Tag Archives: Agile Scrum Master

Thoughts and Recommendations on Scrum Master Training

This is not a plug for a Scrum Master training course… I was recently asked to provide some thoughts and recommendations on Scrum Master training for a person who was new to the Scrum Master role. This particular individual knew the basic mechanics of how to do Scrum but needed to take the performance of the team to the next level. I want to share my recommendations with you because I think this is a fairly common situation.

  • The biggest problem is that many people don’t understand the full scope of the Scrum Master role. They see it as a passive facilitator role and all you need to know is the mechanics of how to do Scrum. If that’s the way you see it, you can get the standard CSM certificate and call it “done”; I think it is much more than that. (See my recent post on the Scrum Master role):http://managedagile.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/scrum-master-role
  • I thought that the standard Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course would be a waste of time and money for this individual unless it is taught by someone really good who goes beyond the basics. Most CSM courses only cover the basic mechanics of Daily Standups, Sprint Reviews, Retrospectives, etc. and that’s a very small fraction of what a good Scrum Master needs to know, in my opinion.
  • However, I did think it would be worthwhile for this individual to take an assessment of Scrum Master knowledge without going through the standard CSM course – an assessment exam is relatively inexpensive ($100) and that exam will help validate that the individual has the basic Scrum Master knowledge or not and will help to highlight any areas of weakness. Here’s a link for registering to take the Professional Scrum Master Self-Assessment:http://www.scrum.org/Assessments/Professional-Scrum-Master-Assessments/PSM-I-Assessment

What is needed in many cases is an Advanced Scrum Master training course, but there are very few of those offered. Standard CSM courses are available all over the place, but very few people offer an Advanced Scrum Master course that goes beyond the basics because so many people seem to be content to get the CSM certificate and call it “done”.

A good Scrum Master, in my opinion, is passionate about Agile and doing it with a level of excellence. He/she should be somewhat of an evangelist to help others thoroughly integrate Agile/Scrum values, principles, and practices into the way that they work. That’s what is needed, in my opinion. There are many situations like the one I was in where the company was doing the “mechanics” at a basic level and what’s needed is to go beyond that basic level to really dramatically improve the performance of the team. In that kind of situation, you’ve really got to become somewhat of an Agile “zealot” to do it well and one CSM course is not likely to do that.

It requires a strong commitment to ongoing learning and development to become a really good Scrum Master. Essentially, you need to commit yourself to becoming an “Agile Expert”. There are a lot of regularly scheduled Agile events sponsored by Agile groups throughout the world where people share knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work in the real world. Don’t forget that Agile is based on very empirical knowledge… beyond a certain point, there is no textbook that I’m aware of to tell you exactly what to do.

Another course and certification that I think is worthwhile to consider (but not necessarily the first thing to do) would be to get the PMI-ACP certification. ACP stands for “Agile Certified Practitioner” and is a new PMI certification designed primarily for project managers who work in an Agile environment. I have that certification and I think it is worthwhile. Here’s what I like about it:

    • I think the PMI-ACP exam is more rigorous than the CSM exam and the certification has some more rigorous experience requirements that the CSM certification doesn’t require
    • The PMI-ACP certification takes a broader view of Agile not limited to Scrum and covers other related knowledge areas such as Lean and helps you see the “Big picture” of what Agile is all about; where CSM is really focused on Scrum and the mechanics of how to do Scrum

Both have value…you do need to know the mechanics of how to do Scrum, but it’s also worthwhile to see the “big picture” of Agile as well to better understand the principles and practices at a higher level. You will find information on the PMI-ACP certification here:

http://www.pmi.org/Certification/New-PMI-Agile-Certification.aspx

I think certifications have value if they’re used in the right way. Some people seem to use them to “punch a ticket” and call it done. I see certifications as part of a program of ongoing learning. They can be useful to calibrate what you know and don’t know, particularly if you do a lot of self-study as I do; but getting a particular certification should rarely be an end in itself.

Agile Scrum Master Role

I was asked to put together a clear definition of an Agile Scrum Master role for a company I am working with that is new to Agile. I think the standard “textbook” definition of what a Scrum Master does is limited and needs some interpretation and elaboration. It also needs to be expanded with some best practices for Scrum Masters from a variety of sources (see below). Here is what I came up with:

  1. Team Management – A commonly held view of Scrum Masters is that they are only passive facilitators because the team is supposed to be self-organizing. That may be true in an ideal world, but very few teams are really at that level from my experience and even teams that are at a high-level of proficiency can slip back. In my opinion, Scrum Masters have to use what I call “Adaptive Leadership” – if a Scrum Master is only a passive facilitator, he/she is not doing the job effectively in my opinion. He/she has to provide a sufficient level of leadership to help the team get to a self-organizing level and then sustain it without over-managing the team. “Adaptive leadership means providing just enough leadership to fit the situation and nothing more. Here are some specific components of that role:
    • Team Productivity
      • Ensures that the team is fully functional and productive including having the right tools, training, and process flows to maximize team productivity
      • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality
      • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products
      • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood
      • Constantly help to improve tools and practices used by the team so that the efficiency is always maintained
    • Remove Impediments
      The Scrum Master should resolve all the impediments so that the team can concentrate on the engineering tasks to be done.
    • Performance Appraisal & Feedback
      The Scrum Master will provide necessary feedback to the team members to help them improve their performance.
    • Resolve Conflicts
      The Scrum Master should be in touch with the team members to sense any conflicts early and resolve them
  2. Process Management – A good Scrum Master, in my opinion, is passionate about Agile and doing it with a level of excellence. He/she should be somewhat of an evangelist to help others thoroughly integrate Agile/Scrum values, principles, and practices into the way that they work.
    • Meeting Facilitator
      Facilitates Daily Scrums and Other Scrum Events to ensure that they are well-organized, time-boxed and productive.
    • Process Master
      The Scrum Master will typically serve as the scrum expert on the team. This means they are responsible for helping the team optimize the use of scrum as the methodology they have chosen to build their software.
      The Scrum Master creates the scrum rules for the project and then coaches the team to follow Agile principles and practices. At the end of the sprint, he needs to ensure that every user story is completed as per the definition of done.
    • Team Interface
      Serves as the primary interface to the team to manage communications with the team and shield the team from disruptive external influences.
    • Planning and Estimation
      Coach the team on estimation practices, lead the team in estimation during the planning meeting, and work with the team to improve estimation and planning process
    • Continuous Improvement
      Leads and facilitates retrospective meetings and champions efforts to improve on the quality, velocity, value to the business
  3. Project Management – The Scrum Master is not really a Project Manager; however, there are some project management skills that are useful in the role. The Product Owner should really own responsibility for the overall success or failure of the project; however, a Scrum Master plays a number of roles in support of the Product Owner in performing the program/project management function.
    • Support the Product Owner
      • Assists the Product Owner with various activities including assisting with backlog as well as project-level and release-level planning
      • Helping to ensure that the items in the backlog are clear and concise
      • Working with the Product Owner to prioritize the items in the backlog
    • Organizational Transformation
      • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
      • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
      • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
      • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
      • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.
    • Radiate Information
      Radiate information or ensure that a team’s progress and successes are highly visible to all stakeholders, including the team itself.

In addition to my own personal experience, I have used the following sources to compile this list:

  1. Scrum Guide – http://www.scrum.org/scrum-guides/
  2. Scrum Master Roles & Responsibilities by Amit Malik – http://amitsinghmalik.blogspot.com/2013/06/scrum-master-roles-responsibilities.html