Project Management

A New Scrum Master’s First Steps

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Sunil Mundra:

A New Scrum Master’s First Steps


Categories: agile, scrum master, team


Consider this scenario: You have just been elevated to the role of Scrum Master. Previously, you may have held a role with less responsibility, or perhaps you are a newcomer to the organization. Or, you may even be new to this field entirely. Whichever the case, you understand that you need to develop proficiency and become a contributing member ASAP.

Having a plan in place to make the learning curve less steep would ensure a smooth, rapid transition into your new role. Where do we begin? What would your first week look like?

Yesterday, we facilitated a Clubhouse discussion during which Agile professionals shared their accumulated wisdom. These are a few nuggets of wisdom I gleaned during the discussion.

The content can be divided into three main parts:

  1. Who are the people involved in this journey? Who are your team members? Who are your stakeholders?

 

The very first step in your journey as a scrum master is to gain the trust and respect of your teammates. This applies regardless of whether you are a rookie or a seasoned veteran.

 

There are a variety of methods you can employ to accomplish this:

 

  • One-on-one interviews with each team member to learn about one another’s experiences, expectations and motivations. Questions should include: How can you help one another? What are the pain points of your team? What are their goals, fears and concerns? How familiar are they with Agile? What are their expectations for the leadership, the vision and direction? Asking these questions will help establish a good rapport with your team.
  • Go out with the whole team if you are co-located, and participate in team-building exercises to develop trust and mutual reliance
  • Participate in a workshop with the team to better understand how they see your role and manage the expectations they have of you. This is a good opportunity to ask the team how you can serve them better
  • Have a one-on-one with the Product Owner. As Scrum Master, it is imperative you understand that person’s vision, and the amount of influence they wield in the team

As well, you must understand the dynamics of the team you are now embedded in. How smoothly does communication flow within the team? Who is their official leader? Is there a de facto leader that is not the same as the formal leader, and is there a leadership clash between them? Who is the driving force behind current events? Who has good attendance and who has poor attendance at meetings? How comfortable does the team feel with external stakeholders?

You can achieve this by observing your team and main stakeholders during the meetings.

A TIP:

Just keep in mind that if you simply observe for too long, the team might not see the value you bring and you thus risk losing their trust and respect. So be forthright and share with your team members and main stakeholders what you observed and your strategy for improvement derived from your observations.

 

  1. How is the overall organizational culture? What is the background of your project and product? What is the background of your team?

 

Beginning a new role is always fraught with challenges since you need to have a clear context of what happened prior to joining this organization, team or project. You need to answer: were lessons learned actually implemented? Is there a confluence page or tool to track the team’s progress and document lessons learned? What is the Agile journey for your team or organization?

 

The best way to gather answers for the above questions is again to set up one-on-one interviews.

 

A TIP:

Ensure that people understand the purpose of these one-on-one sessions. If this is an informal chat, it is better to make it known in advance so people will come relaxed and not hesitate in sharing candid information. If you want to ask questions about the organization’s background and current state, be clear with interviewees in advance. You are still unfamiliar with one another, so some might feel self-conscious about their recent work and may feel more comfortable with preparing answers in advance. After rapport is established, people may feel more open and relaxed during such conversations, but this will come only after the first 2-3 one-on-ones.

 

  1. What is the current state of the project/product?

In addition to understanding people and organizational culture, new Scrum Masters also need to understand the project thoroughly, in addition to team dynamics, practices and processes.

 

There is a short checklist we can follow to gather some information:

  • What is the team producing?
  • Who is the customer?
  • How is the team implementing the plan?
  • Are team members working on one product or on several products?
  • What is the end-to-end process?

One-on-one meetings will be helpful again in your journey of discovering the answers to the questions above.

 

Other tips for you during your first week:

  1. If many teams follow Agile practices in the organization, discover which team performs best and which one performs worst. After determining this, try a head-to-head comparison of what the best performing and worst-performing teams do and don’t do.
  2. Even if you disagree with the current approach, step back and try to understand the reasoning behind the current processes or practices being followed.
  3. Don't manipulate your team's opinion. Step back and let them figure out the solution even if you disagree with it. Discover the team's logic first.

 

Finally, if you are a brand new Scrum Master, join a community of peers for mutual advice, support and practice. For example, PMI. There are a lot of good resources to be found there.

 

I hope these findings were helpful and feel free to comment with your ideas or thoughts about this summary.

Posted on: April 20, 2021 05:33 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Aina

Great insights, very well written. Just one comment:

Regarding the 1st tip during your first week, comparing two team can be challenging for a new comer so maybe in your next blog, define the metrics by which two teams can be compared. For example, productivity of two teams can't be compared using velocity because velocity is unique for each team.

RMK

Dear Aina
Very interesting the theme that brought to our reflection and debate
Thanks for sharing and for your opinions
I believe that a good integration in the team, in the company and in the project are essential for anyone to successfully perform their duties

Hi Aina, a great piece, thanks for sharing

@Rami, thanks for your comment! I agree this might be challenging for a new Scrum Master. I needed to give more clarification on this tip :)

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