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How does a scrum master help with continuous excellence in a scrum team?

How does a scrum master help with continuous excellence in a scrum team?

Contributing to continuing excellence is about maintaining excellence, keeping an eye on the team’s performance, and using everything at your disposal to help the team be the best they can be today.

A scrum master is not involved in the delivery of a product, feature, or service so it isn’t on them to produce work that meets the measure of excellence, instead, they need to use their influence, coaching skills, facilitation skills, and agile coaching skills to help the team achieve that standard.

Challenge the scrum team

What we can do, as a scrum master, is challenge the development team and product owner.

We are going to be asking questions that push the team to think about what excellence means and how that can be delivered and improved upon. We are going to be asking questions that challenge whether the best solution has been discovered and whether the hard conversations have been had in order to determine which idea, proposed solution, or recommendation should be pursued.

We are going to be challenging the team to improve at every opportunity.

This is where the agile coaching element comes into being a scrum master. You are going to ask if there’s a better way, challenge assumptions and help coach the team to uncover the best options available to them.

We are going to explore whether there is a better way to achieve a goal or objective, in their process, in their way of working, in all aspects of their team environment.

All of this coaching and facilitation will add up to continuing improvement and help the team excel.

Help the team focus

We are also responsible for helping the scrum team to focus on excellence by keeping them honest.

A scrum master would observe the team’s process, ask them questions about that process and why they feel their process is the best process available to them. In essence, you would act as a mirror for the scrum team and help them to focus on the opportunities for improvement available to them.

As the agile coach, you’re going to reflect to the team how they are performing against their own processes and agreed standards.

We don’t mandate so we don’t walk into a room and tell people that they are doing things wrong, nor do we point out what needs to be done.

As a scrum master and agile coach, you need to be exploring these topics with the team and letting them know that your role will involve asking questions, challenging assumptions, and exploring why the team operate the way they do.

You’ll be questioning why the team made the decisions they have and empower them to focus on the areas that need improvement or readjustment to suit how things actually work in the team environment.

As an example, you may notice that the team are skipping performance testing when it has been agreed that this is an important part of their process.

You wouldn’t call the team out and point out that they are cutting corners and are wrong.

Instead, you would ask a question.

You might say, I’ve noticed that we have done significantly fewer performance tests in the past x amount of time, and I am curious as to why? Is there a reason why we are doing fewer tests and is this an improvement in our process or simply a workaround for the moment?

Ask the team to help you understand the challenges they are facing and the work they are doing.

Doing so gives the team an opportunity to reflect on why things are happening the way they are and if it needs correcting. It gives them an opportunity to acknowledge that certain things may be slipping from their process and reaffirm why those processes are important to delivery.

As a scrum master, you are not there as a guardian of technical excellence. You are, instead, a guardian of their integrity.

We are there to help the team do what they said they would do, within the time frames and processes they committed to doing it.

Grow your own knowledge

As a scrum master, you are often working with people who excel in technical areas. Be that web development, software engineering, or design.

You don’t need to be an expert in the field, nor do you need to have the same level of proficiency as the experts you are working with.

What you do need, however, is enough working knowledge of the subject matter and the working environment to be able to challenge the team and assert yourself as a scrum master.

Invest the time and effort to read about the work you are doing and to educate yourself on technical elements that you are capable of understanding. Do your research, have conversations with experts, and grow your knowledge of the field within which you work.

As a scrum master and agile coach, you are entitled to ask questions of the developers and request that they help you understand the technical elements which are causing them frustration or presenting roadblocks.

Having conversations with the team will grow your knowledge of the technical environment and help you understand what best practice and technical excellence looks like.

It also helps the team reflect on what technical excellence is and how they are performing against the industry standard for technical excellence.

As you do your research, you might discover new tools and techniques that could help the team.

You could inject those findings or recommendations into conversations with the team and potentially help them explore new ways to improve and achieve their goals and objectives.

I will often start a coaching engagement by recommending that someone on the team read a book, an article, watch a video, or attend a specific seminar because I can see that it may present a solution for the team, but I want the team to make that discovery for themselves.

When the person you’ve asked to do the research has done so, offer them the opportunity to give the team feedback on what they have learned and how they think it could improve their process, help remove the obstacles they face, or feed into their commitment to continuous excellence.

These things do take time.

Sometimes the team may percolate on the idea or opportunity for a number of months before committing to trying it or adopting it. The team need to own the new solution or opportunity and giving them the opportunity to discover it’s worth for themselves is a great way to present that opportunity.

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master course page.

If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to both validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master course page.

If you like the idea of mentored and coach driven skills development, visit our Agile Coach Academy.

If you have identified coaching as a valuable skill to develop, visit our on-demand Introduction to Coaching course page.

For more information on John McFadyen, visit