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Six Ways Scrum Masters Can Be More Effective

A Scrum Master is effective when their team is effective. As the Scrum Guide says, Scrum Masters are accountable for the effectiveness of the Scrum Team.  Let’s explore what this entails.

What does it mean to be effective?

Is Scrum Team effectiveness based on how much work or how many increments or features they deliver? Or, is it when the Scrum Team members collaborate well together and they use  the Scrum framework efficiently? Delivering features and creating work in a collaborative and efficient way is positive. However efficiency does not necessarily mean that a team is effective at delivering value and delighting customers. 

Often, the terms efficiency and effectiveness are confused and used interchangeably. It is important to understand that they are two clear distinct concepts:

  • Efficiency refers to the ability to do something in a way that minimizes the use of resources, such as time, money and effort. It is the measure of how well something is done. For Scrum Teams, this may look at how much work is done, the quality of that work and how quickly it was finished.
  • Effectiveness refers to the extent to which something is successful in achieving its intended goals. It is the measure of how well something is achieving its objectives. The goal of a Scrum Team is to deliver value for the customer.

For instance, a highly efficient Scrum Team can deliver many product features in a timely manner without any obstacles. Nonetheless, if those features are not valuable to the customer and the team is not adapting their work based on customer feedback, then while this team may be efficient, they are also ineffective. The only thing we know is that they are good at delivering the wrong things fast. 

A Scrum Team (and an organization) is effective when they are able to deliver value to their customers in a collaborative and sustainable way. It is important that in a complex environment, they deliver frequently, in small and valuable batches to gather customer feedback early and often, and adapt as needed in order to satisfy customer desires.  

How can a Scrum Master be more effective?

To be an effective Scrum Master means that you are helping your Scrum Team improve in their ability to deliver a usable Increment every Sprint. While you should expect different contexts, there are foundational ways a Scrum Master can help a team. Here are some tips for you to keep in mind.

1. Enabling Scrum and its purpose 

Scrum Masters are accountable for establishing Scrum in an organization and they advocate for transparency and frequent delivery of small valuable increments for inspection and adaptation. They help everyone understand Scrum theory and practices. In order to do this, they should go beyond lecturing on the accountabilities, events and artifacts of the framework. 

Whether you are a Scrum Master getting started using Scrum or refocusing your team’s intention for using Scrum, you should inject empirical theory into your teaching and practice. The team should understand that all Scrum events are opportunities for inspection and adaptation. For instance, for the Scrum events, in addition to pointing out that Sprints are one month or less in duration, emphasize the why, which is that Sprints are short feedback loops meant to reduce risk and increase learning opportunities with stakeholders. Similarly, teach and remind your team members of the purpose of each Scrum event. The outcome you seek is the team identifying improvements, gathering customer feedback and considering changing market conditions during the Scrum events so that the team can inspect and adapt.

As a discipline, teaching is one way a Scrum Master can engage and encourage an environment of continuous improvement. You can develop your teaching ability as referenced in the Professional Scrum Competency of Teaching.

2. Focus the use of Scrum on driving toward goals 

Scrum encourages a Scrum Team to obtain early feedback and inspect their plan as needed toward the Product Goal, which is a goal that is ultimately focused on improving customer outcomes and increasing value. Goals are a mechanism that empower teams and increase their ability to self-manage if they have the autonomy to pursue them.

The Scrum Master helps the team ensure that there are clear goals they work toward. If needed, they can assist the Product Owner define effective Product Goals and also help the Scrum Team with crafting a clear Sprint Goal each Sprint. 

Often, teams struggle with creating Product and Sprint Goals. Here are some techniques  on how you as a Scrum Master can support a Scrum Team who is struggling to set goals.

Product Goal

The Product Goal was introduced in the Scrum Guide 2020 with the purpose to ensure people are using Scrum to be effective, to actually deliver something valuable versus just doing Scrum. 

Struggling to identify a Product Goal?
When needed, help the Product Owner with identifying a Product Goal by facilitating interactions with stakeholders, including real users and customers to understand their needs. These conversations can reveal user habits and their desired outcomes with using the product.

Struggling to craft a Product Goal?
If the Product Owner needs help crafting a Product Goal, introduce techniques such as the Lean UX Canvas, Business Model Canvas, and Value Proposition Canvas. These tools ask powerful open-ended questions which help refine ideas into goals and experiments. 

Sprint Goal

The purpose of the Sprint Goal is to create shared understanding, unity, focus and encourage the Scrum Team to collaborate on working toward the Product Goal. However, Scrum Teams sometimes fall into the habit of crafting their Sprint Goal as a list of individual Product Backlog Items that needs to be achieved in a Sprint, which actually discourages team collaboration because everyone in the team tends to select different individual Product Backlog Items to work on during the Sprint. 

