Scrum Master during Agile Transformation: 5 Most Common Mistakes

4/20/19 by Stanley Ang

Nowadays, more and more companies are starting to move from the Waterfall method to the Agile way of delivery, wherein some are calling it “New Ways of Working”. Gone are the days when a delivery of a project will take months or years before the first launch goes live.

The thought of transforming a company to Agile might sound good, but we need to be careful with the pitfalls that may come with it. Here we are going to focus on the common mistakes of a Scrum Master.

1.Scrum Master Acting as Project Manager

Most companies I have seen who transformed to Agile used to deliver in a Waterfall method, and would assign their Project Managers to be the Scrum Masters. The most common mistake that I kept on encountering was that Project Managers continue to act like PMs in an Agile environment. They would be resistant to change and causing the slowdown of the transformation.

They would expect the teams to be reporting to them about the progress of their stories during daily stand-ups, and still keep the notion that they are the boss, which is not the case in Agile.

In Agile, we empower the teams to decide on how to deliver epics by breaking them down into stories that can deliver value to the customers. The Scrum Master is not there to micro manage and dictate how a team should deliver. They are there to guide the teams in following the Agile process and help remove the impediments that are slowing down the teams, to allow them to have a continuous productivity.

2. Having No Clarity on Ownership of Project Delivery?

In Waterfall, the Project Managers own the projects and are liable on the success and failure of their teams. In an Agile environment, the teams are the ones who own the delivery of a project and make decisions for them.

The success and failure of a sprint would now lie on the shoulder of the team. The teams will be the ones to commit the stories that can be delivered on a sprint. They would discuss with the Product Owners to make sure the requirements and acceptance criteria are clear. They would estimate the stories and negotiate with the Product Owners when they feel that some stories will not fit the sprint.

As a self-managing team, the teams can strategize their approach on how they would deliver a story or epic, as long as it satisfies the requirements and follow their “Definition of Done”.

3. Not understanding the Value of the Ceremonies

Some Scrum Masters I know would facilitate the Agile ceremonies for the sake of running it since it is part of Agile. But deep inside, they are thinking that it is a waste of time. They would rather have the teams continuously work on the stories rather than doing sprint planning, backlog refinement, daily stand-ups, demos, and retrospectives.

The different Agile ceremonies were not created just for the sake of having those meetings. Each ceremony brings a value to it. Since it is a fast-paced world in Agile, it is important for the members of the team to be aware and aligned on what is happening on the daily basis through the daily stand-ups – what are the impediments, dependencies, and blockers.

Unlike in Waterfall, Agile teams deliver value every sprint, which runs usually every 2 weeks. They would plan out only the stories that will be for the next 2 weeks. Those committed stories will also be the ones to be showcased during the demos, to the Product Owners and stakeholders.

Keeping the teams motivated is an important component to keep the wheel continuously rolling, which is why we want them bring out their thoughts in the retrospectives.

4. Not Understanding Importance of Having a Scrum Master Certification

Nowadays, more and more companies give importance to certifications and recognition that an applicant holds in their name. When we see a job description for a Scrum Master, most likely than not, you will see as part of the criteria is to have a Scrum Master Certification. It is like earning a college degree and a diploma before applying for a job. It will give a company the confidence that you have the knowledge that is expected for the role, and it will definitely give you an advantage over others who doesn’t carry the badge.

Though having a certification brings you up the ladder, Scrum Masters need to be aware that they need to continue learning and practicing their responsibilities. It is also important to be open to new ideas on how the Scrum Master role can be further improved. We are in an Agile world which means that things will be fast paced. On instances when you lose track or not sure on how to do things, step back a while and recall what you learned in your Scrum Master Certification program. By remembering the basics, you will be able to go back on track and steer to the right direction.

There is no doubt that having a Scrum Master Certification will establish you into the role and instill confidence in yourself and in the organization.

5. Isolated Communications

In Waterfall, there are a lot of isolated meetings where only the Managers are invited to join, due to hierarchies. Information are then cascaded down to the Team Leads, next to the Analysts, down to the Developers or the ones doing the actual product. There are a lot of steps to follow in terms of communicating the information. This can result in miscommunication, misunderstanding and delayed cascading.

By moving to Agile, having constant communication within the teams, Scrum Master, Product Owner, and different departments is crucial. The work moves way faster by talking to involved parties in the same conversation. It will be easier to get all the details needed and get decisions in an instant, since you have all the people you need around you. As companies move to Agile, they need to remove the communication walls and start having open conversations in the organization.

It is good to transform from Waterfall to Agile given the benefits that it can bring, but it is important that we implement it the right way and the people taking on the hat of a Scrum Master to be willing to accept changes in their responsibilities.


Stanley has more than 15 years working in the IT industry, with expertise and focus on Agile coaching and transformation, at the same time managing programs and project teams. During these years of experience, he has proven himself in guiding people and processes to deliver quality solutions. He focuses on the team dynamic and delivery to motivate the organization.
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