The Path to Scrum Mastery: Avoiding 5 Common Scrum Master Traps

For my career, I have had the privilege to witness companies undergo many different phases of agile transformations. I’ve met many amazing Scrum Masters along the way who have evolved to take on major responsibilities in their organizations. However, I have also seen many Scrum Masters who fall into common traps that impede the Scrum team, impede delivery, and inadvertently slow down their own career growth by falling into five common traps that I have identified. I’ll identify these common mistakes and offer ways to best avoid them or get out of an invisible sinking tar pit that frequently pulls new Scrum Masters into their demise and show you how to get back on the path towards becoming a great Scrum Master.

Trap #1: You’re the only one typing notes for every meeting

Are you always the one doing the typing in every Scrum event? Being a Scrum Master doesn’t make you the team secretary. Anyone who can type can take the keyboard or laptop and write user stories, take notes, update hours and change outlook appointments. If you want a self-organizing and empowered development team you cannot do everything for them, including taking notes. I often get asked if a Scrum Master is a full-time role because all they have seen are Scrum Masters that run all the meetings and take all the notes. If that’s all you do, it’s understandable why one would see it as a part-time job.

Trap #2: You ask people for status updates in the Daily Scrum

Do you find yourself repetitively asking everyone on the team what they did yesterday, what they’re going to do today and if they have any impediments? A self-organizing development team should know how to measure their own progress toward the Sprint Goal and if they don’t, it’s your role to help them. If they don’t know how to keep the meeting to 15 minutes or less, it’s completely acceptable for you as the Scrum Master to help the team address this issue.  If the entire team is checked-out on social media or reading up on the news during meetings, it’s a good sign they’re not using this Scrum event for its intended purpose.

Trap #3: Team Mom

As the Team Mom, you are the one constantly asking team members to update their hours in the tracking tool? Does their response make you feel like you’re asking them to clean their room? Development is a development team responsibility. Providing transparency into progress toward team goals is the responsibility of the Development team. If they do not provide enough transparency they should expect to be asked to produce status reports, do time tracking, report to a Project Manager, you get the picture.

Trap #4: Ignoring the data

When do you and the development team look at the Sprint burn-down chart? Is it only in the Sprint Retrospective? Does the Product Owner have to plan releases? If so, do they have a release plan based on reality? As a Scrum development team gets work done, there are opportunities to capture meaningful data. I would look to metrics like velocity to understand how much complex work a development team can complete per-sprint while working at a sustainable pace. Used appropriately, this information can be used to build a release plan and release burndown (Jira’s “Version Report” does a nice job.)  Look at defect rates and expose opportunities to build fewer expensive defects by applying modern software craftsmanship techniques whenever possible. Test driven design (a form of mistake-proofing), pair programming, and behavior driven development can all help to help maximize your use of data.

Trap #5: Attending every Daily Scrum

If you go to every Daily Scrum/Standup and do the above, I challenge you to re-evaluate your role a little differently. As a Scrum Master, you are not the Project Manager, you are not the team secretary, and you are not the team “mom”. You have a higher-level role that comes with great importance. You exist to ensure the Scrum Team can be successful using the Scrum framework. You do this by teaching, mentoring, coaching, and facilitating as needed or requested. You remove the roadblocks that slow progress and waste everyone’s time. If you focus on these aspects enough, you won’t have time to go to every Daily Scrum. If your development team knows the purpose of a Daily Scrum and stick to it, you’ll no longer be needed to attend. According to the Scrum Guide, only the development team is mandatory in this meeting anyway. Aim to maximize the development team’s self-reliance and empowerment by leaving them to self-organize on holding and conducting the Daily Scrum

Final thoughts

Now that you are aware of the five common traps Scrum Masters fall into, I hope you will do your best to avoid them, help your colleagues avoid them, and work on getting yourself out of any pitfall you may currently find yourself in. Let’s change the world of software development to a state in which the word “agile” is more than just passing fad and buzzword of the moment. We can’t do that if Scrum Masters aren’t properly teaching and promoting the Scrum Framework and relentlessly seeking to remove impediments. If you fall into these five traps you’ll find great difficulty in becoming a great Scrum Master. Every Scrum Master should continuously seek to uphold the five values of Scrum: courage, focus, commitment, respect, and openness to work towards a lifetime goal of Scrum mastery. If you’re serious about becoming the best Scrum Master you can be, read my Top Book Recommendations for Scrum Change Agents blog or learn about Scrum Master certification with the two-day Professional Scrum Master class.

Robert Pieper

I like Metalcore, and cupcakes.
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