The Right Skill Set, the Right Mind Set, The Right ScrumMaster

30 April 2007

Benoit Houle
BioWare corp.

Over the past several months, we have learned the importance of having the right person in place as the ScrumMaster. Can a ScrumMaster make or break a sprint or a release? Definitely! That’s why it’s important to choose a ScrumMaster who not only has the right skill set, but the right mind set as well.

Here are the attributes and skills we are looking for at BioWare when we hire and evaluate our ScrumMasters:

Attributes (natural but can be developed)

Focused and meticulous
  • Ensures that the team’s actions are always aligned with the acceptance criteria and project goals (vision);
  • Minimizes errors by taking an organized approach to work assignments.
Team player
  • Does not shy away of any tasks that could help the team and leads by example (e.g., if the team decides to work extra hours to meet the sprint goals, the ScrumMaster should be there with them).
Great problem solving ability
  • Go-getter who rapidly obtains information to solve problems
  • Helps the team identify conflicting priorities, then frames and escalates issues that cannot be resolved quickly.
Trustworthy
  • Reliable and walks the talk (executes on what they say every time)
Accessible
  • Easy going personality and personable

Skills (learned and experienced)

Outstanding communication and decision making skills
  • Propagates information promptly, clearly, and unambiguously
  • Knows when to make the call on a decision; no analysis
  • Identifies trade-offs between short and long term and promptly reaches a shared vision between the team and product owner
A capacity to make the team work together
  • Ability to develop and foster teamwork. Able to diagnose, understand, and facilitate team dynamics.
  • Consistently gauges how the team is doing and drives the necessary actions to improve.
Inspires and motivates
  • Facilitates team mechanics and energizes the people. Motivates, draws out, and rewards the best work from individuals on their team. Highlights exemplary behavior, skills, or accomplishments.
  • Great working attitude. Always looks for ways to make changes work rather than only identifying why changes can’t be done.
Emotionally stable and works well in stressful situations
  • Stays calm and composed under stress.
Conflict resolution
  • Facilitates constructive debate to enable better decisions and shared vision
  • Resolves disagreements and conflicts constructively. Knows when to involve others.
  • Demonstrates emotional maturity (discretion, objectivity, integrity, confidentiality) in all interactions.
  • Supports decisions that have been made, even when he/she does not personally agree.

While choosing the best ScrumMaster is critical, remember that it’s also very important to create the right working environment for the ScrumMaster to succeed: they need to be able to make decisions "stick" and they need to have the authority to remove roadblocks.

The attributes and skills listed here can be a good starting point for creating a list specific to your own company’s unique needs. Choosing the right ScrumMaster is well worth the upfront effort.

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Comments

Jody Wennerberg, CSM, 6/21/2007 9:48:15 AM
This is very true. Many times management puts people in charge that have technical skills to run a project, but with scrum we need to rememebr that the scrum master does not have to have in-depth technical skills, more importantly they need to be personable and have the raport with various business groups to get the job done.
Abhishek Sharan, CSP,CSM, 8/10/2008 6:58:12 AM
Perfect. Very nicely put. Being a CSM myself this would work for me as a checklist for myself and for the people whom I train to become a SM in future.
Jason Little, CSM,CSPO, 8/19/2008 2:50:50 PM
Great article, I completely agree and I work very hard to live up to these type of attributes. As I always say to my team, truthfulness is the key, nothing is personal and everything is about the success of the team.
Kyle Smith, CSM,CSPO, 7/7/2009 4:12:08 PM
Far too often I see job posting which prioritize extertise in a specific technology over the attributes you list here. Can a candidate be a great scrum master w/o being a subject matter expert for a particular technology or industry ?

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