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Personality traits of an excellent Scrum Master

Bring it to the team” should be the daily motto of an excellent Scrum Master. Nobody can truly fulfil this role without being fully committed to the team. This means that Scrum Masters must be humble in recognising that they can’t reach Scrum goals alone but must rely on the work of a well-organised and disciplined team. As Mike Cohn writes, “A good scrum master is not in it for the ego … a humble ScrumMaster is willing to do whatever is necessary to help the team achieve its goal”. In the context of a Sprint Scrum Master, humility does not preclude leadership but is rather an integral aspect of it. Scrum Inc. Chief Operating Officer Alex Brown puts it this way: “[T]he best leaders typically have the drive to encourage and enable others, which is required if the team is going to achieve its full potential”.

Scrum Masters must be proactive and ensure above all that, as Barry Overeem says, “the entire team supports the implemented Scrum process”. The Scrum Master may have to model and encourage collaboration in the early stages of a project, and later will almost certainly be called upon to introduce new techniques, such as test-driven development and pair programming. Gradually, the role of a Scrum Master should evolve from “daily intervention in teamwork to becoming an occasional mentor and advisor”, in Overeem’s words. Scrum Masters influence rather than dictate, inspiring by example and showing leadership by their knowledge and abilities. Always vigilant, excellent Scrum Masters are ever ready to fulfil their leadership role by exerting leverage throughout an organisation. In this way, they serve as a bridge between the scrum team and senior staff in a way that fosters collaboration and achieves sprint goals.

The kind of responsibility assumed by a Scrum Master is different from that generally associated with corporate leadership. One of the skills of a successful Scrum Master is not to wield power but rather to encourage his or her team to take ownership of and responsibility for the project. Mike Cohn points out that the Scrum Master’s responsibility is limited to ensuring the “team’s adoption of Scrum and practice of it”. Cohn quotes Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart in a perfect summing up of the role: the Scrum Master is “a responsibility junkie … not a power junkie”. Of course, the team must comprise talented individuals who rely on one another and their Scrum Master to achieve something that none could create alone. The key is communication; a good Scrum Master will always be approachable and willing to engage courteously in fruitful discussion to reach sprint goals.

The best of Scrum Masters recognise that learning and knowledge are required for their growth and inspiring team members. They know that as Cohn says, acquiring “technical, market, or specific knowledge” is essential to helping team members come to terms with any challenges they face. Both the Scrum Master’s knowledge and his or her ability to impart it are crucial to team members’ growth. Good Scrum Masters build a collaborative culture in which members of the scrum team are not apprehensive about asking questions and in which open discussion is viewed as a positive thing. In such an atmosphere all team members, as well as the Scrum Master, will feel comfortable about calling out a fellow team member when necessary; in turn, that member will not be defensive when faced with criticism, but will instead view the intervention as a step in the process of improving teamwork and outcomes. It lies with the Scrum Master to ensure, ultimately that issues raised are resolved promptly so that they don’t impede subsequent work.

To be truly effective, Scrum Masters must be assigned to a project for its entirety, because changes are inevitably disruptive. The Scrum Master’s absolute commitment to the project is vital to its success.

This is one in a series of articles exploring the Advanced Certified ScrumMaster learning objectives. If you would like to learn more about how Agile Centre can help you deepen your knowledge of Scrum Mastery then join us for one of our Advanced Certified ScrumMaster courses. For in-house classes or coaching please contact us for details. 

Advanced Certified ScrumMaster Learning Objective 1.5: Debate at least five personality traits of an excellent ScrumMaster (e.g., proactive, curious, humble, improving, learning, responsible, committed).