Struggling to craft a clear Sprint Goal?

If a Scrum Team struggles with crafting a clear Sprint Goal, you can help by asking open-ended questions such as: 

  • If this was our very last Sprint, what is the one outcome we would like to achieve?  
  • If we would run out of time this Sprint, what would be the one objective we would swarm on as a team?
  • What is the worst outcome we could focus on this Sprint? Now, conversely, let’s come up with the best way we can spend our time this Sprint. 

These types of questions help everyone participate in creating focus for the Sprint.  Don’t forget to remind the team of the purpose: delivering value!

3. Promote and live the Scrum Values

The Scrum Values play an integral part in a Scrum Master’s and Scrum Team’s road to effectiveness. Daily, the Scrum Master should help the Scrum Team live and act on the values of focus, openness, respect, courage, and commitment because the values establish conditions in which teams can share trust, curiosity, autonomy, and purpose. 

When a Scrum Team embraces the Scrum Values, team members are more honest with themselves and each other. They curiously reflect on their own actions to redirect themselves when necessary. Openness and courage create the space necessary to conceive innovative ideas that teams own, yet also allow them to respectfully disagree and challenge different ideas while focused on their Sprint and Product Goals. A Scrum Team living the Scrum Values commits to doing the best they can and can find different ways to exercise them as mentioned in “Applying the Scrum Values.” 

Sometimes Scrum Teams do not know why they are using the framework. This is one reason teams can end up going through the motions of using Scrum without really living the Scrum Values or being effective as an empowered, cohesive, and self-managing unit. Scrum Masters play an essential role in helping teams avoid falling into the trap of mechanical Scrum, and should encourage teams to move toward Professional Scrum. Professional Scrum recognizes that Scrum’s foundation is built on values and principles of people who work together to optimize value, build discipline, and influence culture. 

4. Enable collaboration for eliciting feedback

While it is important for the Scrum Team to have a healthy internal dynamic, their ability to cooperate externally with customers and end users Sprint by Sprint is equally vital to benefit from short feedback loops. Scrum Masters should be ready to enable or facilitate communication and collaboration among stakeholders and the Product Owner and Developers when requested or needed. 

A good place to start is by improving not only your own facilitation skills as a Scrum Master, but also encourage everyone else in the team to develop these skills. The material on the Professional Scrum Competency of Facilitation can help you consider purposeful facilitation with supporting techniques to enable transparency and engagement.

5. Remove obstacles 

Short feedback loops allow Scrum Teams to improve their ability to deliver value to customers. An effective Scrum Team can be more efficient in their delivery by managing their flow of work as described in the Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams. Blockers, obstacles and other impediments inhibiting their ability to get early and often customer feedback will ultimately cause the team to struggle to keep up with the competitor and market trends. For a team to be effective it is important to minimize anything that hinders them from delivering value. These hindrances could be anything from non-value added meetings, context switching, hand-offs and manual work. 

A Scrum Master can help the team manage their flow of work by identifying and removing non-value added work to shorten their time to market and increase their ability to innovate (as described in the Key Value Areas of the Evidence-Based Management framework). Keep in mind, however, that while it’s helpful to remove waste, ultimately nothing is more wasteful than building things that no one wants. Observe the alignment between the Scrum Team’s work and their goals and the problems they are trying to solve for the customer and remove communication barriers between the team and stakeholders. 

6. Instill self-management 

Scrum contains rules, accountabilities and artifacts which all exist to enable a self-managing team. 

How self-managing is your Scrum Team? Does your team determine:

  • What work to do?
  • When to do the work?
  • How to do the work?
  • Who does the work?

If you answered “Yes” to all these questions you are likely operating within a self-managing team. If not, or you’re looking for ways to improve, you can find more information, myths and misconceptions that can help your team in Self-Managing Teams

Key Takeaways

  • A Scrum Master is effective when their team is effective at delivering value for the customer in a sustainable and collaborative way.
  • Effectiveness measures success in achieving one’s goals, whereas, efficiency considers how much and how well something is done. These are distinctly different concepts that are often confused, potentially leading to efficient yet ineffective Scrum Teams.
  • Scrum Masters can help the Scrum Team, stakeholders and the organization understand Scrum theory and practices, but should go beyond lecturing on the accountabilities, events and artifacts of the framework to truly enable Scrum and its purpose. 
  • The Scrum framework prescribes rules and values enabling Scrum Teams to self-manage and collaborate toward goals. A Scrum Master can help a team who is struggling to set or clarify Sprint and Product Goals through different techniques.
  • Scrum Teams that manage flow can improve their ability to get early and often customer feedback, yet they are only effective if they are building a product that their customer actually wants.   

Scrum Masters can support their Scrum Teams in many ways. Take an incremental approach and inspect and adapt as you work to support your team in becoming more cohesive and effective.

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