One Step Closer to a Better ScrumMaster
5 April 2016
There is a thin line between a ScrumMaster and a facilitator. A ScrumMaster doesn’t need to work on the user story or design solutions, but he or she should understand user stories, technology, and the people behind the project in order to become a better ScrumMaster. ScrumMasters are not event managers. Rather, a good ScrumMaster will remove impediments, and a better one will prevent the impediments from forming and affecting the team to begin with. How?
Start the day the right way
Many who manage projects are tuned into their day on automatic pilot: They open the laptop and stare at the screen, usually reading their emails.
Why? Because that is how we connect to ongoing work from where we left off yesterday. In order to become the better ScrumMaster, leave your seat and meet with the people around you. Team members, extended team members, and colleagues will ask us whether we've seen or read a particular email. Our answer will be no, but we can listen to their issues through impromptu discussions. We can go back to our desk and read through our emails later. We do not have to wait for the Scrum call to extract a team pulse and know what the impediments are.
Due to geographic distribution, we might have the Scrum call at any time during the day in order to sync with all the team members. But we should start our day with a pep talk in the break room and have informal planning-and-adapt decisions for discussion. Have a coffee! Sounds simple, but it does work.
Be a Dhoni
M.S. Dhoni is India's most popular cricketer. Under Dhoni's captaincy, India has won top prizes in all types of cricket. To be like Dhoni is to bring out the best in everyone on the team. Show me a team with no difference of opinion or conflicts. In this part of the world, it doesn’t exist. After 28 years, India was finally able to bring the cricket world cup home not just because of their commitment, discipline, performance, and attitude; it was due to the captain's ability to bring out the best in everyone, under any circumstances.
Using the sport of cricket as an analogy, every team member will throw different kinds of balls to the ScrumMaster — someone throws bouncers, yet another throws yorkers, a googly, or carrom balls. But as a ScrumMaster, you should always throw one question to all the team members: What can I do to bring out the best in this player?
Our focus should be on the sprint goal rather than finding or resolving the internal issues during the sprint. One way to handle this is to listen, listen, and then listen some more. Influence the team to take on the complex challenges or user stories; by voluntarily doing so they will shift their focus to the technical challenges, which gives them a sense of satisfaction because they are providing solutions. Facilitate in such a way that everyone on the team has the opportunity in the sprint review to discuss features.
While the team is engrossed in the short duration goal, it is the ScrumMaster's duty to look ahead and visualize the team's needs for future sprints. We cannot expect team members to provide their impediments list in black and white in advance, because most of the time they don’t know what the impediments are until they occur. The impediment might be as simple as not having administrator access, lack of network connectivity, opening ports in firewalls, or performance issues. Or it can be more complex, as having made the wrong assumptions, discovering design problems, or the rejection of a proof of concept.
The best way to handle this is by asking the right questions at every stage. For every approach, simple or complex, short or elaborate, we need to challenge our decisions and each other's decisions. It is OK to ask a few crazy-sounding questions of your team at the beginning rather than dig out the issues later, when you're left wondering how the team missed the point and started pointing fingers at each other.
The approach to solving the problem may come from individuals, but the acceptance must come from everyone. The ScrumMaster must facilitate this acceptance by brainstorming with every team member. A good Scrum team will have unscheduled brainstorming discussions at least every alternate day because that is how they collaborate with each other. Though it takes time, always promote openness, courage, and trust. This best practice can break any iceberg that's ahead, or the ship will find alternative ways in advance.
Remember . . . start with a coffee.
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