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Scrum Master Tips - Mind your "Say:Do" ratio

March 28, 2019



  • How can I show the team what the Scrum values look like in action?
  • How do I get my team to trust and/or respect me?
  • How do I demonstrate servant leadership?


Typically, the person asking me these questions is either a new Scrum Master or someone who is just learning about Scrum in one of my Professional Scrum Master classes from  The answers are much like Scrum itself: simple but not easy

A common phrase that I use in my classes is that Scrum is like the poker game Texas Hold’em; it only takes a few minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.  The “few minutes” may be a bit of a stretch but my students get the point.  Scrum is a lightweight framework with very clear components and rules.  The difficulty of mastering Scrum becomes readily apparent when you read the Scrum Guide section on the role of the Scrum Master.  You’ll see words like “coaching”, “leading” and “facilitating”.  These words cause anxiety for many, especially those people who have, until now, only had to worry about themselves.  Being a servant leader is not easy, and we do a great job of helping students understand just how important of a job they have as the Scrum Master. 


So, back to those questions.  Rather than answer each one I will provide you some general advice that I’ve found helpful in my experience.


Model the behavior you want

This one may seem simple but, like I mentioned earlier, it’s not easy.  To gain trust and respect you have to be willing to give them.  Trust and respect are fickle concepts in that they can take a long time to obtain but they can be lost in the blink of an eye.  Get to know the people you are serving.  Open yourself up to them, be vulnerable, embody the Scrum values of Openness, Courage and Respect.  It may feel unnatural if you’re not naturally extroverted but what’s a little personal discomfort when the benefits are so great?


Mind your “SAY:DO” ratio

This is probably my biggest single suggestion.  I describe the SAY:DO ratio as the ratio between what you say you will (or should) do to those things you *actually* do.  For instance, if I were to tell my team that I will help them overcome an impediment in some way and do not follow through, my SAY:DO ratio just decreased.  If that happens occasionally, it may be okay IF I have a previous track record of follow-through.  If, however, I am new to the team or if I get a reputation of not following through regularly, the team is probably going to have a lower opinion of me. 

Pro Tip – Establish early with your team that it’s not the Scrum Master’s job to remove all the impediments.  Allowing this thinking to persist can lead a Scrum Master away from servant leadership towards just being a servant.

When I’m working with a new team, I take a rigorous approach to this concept, making sure that I follow through on even the smallest detail.  We’re all human and are forgetful at times, but I’ve found that keeping this concept in mind goes a long way towards creating an environment of mutual respect and appreciation.


Make things transparent

This seems like a no-brainer but it’s not.  Many a Scrum Master have lamented to me that their teams “just don’t get Scrum” or “don’t keep the values in mind.”  I usually ask them how the team was introduced to or trained on Scrum.  Their answers vary wildly, but in more than a few cases the person has realized that their team had no formal training, had disjointed training from different sources, or some combination of the two.  In these instances, I suggest to the Scrum Master to review the Scrum Guide with their teams on regular intervals and even consider training the team as a group.  I also suggest keeping the Scrum values big and visible in the team space.  This gives us an easy information radiator to refer to when we see them in action and something to reflect on as a team when we are struggling with a problem. 



All of the above will help a team experience the Scrum values and should help a Scrum Master increase their servant leadership skills.  We all need to keep practicing those skills every day so as to demonstrate another behavior we love to see on Scrum teams…continuous improvement.


If you’re an experienced Scrum Master who wants to improve, Alex Kudinov and I will discuss these concepts (and many more) in our upcoming Professional Scrum Master II class in Houston on April 25-26. Reserve your seat now and come take your Scrum Mastery to the next level.

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