title!

A day in the life of a Scrum Master:

  • Start the day with an open and curious mind (and in my case some good coffee)
  • A good first question to consider is "How can I improve the live of the Scrum Team by facilitating creativity and empowerment?"
  • Remember: your agenda is as good as empty! Except for the Daily Scrum and maybe some other Scrum events
  • You attend the Daily Scrum as an observer. You listen to what is and isn't being said.
  • You consider some of the questions I've mentioned earlier.
  • Based on your observations you determine your next steps. This might be coaching, consulting, teaching, facilitating, mentoring, managing, problem solving, conflict navigating or... just sitting with the team, listening and watching the team.
  • Doing "nothing" is a perfect activity for a Scrum Master! The biggest pitfall for a Scrum Master is being too busy and not noticing what is really going on.

Closing

In this blog post I've shared my view on the question "What is a Scrum Master actually doing during the day?" I've used  different sources and perspectives to answer this question and in the end finally clarified the title and described a day in the life of a Scrum Master.

If you are a Scrum Master as well, does this blog post make any sense to you? How would you describe a day in the life of a Scrum Master? Of course I'm also curious to the opinions of people not fulfilling this role.

Have a great day!