Many months ago, I wrote my top 10 tips to be a successful Scrum Master. That blog post resonated with many of you, but it was missing something. It focused entirely on mindset and behavior, and while valuable, I thought some practical advice for Scrum Masters might also be helpful. So let’s talk practical with some tools of successful Scrum Masters that will help you and your teams.
- Know how to explain Scrum in 10 minutes. Click this link to see a demonstration by Lyssa Adkins. I’ve used this technique hundreds of times over the years, and I can’t emphasize its value enough. I’ve used it to explain Scrum to a busy executive and immediately turn around and use it with a new team member. Its uses are endless.
- Find a task manager. I use Todoist. Much of our work is interrupt driven, and I find a task manager ensures my commitments don’t slip between the cracks. I keep everything categorized by team and by day it should be complete, and it helps me stay focused on the task at hand so I don’t end up doing ten things at once. Multi-tasking comes at a cost, and this is my way to avoid it.
- Make time to meet individually with team members. Retros are fun. They inspire some brilliant team conversations. Still, I find meeting individually with each team member to be just as helpful and insightful. I prefer organic, emergent conversation over an agenda-based one so let the team member guide the conversation and have a few open-ended questions handy for any silent moments.
- Make time to meet individually with the Product Owner. I meet weekly for 30 minutes with the Product Owners for my teams. Similar to team member conversations, these are largely organic, and I try to make these conversations about how I, as the Scrum Master, can better serve the team and you, the Product Owner. Some conversations become coaching opportunities, others are for ensuring we’re both on the same page, while others still help us better understand our team.
- Create a top three. Do you know the top three issues facing your team? Try writing them down with specific and concrete language. I’ve found doing so helps me realize that I don’t know the biggest issues nearly as well as I’d like. When you put them in writing, they become more real, often more useful, and no longer based in an emotion but based in reality. Knowing the problem better might help you find straight forward solutions or at least help identify next steps.
- Have a Retrospective resource. Mine is the Retromat. When it comes time to prepare for the retro, I use this resource to find the best container for the conversation I expect the team will want to have. I won’t go in depth here on the topic, but this post delves into the details of being a good facilitator for your team.
- Utilize purpose statements for non-ceremonies. A good Scrum Master should also be a good facilitator so from time to time you may be asked to facilitate a non-scrum meeting. Before the meeting, spend some time formulating a purpose statement that provides a compelling reason as to why the group is there and what they are there to accomplish. Not only does it helps keep them on point, but if they accomplish their purpose, they’ll feel the meeting was time well spent. Finally, I keep this purpose statement posted visibly in the room so we can point to it throughout.
- Read professionally. I am always reading two books. One is personal (usually science fiction), and the other is professional. Always be learning; always be reading. There’s no shortage of topics and books to choose from so don’t excuse it away. One of my personal favorites is Switch by Chip and Dan Heath.
- Join LinkedIn groups and contribute. The Certified ScrumMasters and Scrum Alliance groups are two that I frequent. Join them, and if you can’t answer questions, ask them. Many of us enjoy giving back to our agile community as often as we can. We are not only servants to our teams, but also servants to those in need of knowledge and advice.
- Sign up for Mike Cohn’s newsletter. Mike is awesome and incredibly helpful. His insights have helped me on numerous occasions, and I enjoy his weekly emails. You can sign up here. In a similar vein, find several sources for helpful information and insights. Subscribe to agile blogs (like this one perhaps), and find bloggers that approach problems differently. Knowing and appreciating varying perspectives will help you become a well-rounded Scrum Master.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any tips yourself, feel free to share them in the comments.