If I could go back in time and give my younger scrum master self only 10 tips, it would be this:
- Questions over statements. Use questions as a tool to enforce process, make a point, or to gain understanding of another point of view. It also makes for a less confrontational situation:
- Frank, instead of starting a new task, have you thought about helping Mary with that code review?
- Since our stand ups are only 15 minutes, should we talk about ways to get us all here on time?
- Progress should be defined by the amount of work finished, not the amount of work started. Task switching comes at a cost. This cost is often overlooked, especially in a world where multi-tasking is the norm. Teams often feel they’re most efficient when they have a large number of tasks open so they can toggle between them. They’re mistaken.
- Knowledge creation over task completion. Even at the cost of efficiency, it’s better to spread knowledge throughout the team than to focus simply on completing all committed work. Encourage specialists to step outside their comfort zone and learn a skill from one of their team members.
- Ask stupid questions. If someone says something, and you don’t understand, ask. I bet at least two other people in the room have the same question, but don’t want to feel like a dummy.
- Know your team. Can you name the spouse, hobbies, strengths, and weaknesses of each of your team members? If so, great. If not, learn, but only do so if you’re sincere in your effort to know more about your team members.
- Know your team’s dynamic. It’s not enough to know each team member. Learn how their personalities mesh. Who feels safe sharing their thoughts? Who’s more contemplative? What has occurred in the past to draw the entire team into a fruitful and honest discussion?
- The last 10% of any story is chock-full of unicorns and dodo birds. Never let a team convince you that something is 90% done. It’s either all done or not done at all.
- Paint all things in terms of black or white. When your team uses terms like “may” or “might,” ask them to commit to something firm (even if it’s less than their previous “might”). In a similar vein, ensure all action items have a clear and single owner. Use questions to get them through the shades of gray.
- Good enough never is. Never let a team feel that they have nothing more to learn. Never let a team become complacent. Always find ways to gently knock them off balance in the spirt of keeping things fresh and interesting.
- It never gets easier. The job requires a great deal of patience. Many days you’ll question if you’re really doing enough for your teams. That’s normal. You’re in a role where the value you provide a team is often intangible, yet always invaluable.
What would you tell your younger self? I’d love to hear your tips for new scrum masters.
Update: A number of you enjoyed these tips so much that I put together another ten in my blog post Scrum Master Tips To Help Your Teams Succeed. I hope you check them out.