Great scrum masters and great agile coaches are a rare and special breed. They often do their best work behind the scenes, and they seldom want credit for a job well done. Instead, they’re most satisfied when they see their teams grow and succeed. In many ways, it’s like watching our kids grow up. They started as a collection of individuals and mature to a self-organized, effective, and efficient team. So what qualities set apart the good agile coaches and scrum masters from the great ones? I thought I’d try to answer that question today by way of several biases.
- Bias toward learning. They have a thirst for knowledge, and enjoy stretching themselves. With every good book or blog post they read, they find a way to incorporate its lessons into their lives and for their teams. They are excited every time an aha moment occurs, and they love to share this knowledge with others when the opportunity presents itself.
- Bias toward action. Why discuss something in theory when you can try it out in practice? That’s not to say they have a “ready, fire, aim” attitude. It simply means that once an idea has enough form, great agile coaches will give things a go and refine the finer points as issues arises.
- Bias toward innocence. They never assume the worst. If a team member is late, it’s not because they want to be. Maybe they had to take an important call. If someone has a short fuse, it’s not because they’re a jerk. Maybe something is going on in his/her personal life. That certainly doesn’t mean they’re a push over. Quite the opposite.
- Bias toward honesty. The best of us confront difficult situations without delay but with respect and honesty. Great agile coaches explain the circumstance and how it impacted them, they encourage team members to express themselves similarly, and they enjoy it when others are willing to be straight with them.
- Bias toward silence. They know when and how to speak their thoughts, but more importantly, they know when to shut up and listen. They’re not listening to reply but listening to understand and to help. Doing so allows them ask inspiring and thought provoking questions. They’re also not afraid of awkward silences if it serves the team. After all, creating a void is a great way to foster self-organization.
- Bias toward the team. It’s team, then team members, then organization, then self. Don’t get me wrong. All of these are important, but just as a backlog is forced rank, force ranking priorities can help when time is short or when sacrifices are necessary.
I wish I could say I embody all of these to the fullest. I don’t. Just as the agile mindset is a journey and never a destination, so are these biases. No matter how long we’ve been an agile coach or scrum master, we all still have room to grow, and it’s through our teams, our learnings, and our failures that we do so.