The Liberators
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The Liberators

What Makes Scrum Masters Successful? (According to Scrum Masters)

Insights from a conversation between 30 Scrum Masters

An impression of the meetup and some of the results we generated (bottom-left is Appreciative Interviews, bottom-middle is 15% Solutions and bottom-right is Drawing Together)

1. One step at a time

A recurring theme in most stories was to take one step at a time and celebrate successes that result from those steps. Setting up a deployment pipeline doesn’t have to be perfect overnight; it is enough if one small-but-tedious step can be automated. Trying to shift the entire organisation to adopt a more agile mindset towards projects is daunting, but finding at least one Product Owner who sees the value in working incrementally is already a win. Getting a single unit test to work will make all the others easier. Simplifying the purchasing process for Scrum Teams so they can purchase training and materials up to threshold without going through several departments is a huge win.

2. “Done” is the driver

Participants agreed that “Done” software is the driver of change; software that is released to production and in the hands of users. Anything less risks keeping assumptions alive about what is needed, how difficult or how valuable it will be. By keeping the focus of Sprints on delivering software that is done to this extent, all issues, blockades, and impediments that are getting in the way become very visible. By solving one of those impediments each Sprint, incremental change is made possible.

3. Involve stakeholders

Actively involving stakeholders, and encouraging Scrum Teams to do so, turned out to be a strong enabler of success. When stakeholders are not involved, not only can you no longer build a good product, you will also not be able to demonstrate that Scrum works. In most of the success stories, the involvement was not limited to the Sprint Review. Often, Development Teams also refined items with stakeholders, invited them to join Sprint Planning or visited them at their workplaces to better understand what they needed.

4. Experiment

Experiments are the best friends of Scrum Masters. They can involve new practices (like ‘Swarming’ for one participant), changing the length of Sprints to different team compositions. We all have our habits. Changing something without knowing what the result will look and feel like is bound to trigger understandable hesitation and resistance.

5. Find support

A final enabler that occurred in many stories was finding support. For some, this meant finding help in other Scrum Masters, team members, and inspiring mentors. For others, it was finding support in (senior) management to drive change and break down barriers. Either way, changing even the complex system of a single team is not something you can usually do on your own. Having access to the wisdom, experience, and creativity of others make it easier to find novel solutions for persistent problems.

Next steps for attending Scrum Masters. What can you do to invest in the factors we identified together

Concluding thoughts

It is interesting to note what wasn’t mentioned. There was no mention of specific skills, practices, training or certificates. It is also interesting to note that there was a lot of overlap. This shows that we know quite well what makes our success as Scrum Masters possible. It's not a black box; We have to start small, taking one step at a time and demonstrating results to the people we’re doing it for in order to build trust and gather feedback. We have to find help in others, both to spur our creativity to deal with the complex problems we’ll face and to break through impediments.

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Christiaan Verwijs

I liberate teams & organizations from de-humanizing, ineffective ways of organizing work. Passionate developer, organizational psychologist, and Scrum Master.