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6 Ways to Tell if You’ve Hired a Scrum Master or a Scum Master

Technology is changing the way we live our lives at such a fast pace. In order to keep up with the demand companies are challenged to find innovative, disruptive, nimble ways to consistently deliver value through frequent delivery of quality software. Many information technology departments turn to Agile Software Development to meet the rapidly evolving needs and wants of their customers. And according to Version One’s 13th Annual State of Agile Report, Scrum is again reported as the most widely-practiced agile “methodology”, with at least 72% of respondents practicing Scrum or a hybrid that includes Scrum.

As the Scrum framework becomes more common in organizations, so does the need for Scrum Masters. The importance of having a skilled Scrum Master at the helm is a critical component to achieving success with Scrum over time. This creates yet another challenge…finding and hiring good Scrum Masters. There is no shortage of Scrum Masters. There is however a huge gap in the spectrum of quality Scrum Masters who really get it and junior Scrum Masters who are yet learning the ropes.

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But how do you know if you’ve hired a servant-leader or taskmaster, the real deal or a wanna be, an expert or a novice, a Scrum Master or a scum master? In this post I‘ll share five simple ways to get to that answer. The first three are directly related to the Scrum Team’s overall efficiency and effectiveness and the last three take a look at the Scrum Master’s competence and leadership ability.

Before you go pulling out your measuring stick it’s important to remember that success looks different for every organization as well as the many factors that affect it. This is meant to be a quick guide to help determine where your Scrum Master falls on the spectrum and help shape the vision for the way forward. Moreover, one day doesn’t make a trend so progress should be appraised over time with consideration given to where your organization and Scrum Teams are in the Agile journey, the company culture, as well as the support and the blockers experienced by your Scrum Teams. 

1. Business Value:

Often misunderstood, business value includes all forms of value that determine the health and well-being of the firm in the long run. Commonly in software development it consists of functionality or work that translates into profit directly, increases the potential number of customers, increases organizational efficiency and thereby decreases operating costs. Simply put, build the right stuff at the right time.

You know you’ve hired a Scrum Master if…

  • The Scrum team is consistently meeting Sprint Goals that are fueled by high priority business objectives
  • Stakeholders are engaged during the Sprint Reviews by offering meaningful feedback to the Scrum Team resulting in improved delivery and quality of the product
  • The Product Owner is pleased with the overall value of the product and its ability to solve business problems and meet business goals

2. Customer Value

Oh yeah..can’t forget about these guys! Customer Value is the value received by the end-customer of a product or service. The ability of an organization to deliver it consistently increases the likelihood that customers will continue to use your product.

You know you’ve hired a Scrum Master if…

  • Your customers/clients are consistently satisfied with the functionality and ease of use of the product
  • Your customers offer meaningful feedback that is then used to build a better product
  • Customer satisfaction metrics/goals are being met consistently

3. Frequent, Fast and Quality Delivery 

Though easier said than done, I view frequent, fast and quality delivery as the concept of optimizing the flow of work to produce software with accuracy, precision, excellence, fit-for-purpose, efficiency, reliability, maintainability in short iterations (30 days or less).

You know you’ve hired a Scrum Master if…

  • The Development team employs best engineering practices to produce a quality or “done” increment of potentially releasable software every single sprint
  • The Scrum Team addresses technical debt regularly while the rate of delivery and the flow of work gets better over time
  • The Scrum Team takes full advantage of every inspect and adapt opportunity, not just the Daily Scrum, during a sprint to ensure that quality is baked in throughout the process 

4. Scrum Proficiency 

Bottom line as a Scrum Master you have to know your sh*t. Period. A good Scrum Master should study this stuff inside and out, forward and backward, up and down. A Scrum Master must be the master of scrum. A crystal clear understanding of who, what, when, where, how and most importantly why with respect to the entire Scrum Guide. 

You know you’ve hired a Scrum Master if…

  • The Product Owner, Development Team, and Organization has a solid understanding of Scrum framework, theory, principles and values and is able to communicate the basics of the “why” behind the “what” of the rules, guidelines and supported practices of Scrum
  • He/She has experience coupled with certifications and actively works on both personal and professional development
  • He/She understands Software Development, is conscious of the way programmers work, is familiar with technology, and has a basic knowledge of patterns, clean code, QA, architecture, technical debt, versioning, etc. 

5. Team Dynamics

Team dynamics are the intangible, unconscious, and psychological forces that influence the behavioral relationships between members that ultimately dictate the direction of a teams’ progress and performance. These dynamics are shaped by the nature of the work, individual personalities and backgrounds, their working relationships and the working environment(physical and non-physical).

You know you’ve hired a Scrum Master if…

  • Scrum Team is self-sustaining, self-healing, highly collaborative, has fun together, and is generally happy; everyone on the team feels valued, appreciated and respected
  • Scrum Team is a learning team always looking for opportunities via interactions, processes or tools to get better and faster
  • Scrum Team clearly understands their role in the overarching business vision and strategy, has the ability to respond to changing priorities quickly without affecting performance, progress, or value delivered 

6. Leadership Ability 

Leadership means different things to different people depending on the part of the world you’re in and the context of the situation. Scrum calls upon the servant-leadership model: 

“It’s a philosophy and a set of practices that enrich the lives of individuals, to build better organizations, and ultimately create a more just and caring world….Servant-leadership focuses on collaboration, trust, empathy and the usage of power ethically.” 

Barry Overeem – The Scrum Master as a Servant-Leader

Regardless of style or model I subscribe to what I believe is the most simple and straightforward definition of leadership summed up in this quote by the 34th President of this great country, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

You know you’ve hired a Scrum Master if…

  • He/She demonstrates the Scrum Values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect as well as turn to them when sharing ideas or resolving issues, impediments and conflict
  • He/She practices servant-leadership qualities like empathy, transparency, humility, and active listening; knows when to and can move seamlessly through the many stances of a Scrum Master (teacher, facilitator, coach, mentor, change agent, etc)
  • He/She is an excellent communicator, a professional with an easy going fun personality, and is a good culture fit for your company.

If you’ve made it this far you’re probably wondering why I didn’t share ways to tell if you’ve hired a Scum Master. In short, it’s the opposite. Besides, the way I see we’ve all seen enough of the scummy stuff and I don’t believe it’s valuable to talk about what you don’t want. Furthermore, it’s not worth the time I would have wasted to write about it or you to read about it. You’re welcome. Scrum on!

Danielle Pollard

Danielle is a Senior Managing Advisor with Responsive Advisors. She specializes in agile team development and peak performance strategy.
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