Attributes of Successful Scrum Masters / Iteration Managers

Scrum Masters, Iteration Managers should be very good in knowing and implementing scrum practices. The following are some of the essentials skills, they should have.

  • Make sure Scrum practices add value
  • Transparency of team’s work in terms of status, backlog, progress etc.
  • Backlog grooming and Technical readiness of stories
  • Own blockers, impediments, either resolve or find timely work around
  • Ability to see hidden and unspoken impediments
  • Engage stakeholders esp. PM, PO/business
  • Planning well and planning ahead
  • Analytical skills

Besides Scrum, I think it is equally important to have essential soft skills and personality traits which will surely help scrum masters in a big way. In fact, these attributes are applicable to any role (Business Analyst, PM etc.) that deals with stakeholders, teams.

Personality Traits:

  • Be confident
  • Look energetic
  • Respond positively
  • Constructive interactions
  • Helping outlook

I would also touch base some of the following professional attributes which are important for these roles.

  • Communication Skills
  • Business outlook – Customer Perspective
  • Empathy and Emotional Quotient
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Strategic Outlook and Analytical Abilities
  • Manage expectations

Communication

The way you communicate and carry yourself is the gateway of your perception in the minds of people. Some tips:

Verbal:

  • Be a good and active LISTENER
  • Ask right questions which leads towards resolving the complexity or ambiguity of the issue
  • Analyse in your mind why this person is saying so? Ask yourself questions – is he worried, does he need information, does he expect some decision, wants and needs, try to understand his intent and read emotions
  • Tailor your response in such a way that is emotionally well articulated and solution oriented, showing empathy is important

Written (email tips):

  • Email should be positive, don’t forget to appreciate someone if you can
  • Known primary and secondary recipient –to, cc
  • Subject clearly summarising the contents (often people changes the topic of discussion but subject remains same)
  • Clear and crisp – language clearly understandable by recipient (no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation)
  • Acknowledge emails ASAP, even if actual reply may take couple of days
  • Your stakeholder may be sitting miles away, how s/he will perceive your response given s/he may be from different background and different role
  • Try to rule out any scope of misinterpretation of your message
  • Use the lingo and terminology of the customer as far as possible – this will make him feel that you are someone like him, it will make the relation stronger and help in winning trust
  • Give attention while writing customer name – do not misspell

Emotional Quotient and Self Organisation

Cool and Calm in times of adversity [it is always about us, not you or me]

  • Don’t get overwhelmed by number of issues or complexity of issues, there is always a way out
  • Break down the problem into small units which can be discussed independently and identify impact of each
  • Prioritise and plan accordingly, think like devil’s advocate and see what all can go wrong (at times, withdraw and avoid are good strategies in the heat of the moment)

Work Management

  • Clarity of work
  • Know expectations clearly from your stakeholders and also articulate your expectations clearly
  • Do self-measurement at regular intervals and validate it with constant feedback
  • Do the same for the team you are managing – define clear and crisp definition of done with objective & measurable parameters as much as possible. Evaluate and give constructive feedback
  • Remember the golden rule “Under Commitment and Over Delivery”. Everyone feels happy to get more than expected
  •  Habit of introspecting (spend some time alone) and take feedback (formally/informally)

Business Outlook – Customer Perspective

  • Understand why customer has given this project to you or to your organization– is it domain competency, cost effectiveness, technological excellence, known for quality, high productivity, Agile ways of working or anything else – it can be a combination of many things – find out and make sure that your team delivers that
  • Some customers love metrics and some hate, learn his preferences and produce metrics accordingly which are meaningful (e.g. try to produce data showing how we are progressing towards objective goals set in the beginning as a part of success criteria)
  • Understand the difference between happy and delighted customer

Perfection – strive for perfection, no room for error (e.g. accuracy of data, precise and concise information, good and right use of colours, logo, terminology etc.)

Stakeholder Management

Show your stakeholders – you are with him, stand by with him. Show them his success is precious to you, his pain is your pain, strive to secure high reliability index. Your customer/stakeholders should rely on you, trust you. This is built over period of time.

  • Build relation – there is no substitute of building excellent relation. You may be 100% all right, and give perfect solution but until unless you have good relation – your credibility will not be established. Even perfect solution will not be very effective in the absence of good relation. Consider good relation as fuel that runs the car. Purpose of any solution is to remove worry. Worry cannot be removed if he has no confidence in you. Good relation is the first stepping stone to gain Confidence. Even an average solution can remove all of the worry in the mind of the stakeholder if you have good relation with him.
  • Winning the trust is half the job done. Good solution will take care of the other half.
  • As a good professional attribute, don’t let your stakeholders follow up you, respond on time and respond proactively  before someone asks
  • Learn art of saying ‘no’. Always try to give feeling that I will do everything to make you and your business a success. Don’t let him feel that you are trying to run away.

Connect with team, develop your people

Know your people very well,  analyse 2 kinds of skills – Technical skills to do the job and Soft skills

  • Identify skill level in each area of your team (may not be on paper but at least in your mind)
  • People with high skills in both areas should be given higher responsibility
  • People with moderate skill in each area may need short term coaching, training and fine tuning of skills, online courses, self-reading
  • People having low skill in any area should be given sufficient support such as assigning a buddy with them, pair programming, community of practice, short term and long term plan to help them improve skill, certifications, class room training etc.

Useful links:

Eight Tips to Become the Scrum Master Your Team Needs

Characteristics of a Great Scrum Master

Qualities of Highly Effective Scrum Masters

 

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