How to effectively challenge someone to be a better Scrum Master

Door Patrick Verheij

Or agile coach. Or agile process facilitator. Whatever fancy title you prefer 🙂

When you hire a person to help your teams become more agile, then you probably want to know if that person is actually succeeding in her job. Don’t you?

Sometimes I doubt if that really is the case because more often than not I see Scrum Masters stick with the same team for a year or more. A closer look at their team then reveals that they are heavily into ScrumButt. Quite often there’s also an extra agile coach hangin’ around. Despite even that, everything seems like a far from ideal status quo while management naively believes there’s an agile transformation going on.

If this is happening to your company right now, take heed. I’ll give you some pointers on how to help those agile enablers do a finer job.

Transparency is key

If you expect an agile transformation to succeed, you should at least have a faint idea where your organization is heading and how your agile transformation is addressing that. If that’s missing, everything is a guessing game. So fix it and make sure everyone knows about it, expecially those Scrum Master folks.

Next thing for everyone involved to know is that Agile (and Scrum, and DSDM, and every other agile framework and method) relies on a practice which is called “inspect and adapt”. Basically, that’s ‘experimentation’, learning by doing, adapting based on learning. You know that drill by now, I hope.

You also know that inspect and adapt only works properly in an environment that supports and even enables transparency. Stuff needs to be made highly visible. Otherwise, people are experimenting blindly, constantly searching for clues and being scared of hidden agendas.

It is a Scrum Master’s job to TEACH that inspect, adapt, and transparency stuff to their teams. That means that their teams should gradually become better at running decent experiments and thus uncovering new ways to do a better job. And because they know about the utter importance of transparency, they should also be happy to SHOW that they are doing things better and even HOW they are doing things better.

That’s the culture you want (if you’re serious about agile).

So how to help those Scrum masters do just that?

To make sure that a Scrum Master stays effective and doesn’t become an ineffective cog in the system, just ask her this simple question regularly:

“How did your job change lately?”

And then expect a profound answer,

A Scrum Master is expected to be an agile teacher, coach, and guide: someone who transfers knowledge, helps people’s potential come out, and aids a team to become self-reliant. A great Scrum Masters works towards losing her job because her team is able to do her job: everyone in her team has become a Master of Scrum. Her answer to your question should address this directly. Then you know she understands her job.

Just make sure she is continuously challenged to come up with real proof. So not just stories or anecdotes. Also no pointing towards a team and saying “look at how well they are doing”. You should receive an experience. Something in the line of team members who are demonstrating something they can now do themselves without a Scrum Master doing it for them.

Don’t let “Scrum Master” become an ordinary job

A Scrum Master knows her job changes over time. Not only because her team will outgrow her, but especially because we shouldn’t want a dedicated process facilitator in a team permanently. The team would become dependent on her. That’s doesn’t really sound desirable to me.

So start challenging those Scrum Masters and other agile coaches! Just don’t forget that when you challenge someone, they may challenge you back 😉

Have a merry agile transformation.

Patrick Verheij

06 59 443 447

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