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What was your personal definition of success as a scrum master?

It’s something that evolved over time.

In the beginning, my definition of success was that the team likes me. I was a brand new scrum master and I was preoccupied thinking about whether I was doing a great job or not, if the team were happy with my performance or not, and whether I was helping them achieve their goals.

In essence, filled with self-doubt and doing my best to ensure that the team liked me and found value in my contribution.


Over time, I began to realise that as long as I was doing a good job, the team didn’t really care about whether I was liked or not.

A good job at that stage meant that I needed to focus on whether the team were improving with each sprint. Were they beginning to work together as a team and collaborate toward solving hard and compelling problems.

So, team improvement then became my yardstick.

I was focused on whether the team were getting better across a number of metrics and measures.

In the early days, I was focused on whether the team were improving technically.

I was still working as a lead developer at that time and my focus tended to orientate around whether or not the team were developing a solid technical foundation.

At the end of each sprint, we would review performance and I would assess whether the team were improving from a technical perspective each week and each sprint.

Moving from technical focus to scrum master

As I moved away from being a developer and focused on being a scrum master exclusively, my focus evolved with that transition and I began to think about improvement in very different ways.

I started to focus on the relationship aspects of the team environment.

  • Were the team getting along and bonding as a team?
  • Were they able to have the difficult conversations that matter?
  • Did each member of the team feel as if they had a voice and that their voice mattered?

Today we would talk about psychological safety but back then it wasn’t as well known or talked about. It turns out to be one of the most valuable measures of a team’s success.

Can each person in the team talk openly and respectfully about the challenges they are facing? Are they able to disagree respectfully and voice both their opinion and their recommendations?

Do they feel safe knowing that their contribution to the team is valued and respected?

Today, psychological safety is still one of the primary measures of success in the teams I work with.

It’s incredibly valuable that each member of the team feels safe and valued in their working environment and that their perspective matters to both the team and the organisation.

Extending my sphere of influence

As I grew as a scrum master and began to work on solving organisational impediments, my focus shifted to the organisational level and how much influence I could develop outside of the scrum team.

I needed to develop my influence and ensure that I could have an impact within the organisation to help my team acquire the resources they needed and remove the impediments that blocked their progress.

I wanted to focus on which organisational influences were impacting my team and work outside of the organisational contstraints to help my team. I wanted to focus on being the person that could address and resolve complex problems within the organisation and have a significant impact on my team’s success.

I developed my coaching capabilities and focused on coaching individuals within the organisation to discover the best answers to our most compelling problems and actively worked with those individuals to help the teams at the coalface excel in their working environments.

And that’s pretty much where I am today.

Success as an Agile coach and Scrum Master

Looking back on the influences that helped me define success from the early days to today, they are all important.

Helping the team improve their technical capabilities is important. Helping the team develop and nurture relationships is incredibly important. Helping the team create an environment of psychological safety is incredibly important. Growing their influence and impact within the organisation is incredibly important.

This is why being a scrum master is a very complex and tough job because there are a lot of things that are involved in achieving those objectives and creating an environment where the team can excel.

There are a lot of moving parts and a great deal of complexity to become a successful scrum master.

If you are new to the scrum master role, I would advise you to start small.

Focus exclusively on your immediate team and work toward creating an environment where that team can excel. Forget about the organisational side to start with and just focus on doing the best job you can to help your team improve with each sprint.

You want to focus on whether the team are able to create a process together and actively improve on that process each week.

Are the team able to work on creating stronger and healthier interpersonal relationships and can they find ways to improve on those elements each week?

Are they able to have tough conversations and are they able to invite conflict into the equation with the objective of resolving these issues effectively and using the various contributions of the team to discover and deploy the best answers and opportunities for growth?

Are your team able to communicate effectively and consistently achieve their sprint goals?

As you see more success in these areas, you can gradually expand your focus toward the broader organisation and develop your influence and capabilities in those arenas.

You’re going to start assessing which organisational policies and processes have the greatest impact on your team’s ability to progress. Are these organisational policies creating impediments for the team and if so, how?

What is consistently coming through the organisational pipeline and creating problems for the team? What conversations do you need to have and are you willing to have those tough conversations at the organisational level to help your team excel?

As you grow your influence within the organisation, you will start to develop great relationships within the organisation that help you move the needle on impediments and opportunities which impact your team.

So, in summary, start small with a focus on improvement within your team and over time, expand your relationships and influence to become more effective at the organisational level.

In my opinion, that’s a great definition of success for a growing scrum master and aspiring agile coach.

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