How to mature as a Scrum Master, while keeping focused on your project

A flexible model to identify and to nurture relevant skills, without loosing yourself in theory. (Not only for Scrum Masters.)

So here is the challenge: you want to further develop relevant skills to master your current profession, but you and your team are stuck in a project, where certain improvements just don’t add any value. How can you improve your skills? How will you identify “relevant” skills? And how will you add value to the project or to your team while doing so?

In this article, I would like to describe a learning model, that we already practice for while now at Mayflower GmbH and that feels more flexible and more coherent to our agile approach than maturity models like CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) or other, more process-focused techniques.

Our model will help you identify “relevant” skills — skills, that fill foster your project, when applied correctly, and that will help you to improve in your profession. In short terms: you will carve out the business value of individual skills, helping you to argue for building up knowledge in that area. And you will be able to track and develop your progress. (Bonus: as a company, you will be able to do your staffing/identify the right expert for a project more efficiently.)

It is one part identifying and prioritizing skills and one part building up knowledge. This is, what we are doing and this model should adapt to other roles as well, beside Scrum Masters and Product Owners. I may introduce the Mayflower Kano Maturity Model.

(Find a tl;dr; at the end of the article.)

Clean. Simple. Optimistic. The golden area of 70s design. And four-quadrant-graphs, apparrently. (Picture by Joey Banks, via Unsplash)

Kano for the satisfaction

In the late 70s, Professor Noriaki Kano came up with a model to identify and map drivers for customer satisfaction. This so-called Kano Model acts as a simple design tool for Quality Function Deployment — sorting items by Basic Needs, Performance Needs, Exciters and just the Do Nots.

By mapping the skills of the role, that we want to develop, Kano will help us to understand and to distinguish the needs of that role and to prioritise them.

Identifying skills for the kano model

This is the simple part. Sit down with your team, take yourselves some time let’s say, a 10-Minute timebox) and write down whatever skill will come to your mind. One skill per Post-it. Then just throw them together and sort-out duplicates.

At Mayflower, we came up with more than 100 skills for a Scrum Master at the first try. This number will certainly vary, depending on your and your teams size and maturity. But don’t worry, with the help of the Kano Maturity Model you will be able to break that number down to a much more manageable size, where you can get skills on track for your project and be able to nurture them.

Prioritising skills with the Kano Model

Now you have a large set of skills and usually you will not have the time to develop an grow on each individual one. This is why we need to prioritise and it is very important to understand, that it is not just about sorting-out the extremes.

Example: Mapping and prioritising Scrum Master skills for a client’s project — what skills do we need in our current situation and where should we improve in particular? We ended up with 32 out of 112 identified skills.

You will need a good mixture of fundamentals (to be able to do any work at all), performance skills (that will add over time and will broaden your capability as a professional) and exciters (that will assure you a competitive advantage) as well. What kind of skills actually matter to your project (that is: bringing additional value) depends on the project. For example, a basic skill like “teaching Scrum fundamentals” is a must-have, when there is no Scrum-knowledge at all. In more experienced environments, you may want to skip that skill in favour of being able to “do a proper release forecast”.

As a rule of thumb: 6 to 10 percent of exciters should fit very well — if you keep your overall capacity in mind, it will give you a feeling of how many skills you will be able to manage and to grow over time.

As a result, you will get a good starting point to educate your skills based on actual needs (of your project/client/whatever environment will pay your bills). But how can you learn and track your improvements, now that you have identified your ideal skill set?

Peer Review: shared understanding, perception and the delta to improve on

The peer review process described here requires two to three peers — people you trust and than can give a diverse and professional feedback on your role where you want to develop your skills. If you are a Scrum Master, pick another Scrum Master and a regular team member, for example.

During the review, go through each identified skill step-by-step. Explain the skill to each other, so you will build up a shared understanding of what you are going to talk about. The person reviewed will then talk about its perception of where he/she stands, regarding the maturity of this individual skill and the peers will give feedback — in the end, this will clear-up the perception of that skill, based on individual and external references.

It is not important, if one has mastered a skill or if one completely lacks any competence. What is relevant, however, is that you identify the delta in your perceptions, because that is, where you can improve.

Repeat these steps for every skill, so that you will have a good starting point with relevant action items to improve on your overall skill set.

Summary

By going through the hole process, every three months, as described here — identifying the relevant skills, that are needed right now, by utilizing Kano for prioritisation and going into a peer review, then, you will mature in your role (here: as a Scrum Master), while keeping focused on your project.

I will describe a typical peer review in detail (how to prepare for it, what kind of questions to ask, how to facilitate and execute such a meeting/workshop and how to keep track of progress being made) in an upcoming article: How to foster, where we disagree (Peer Review: Identify, nurture and reflect on your skills)

tl;dr;

So here are the important take-aways: you may use the Kano model to identify and prioritise “relevant” skills. You can utilize the Peer Review model as a reference point to carve out action items to actually improve your skills. And by repeating these steps every three months (because that is a reasonably timeframe) you will mature and drive your professional capabilities on to the next level.


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