How to Choose Your Next Scrum Master?

Is your team making progress? Are you moving towards high delivery performance? Answer these questions with a Scrum Master.

How to Choose Your Next Scrum Master?

June 12, 2020
By Alexandre Walsh
Reading time 🕒 5 min

When you look at your team, do you feel that they are making progress? Do you get the sense that you are moving towards high delivery performance in your project? A good way to answer these kinds of questions is to have a Scrum Master. Whether you already have a Scrum Master in your team or not, I would like to share with you, through my experience, some key elements to remember when choosing a good Scrum Master.

Your Scrum Master Must Master the Process

It’s no surprise (at least, I hope not!), software development is a complex field. And the processes surrounding it involve more than just following the four Scrum events to a T. 

Many variables influence software delivery performance. The best teams deliver 106 times faster than the worst-performing teams, they have 7 times lower failure rates, and when they fail, they recover 2604 times faster. In this environment, it pays to have the right players in the right place. 

Implementing capabilities that improve performance is not easy, and it requires a deep understanding of DevOps and Lean Manufacturing (minimizing waste). This is a far cry from the cliché of the Scrum Master who just sticks Post-it notes on the wall during a retrospective!

Your Scrum Master Must Have a Deep Understanding of the Team Dynamics

Your organization’s culture has a direct impact on your teams’ performance. I know I’m pointing out the obvious, but it’s important. 

Not all team members have the same experience or level of attention to detail. Conflicts often arise between developers as some have a stronger focus on quality while others “have an easy thumb on Merge Requests.” 

Another example of conflict is blaming the Product Owner when “the tasks are not clear enough”. The person who plays the role of Scrum Master must excel in the art of creating a climate of trust and transparency, which can also be called psychological safety. This is the factor that will boost continuous improvement in your team, and thus lead to better delivery performance.

Can a Team Member Be the Scrum Master?

This choice is not completely crazy at first glance. Instead of hiring someone, we’ll take someone from the team. I’ve tried it, I’m guilty of it! Today, I no longer recommend it: it can be a temporary solution, but it’s like a band-aid on an open wound. 

When you take a developer from the team to play the role of Scrum Master, it usually translates into someone who will only facilitate meetings. And then that’s it!

  • After the ceremonies, he will go back to work on his tasks.
  • His mental load is not focused on improving team performance, but rather on fulfilling his real role, which is to develop the product.
  • In the evening, his thoughts are more focused on how to fix a bug, not on understanding the root cause of bottlenecks that are affecting team performance. 

And I would even add that often, this developer can be the very cause of many of the team’s bottlenecks, as he is usually involved in many roles and meetings and is “too busy.”

Besides, the developer is automatically biased in his judgment and understanding of the situation. The Scrum Master serves the development team and the Product Owner. The developer, on the other hand, is not necessarily at the center of all discussions and will have several blind spots. And he won’t necessarily want to be at the center of these discussions, because his real job is to develop a quality product, not to coach the Product Owner.

Can Team Members Take Turns Being Scrum Master?

Choosing a new person at each ceremony to “play the role” of Scrum Master is often a symptom of the previous point. This is a scenario I recommend even less! 

For teams to achieve high delivery performance, the Scrum Master must serve and influence his team towards better practices. To successfully influence people towards new behaviours, you need to gain the trust of your peers. Building a relationship takes time. It involves one-on-ones, celebrations, calls, difficult conversations, lunches, and more. 

The Scrum Master has a game plan on how to get the team to adopt a better work process. Sometimes, outsiders are the ones who interfere with the team’s performance, such as by interrupting them or calling meetings. In this case, if the Scrum Master role is changing ownership regularly, who will have the incentive to solve this problem?

So Who Will Be Your Next Scrum Master?

At the end of the day, finding a good Scrum Master is always difficult. People who check all the boxes are rare or expensive. However, the investment is essential to achieve high delivery performance. I even share in this article two key reasons to have a Scrum Master. You just have to be aware of the impacts of the decision you make.

Please feel free to contact me at awalsh@nexapp.ca if you have any questions! If you liked this article, I would be very grateful if you would share it!

See you in the community!

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