Continuous improvement is what success as a Scrum Master is all about

As long as things improve, they get better

On recent commutes, I have traded the tube for the bus. The quieter environment allows me to spend the time listening to podcasts and I have ended up listening to Vasco Duarte’s Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast a lot. One of my favourite questions he asks his guests is how they define success as a Scrum Master. That’s a question I have been thinking a lot about myself recently, not least since today is exactly ten years since I got my CSM.

My answer? I would like to argue that continuous improvement is the ultimate evidence of a successful Scrum Master.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter all that much where the team is today. They can be incredibly productive or get barely anything done at all but as long as they get steadily better over time, I’d say the Scrum Master is doing a good job. Likewise, if things don’t get better, the Scrum Master isn’t successful.

How to go about creating this continuous improvement? Initially, it will probably involve teaching the team the rules of Scrum and help them get Scrum up and running. While doing so, the Scrum Master also helps them understand why things are done in a particular way in Scrum. For example, the daily standup is not about reporting progress to the product owner or scrum master, it is about the team coordinating their work for the day.

Early on, the Scrum Master facilitates the various events so that people learn how to do them but over time, a Scrum Master should not cling on to this role if there are better ways of doing it. Back to the example of the standup: if the goal of the stand up is for the team to coordinate their work, why on earth should there be a Scrum Master “running” the stand up for them?

Straight from the start, the Scrum Master works to create an environment where the team owns their process. In retrospectives, or when issues occur, he or she gives them the means to spot the problem, establish the root cause and finding solutions. One step at a time, the team’s way of working improves and their productivity.

It is equally important for the Scrum Master to work with the Product Owner to help him or her utilise the team to the best effect. Some product owners may need help to understand how to slice the work into small, shippable increments and how to prioritise them based on value. Others may need help to understand how sustainable pace will create a better product.

Eventually, a good Scrum Master is likely to not have a lot to do. The team and the product owner will stand on their own feet. At that point, it will be time to for the Scrum Master to either take on an additional team or move somewhere else. Being the Scrum Master for a particular team isn’t a job for life.


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