Top 6 Mistakes a Scrum Master Does Every Day (and How to Fix Them)

4/25/19 by Paulene Duque

Your organization decided to do Scrum. The training was provided and you have been assigned as a Scrum Master.

For a couple of months, you seem to be doing okay. You facilitate ceremonies, help remove blockers and assist the team if in case they need anything. But at some point, the output is still not at its best, people still work in silos and stakeholders are still busy. Like what's done in a retrospective, you ask yourself, "What went wrong?"

In this article, we'll talk about the top six mistakes you might have done as a Scrum Master:

Hosting Scrum events, not facilitating

A Scrum Master is called the "guardian of transparency". According to the Scrum Guide, a Scrum Master facilitates the Scrum events - planning, retrospective, daily scrum and review - as requested or needed. A facilitator sees to it that everyone in the meeting clearly understands what is being discussed. This is a crucial responsibility for a Scrum Master since the outcome of these meetings will greatly affect how the team will do their actual work.

However, some Scrum Masters tend to focus on being the "master of the ceremonies" of the Scrum event rather than facilitating it. Scrum Masters should not only focus when an event starts, ends or if the time box runs out. They should primarily make sure that the team participates, insights are clearly communicated and issues and dependencies are resolved. With this, a Scrum Master should be keen to observe the flow of discussion and probe as needed.

Managing - not building - the team

A common misconception in the industry is that a Scrum Master is the counterpart of a project manager in an Agile setup. In the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Team is composed of a Scrum Master, a Product Owner and the development team. The managing role is distributed among the members of the Scrum Team. Still, there are organizations who treat the Scrum Master as a manager. Administrative tasks such as reporting, budgeting and even performance ratings are expected to be done by Scrum Masters.

The culprit in this scenario is an organization's lack of awareness. As a Scrum Master, your main responsibility is to educate the organization on what Scrum is and how it works. It is your duty to teach and build your team to be self-organizing and cross-functional.

Carrying the team, not coaching them

A developer shared that they are very lucky with their Scrum Master. He shared that their Scrum Master clarifies the requirements for them, talks to the other teams in case there are

dependencies and negotiates with their product owner for features that could not be done within the sprint. When asked what happens if the Scrum Master is on leave, he said that they wait for him to return. If the team is not equipped to decide and stand on its own, the Scrum Master has failed. The goal of the Scrum Master is to enable and facilitate the learning and development of the team for it to be cross-functional and be able to self-organize. You can do this through probing, offering brown bag sessions or catching up with them from time to time. The Scrum Master offers guidance to the team, leading them towards high performance.

Excluding the organization

MerixStudio (https://www.merixstudio.com/about-us/) described the Scrum Master as an ambassador and mentor who promotes and creates a culture that will support the benefits that Scrum has to offer. The Scrum Master is the champion of Scrum at an organizational level not just the team level.

One common challenge Scrum Masters face is when stakeholders do not attend the sprint review. This case happened with one Scrum Master wherein he said that not one stakeholder appeared to review their product increment. When the Scrum Master, with the help of the product owner, reached out to the stakeholders, the response they got was they thought Scrum is only a development thing. This became a call for action for the Scrum Master to conduct a walk through on the role the stakeholders play in Scrum. This is critical especially in newly transitioning Agile organizations. The Scrum Master should not only be coaching the Scrum team but also the people outside the team. A lack of coaching and awareness to these individuals can lead to confusion on where Scrum is applicable. This confusion can lead to the top and middle management, sometimes even product owners being alien - or worse indifferent - on how Scrum should operate.

Not walking the talk

The Scrum Master is the organization's guiding light in practicing Scrum. As a Scrum Master, you are the role model of the entire organization and must be the first person to practice what you preach. One Scrum Master shared his experience about one of the teams he served. In 2017, his company decided to transition to Agile for their development work. They've undergone training and arranged the structure to adhere to the Scrum framework. An organization executive who was appointed a product owner expressed that he is not interested to join the Scrum events. He asked the team to just contact him when there is something to release. Since he is an executive, the team went along with it - even him, the Scrum Master.

While resistance is normal in the midst of organizational changes, the Scrum Master should stand firm on the proper implementation of Scrum for the team to reap the benefits - maximum value at half the time - it promises. Being the expert of Scrum, the organization's eyes are on you on how the practice should be observed and followed.

Focusing on Scrum over Agile

Scrum Masters should always keep in mind that Scrum before being a framework, is a practice of Agile. Agile refers to the values and principles a practicing Scrum team should live by. Below is the Agile Manifesto (https://agilemanifesto.org/), the guiding values of Agile development:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

One team declared that they are now agile because they are doing sprint planning, retrospective and daily scrum. But when their output was checked, they had three (3) consecutive failed sprints. Later it was figured out that the team, during planning, assign tasks to them and develops individually. They also discovered that they do not open up in retrospectives and do not declare impediments in daily scrum. In our example, the team clearly showed distrust to one another and do not collaborate as a team.

It is not enough for the team to religiously observe the Scrum practice. At the end of the day, what will matter is if they willingly collaborate, learn from each other and achieve the output that they committed to do. With this, it is the Scrum Master's duty to step up and create the culture of where the team can learn and grow as one.

Conclusion

A Scrum Master is more than a person assigned to make sure that the Scrum framework is properly followed. It goes deeper than that. You, as a Scrum Master, transform people.

You coach each individual in the organization to clearly understand and embody values and principles that will enable them to thrive and be successful. You probe and lead them to opportunities where they can grow and improve. You help them discover how their contributions can affect the customers they serve.

You are an important piece that can lead an organization to its success.


Paulene Duque is an Agile coach based in Manila, Philippines focusing on Agile transformation, training and development. She believes that the best way to live life is to have agility – to find comfort in embracing change and improving everyday.
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