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Good Scrum Master; Bad Scrum Master

April 12, 2024

As many Scrum Masters set out on their journey, they are often as new to their role as their manager. How do they know what the expectations of their role are if there is no one experienced to tell them? This post (inspired by Ben Horowitz author of “The hard things about hard things”) is for Scrum Masters, and people who work with Scrum Masters, and explores what good and bad looks like.

Good Scrum Masters have a deep understanding of Scrum and operate from a strong basis of confidence and knowledge. They are responsible for the successful implementation of Scrum within their team and their organisation. Good Scrum Masters fully understand the purpose and intent of each of the elements of Scrum and how they are supported by the Scrum values.

Bad Scrum Masters think that just because they attended the scrum master training and passed the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) level one test they know all there is. When the team come up against an obstacle and drop a Scrum event, bad scrum masters stand passively by. Bad scrum masters allow dull, boring and ineffective events to occur. Bad Scrum Masters fail to enforce time boxes.

Good Scrum Masters are servant leaders and put the growth of others first, they provide the opportunity for intrinsic motivation through autonomy, mastery and purpose. They use their influence to help individuals and their development teams to take greater responsibility for how they develop the product and the quality they produce. Good Scrum Masters inspire their teams to greatness and lead without authority.

Bad Scrum Masters behave in a command and control style. They allocate work to team members, set their own quality standards and continually check-up on their team rather than check-in.

Good Scrum Masters promote a community where information is freely shared and the team is comfortable with constructive conflict. They help develop high-performing teams that share common goals as well as the rewards and responsibilities for achieving them. They help teams navigate the process of becoming a team and recognise that it’s a continuous journey. They ensure that the team is united behind a common sense of purpose. When sprints go poorly, they assume positive intent and help the team regroup and learn.

Bad Scrum Masters promote conflict within the team and argue with their team members. They create an environment of blame when things go poorly by dwelling on the past and looking for individual scapegoats. Bad scrum masters tell their team they are either not good enough or flatter them by saying they’re amazing. Bad Scrum Masters can be self-centred and know nothing or care little about their team.

Good Scrum Masters know when to switch between teacher, facilitator, coach and mentor depending on which is most appropriate to the context. They promote full team participation using a variety of facilitation styles.

Bad Scrum Masters get stuck in one stance. They patronise their team members by adopting a telling approach when there is already expertise. Bad Scrum Masters believe they know more than others in the team and are unable to consider alternative approaches. They are passive during events and allow individual squeaky wheels to make all the noise and dominate a session.

Good Scrum Masters foster an environment for effective development, aggressively identifying and eliminating waste. They understand that they don’t need to solve all the team problems for them; when they should and shouldn’t intervene. They balance the need for growth with helping the team excel. They understand the difference between a constraint and perception. Good scrum masters are like Jack Russells with an impediment, tenaciously persevering with gnarly issues.

Bad Scrum Masters get all their time sucked up by pointless organisational meetings that have no outcome and have little time to serve the team. They have a constant stream of excuses why an impediment can be resolved: not enough funding; the engineering manager is an idiot; the COO won’t let us; the data centre already has 10 engineers working on it; I’m over worked; I haven’t been told by my boss. Good scrum masters don’t have excuses.

Good Scrum Masters continually develop their own skills and understand Scrum is the tip of the iceberg. Good scrum masters also invest time in learning about Lean, Kanban and XP. Good scrum masters are active within their community, sharing stories and case studies. Good scrum masters find themselves a mentor and a mentee to help develop the next generation of good Scrum Masters.

Bad Scrum Masters settle for their two-day training and complain that being a scrum master is boring and easy. Bad Scrum Masters maintain a standard of mediocrity.

Good Scrum Masters make Scrum fun!

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