Whether you're a seasoned agile practitioner, a curious newcomer, or a stakeholder looking to better understand agile processes, this article offers you first-hand experience from the Scrum battlefield.
For the newcomers here, let me start by briefly explaining some basics about the role. You may also want to check this article for some basics.
What exactly is a Scrum Master?
The Scrum Master acts as a “servant-leader” for the Scrum team, helping everyone understand the Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values. In addition, the Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum team understand which interactions are helpful and which are not, ensuring that the team can focus on their work without unnecessary interruptions.
With unnecessary interruptions, I mean things like: micromanagement, random huddle requests, questions about tickets the team is not currently working on, or making a team member jump from one project to another. All these are burdens I’m responsible for preventing my team from.
What’s the value of having a Scrum Master?
Besides being a shield to the development team, the Scrum Master is leading towards better teamwork and productivity – and ultimately a better result for the whole product. This way, the Scrum Master helps to maximize the value created by the Scrum team and makes sure that the money invested in a project is being used most effectively.
It’s very important to me to set realistic expectations for our partners. With or without a Scrum Master – there will be bugs after each iteration. This is normal in software development. However, by planning and setting up priorities for each sprint, the Scrum Master helps the team to deliver the promised value, eliminate the bugs on time, and achieve every milestone that has been set.
Which skills does a Scrum Master need?
First of all, adaptability is the name of the game in the ever-evolving world of agile software development. Reviewing progress, reflecting, and identifying new obstacles are some of the most important duties of a Scrum Master, so adapting to changes is a skill of high demand in this role.
In general, I’d say that being a Scrum Master is a very dynamic role that requires a lot of juggling of hard skills (knowledge of the agile methodology, project management, design, development, and process integration) and soft skills (organizational skills, communication, and interpersonal skills, and critical thinking).
What does a Scrum Master typically do?
Scrum projects are characterized by dividing work into small, manageable increments, so-called “sprints”. A sprint typically lasts 2 to 4 weeks. Most of the Scrum Master’s work during that time consists of making Scrum ceremonies happen, tracking metrics, and facilitating the team to stick to the sprint goals.
This may sound a bit complicated, but I’ve been doing this for a while now and I think it’s a fun job if you have a great team. If I could give my younger self some advice: Don’t panic and start planning! Keep in mind that Scrum ceremonies exist so that the whole team is synced into achieving sprint goal per sprint goal. Make sure that all the work is focused on achieving the milestone – that’s the most important.
Of course, there is a lot more to consider. These are the things I typically do during a 2-week sprint:
In agile project management, the sprint can start when everything is planned.
The first day of the sprint
On the first day, the sprint is already planned. Tickets are groomed and have all the necessary information that the developers and QAs might need during the next 2 weeks. By planning well in advance, the team has more productive time – the best precondition for a successful sprint!
A Scrum Master’s daily routines
In most organizations including Mindnow, the Scrum Master has multiple ongoing projects at once. It’s an essential daily task to organize everything efficiently, so none of the projects suffer. For each of my projects, I organize daily standup meetings. This helps me to fully focus on priorities on a day-to-day basis.
For each project I’m working on, I do these 4 things every day:
Checking updates from the stakeholders
Checking the PM tool for tracking the project
Identifying and resolving pending issues that affect the team
Conducting a standup meeting with the team
The daily standup is a 15-minute meeting with the whole Scrum team, usually 5 people or more. The purpose is to keep people synced about the progress of their work and identify any obstacles that may hinder the completion of the sprint goal.
I enjoy being a daily meeting facilitator and filtering the needed information for my team members. The greatest benefit of having daily standups is making everyone aware of everyone’s plans for the day and avoiding unnecessary interruptions later during the day.
Grooming sessions – reassessing, estimating, and refining
In each sprint, I usually conduct 1 or 2 grooming sessions. These are meetings where the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the development team come together to reassess, estimate, and refine the backlog items that have built up over the previous period. We evaluate new backlog items that may have emerged due to changes in the market, new business objectives, or insights gathered from analytics data.
How to play Scrum Poker
Estimating the workload of upcoming tickets is a very important thing that happens during the grooming session. At Mindnow, we use the estimation technique “Scrum Poker” (or “Planning Poker”). The team is voting on how much effort they think a certain ticket will be, for example, how many people and which skills are needed to complete it. The higher the workload, the more “story points” we assign to this ticket. My role in Scrum Poker is facilitating the estimation discussions and documenting the outcomes.
The groomings happen 3 to 4 days before the next sprint starts, which gives me enough time to prioritize and prepare for the sprint planning.
Image Source: Carina Glinik
Planning Poker cards. We use digital tools though.
Sprint planning – getting ready for the new sprint
Sprint planning is one of my most important responsibilities as a Scrum Master. Before the start of each sprint, the team comes together to plan the sprint goal and work that will be completed during the upcoming sprint. “Sprint goal” refers to a milestone that has to be achieved, for example, to complete the authentication process of a mobile app. It’s measured in story points (as explained in Scrum Poker above).
The essence of this meeting is that each ticket is understood by the entire team, including the design of the product to be developed.
But before the new sprint can start, 2 crucial ceremonies have to happen: sprint review and sprint retrospective.
Sprint review after each milestone
We run the sprint review meeting at the end of each milestone. This can be after 1 sprint, or, for bigger milestones, after a couple of sprints. My role here is to make sure every team member gets the chance to give input and collect constructive feedback from stakeholders. The goal of the sprint review is that the product and engineering teams have a clear understanding of the overall progress, know what to improve, and share a common vision of how the product will develop further.
The fun part: Sprint retrospective
In the sprint retrospective, the team reflects on the teamwork during the sprint and identifies ways to improve the processes. This is my favorite meeting. As the Scrum Master, I mediate the discussion to identify critical issues. It’s great to facilitate the team to create action items, take ownership, and foster better teamwork.
Some Scrum meetings are less formal than others.
After all, what’s the purpose of sprints?
You see, during these 2 weeks (or up to 4 weeks in some projects), a lot of things are happening. From my perspective, the purpose of working in sprints is to achieve milestones in product development within a predetermined time.
One or more milestones represent an increment, a possibly shippable version of the product. And that’s exactly the benefit our partners get from Scrum: They have huge flexibility with releasing their product on the market and can rely on goals being achieved.
Do you really need a Scrum Master?
Overall, when you want the Scrum methodology to be implemented successfully, the answer is yes.
The Scrum Master leads the team to success and teaches them to cooperate better and communicate effectively. It’s really beneficial to have a person whose job it is to resolve arguments effectively. Believe me – software development can be stressful sometimes, with tight deadlines and high client expectations. This can only work out if the development team can be fully productive.
Therefore, if you want a high-quality product to be delivered on time, it’s crucial to put the people first. The role of the Scrum Master is about making sure people are appreciated and their efforts are seen. It’s about reviewing people’s progress and helping them to overcome obstacles – that’s what makes my everyday work so enjoyable.