Scrum Master Pitfalls: Mistakes to Avoid

Greg: All right, Robb. So we’ve got our students that keep coming to me during our class and saying “Hey, I’m jumping into the Scrum Master thing, and I’ve just got hired. What do I need to watch out for? What are some common pitfalls here?” And I think it’s a valid question, because you’re going into it thinking well, I got to know Scrum, check I do. I got to do all the events, check. And I’m like, wait a minute. Do you? One of the common pitfalls, and I’ll just kind of kick this off as I’m sure we’ll ping pong on this for a bit, is thinking that the Scrum Master has to run every single event in Scrum or they’re not doing their job. And I think that’s kind of a misnomer. Like the Daily Scrum, for instance. That’s completely a developers’ thing once they learn how to do that, and a Scrum Master may facilitate that. That’s kind of theirs. A Scrum Master might hang around just to be there as an asset, but they don’t need to run that event. I think that’s true for other events as well. But I see that as one common pitfall is that Scrum Masters think they have to do the events. That’s their job. Do you have any that are consistent for you?

Robb: Yeah, it’s common for Scrum Masters to just sort of default back to this project manager role, like, well, who’s going to run the meeting? Who’s going to take all the notes? Who’s going to set up the outlook appointments? And that is not your job and that’s not supporting self-management if you take that job on, or you know, there’s so busy doing tactical work that they don’t have time to strike up conversations with adjacent teams and teach them how Scrum works and how best to interact with your team or remove those impediments that your team is slowed down by. If they’re constantly doing tactical work, they’re missing out on the opportunity to do the more strategic work. So yeah, Scrum Masters becoming a secretary, becoming a project manager. Another pitfall is they just don’t know Scrum. I mean, take those words literally Scrum “Master”, like karate master, right? When you say Karate Master, I’m thinking somebody can kick my @ss. I’m not thinking of somebody who just got their white belt. Right? And so just because you got your Scrum Master certification, you’re a white belt. And you got years to go before you’re really a master at your craft. It’s just too bad that the certificates don’t say something like, you know, Professional Scrum white belt.

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Greg: Maybe that’s an entire other approach. I dig that. Oh, I think another one that I find is an issue is Scrum Masters that feel like they have to solve the problems. They get itchy when people get stuck. And so, they’re like here, just do it this way. And they try to push people forward and instead of literally being patient and giving teams a chance to sort it out by asking powerful questions instead of literally just trying to bulldoze things into well, we got five minutes left, let’s finish this up. Here’s what we’re doing. And they just need to kind of relax, let teams fail safely. That’s a whole other topic and let them solve the problem. Let them own it. But yeah, that’s another one that comes up. 

Robb: All right, yeah. So don’t problem solve. Reveal. Don’t resolve. That’s the tip we give the class. Expose the problems, create transparency around them, but then put it up to the team, the entire group to find better solutions. Another thing with Scrum Masters always showing up to the Daily Scrum I usually recommend, hey, just don’t show up for a couple days and see what happens. Do they fall on their face? Because that would be a sign of over reliance on a Scrum Master which the Scrum Master could have created. Any others you got?

Greg: There’s plenty of tips. I think these are some good nuggets, though, that ought to get a Scrum Master at least thinking about oops, check, that’s me. Oh, yep, that one. That one’s also me. Remember that self-management is the key and a lot of the things we just talked about, kind of get in the way of that. And if that’s not happening Scrum is going to struggle, so.

Robb: Yep. All right. Well, thanks. Good ideas.

Greg: Yeah, lots of great ideas.

Greg Crown

Likes baking, craft beer, whisk(e)y & beaches.