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Q&A on The Great ScrumMaster

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Key Takeaways

  • Great ScrumMasters must be good listeners, facilitators, emphatic, coaches and servant leaders.
  • Great ScrumMasters will create great self-organized high-performing teams
  • As a ScrumMaster you shall regularly push a team out of their comfort zone.
  • ScrumMasters shall work at all three levels of of #ScrumMasterWay concept.
  • ScrumMasters shall experiment, be playful and curious.

In The Great ScrumMaster  Zuzana Šochová explores the ScrumMaster role and provides solutions for dealing with everyday and difficult situations. She describes the #ScrumMasterWay, a concept which defines three levels of operation of ScrumMasters.

InfoQ readers can download chapter two from The Great ScrumMaster.

InfoQ interviewed Zuzana Šochová about why we need ScrumMasters, the advantages and disadvantages of combining the ScrumMaster role with the team member role, how the work that a ScrumMaster does changes when the team becomes more mature, the three levels of the ScrumMaster way, which skills ScrumMasters need to acquire to become great ScrumMasters, why ScrumMasters should be working at the system level and how they can do that, and how ScrumMasters can use retrospectives to increase positivity.

InfoQ: What made you decide to write this book?

Zuzana Šochová: Writing a book is hard unless you have a clear message to be shared and an internal voice which force you to share it. It took me a while until I understood what is expected from me as a ScrumMaster. I’ve been lost in all those responsibilities, and a traditional mindset. Later on, I’ve been teaching hundreds of ScrumMasters at my CSM (Certified ScrumMaster®) classes and all of them came with the same misunderstanding of the ScrumMaster role being team assistants, team ‘mothers’ spending most of their energy removing impediments. They’ve been leaving my class with sparks in their eyes, high motivation and energy to change things. And they were successful, creating great high-performing teams and being great ScrumMasters.

I felt happy, but at the same time frustrated as even when I do my best and teach classes every day, I can’t change the world. I can only teach a few people which is not enough. As my frustration grows I decided to do something about it and share all the ScrumMasters‘ wisdom in a book and help others to learn from my experience and mistakes.

 InfoQ: For whom is this book intended?

Šochová: This book is a guidebook for all ScrumMasters, Agile coaches, and leaders who want to transform their organizations. It’s intended to give you a reference to the general concepts every ScrumMaster should understand and point you toward resources that may help you in resolving difficult situations. It is supposed to be your starting point in searching for help or ideas on where to go next. On top of that, it’s full of practical examples of how to apply each concept. The book includes illustrations which help you to orient in the subject and provide associations you will remember. 

Being a great ScrumMaster is a journey, and this book guides you through that journey.

InfoQ: Which are the purpose and goal for ScrumMasters, why do we need them?

Šochová: ScrumMasters have many responsibilities. Because it is hard to link them to any role in the traditional world, it’s hard to understand what they are really doing all day. Great ScrumMasters must be good listeners, facilitators, empathic, coaches and servant leaders. They shall be the biggest enthusiasts of agile and Scrum, otherwise they can’t get people engaged. Great ScrumMasters will create great self-organized high-performing teams and as a result of that make their company successful.

InfoQ: Which are the advantages and disadvantages of combining the ScrumMaster role with the team member role?

Šochová: You cannot be wearing two hats at the same time. You have to decide; if you want to be ScrumMaster, then you need an overview. You have to be looking at a team from a distance. Don’t be involved. As a ScrumMaster you shall regularly push a team out of their comfort zone. Help them to improve, and change. As a ScrumMaster who is team member at the same time, you lose the overview and are usually limiting your  ScrumMaster focus to a minimum and acting as a team member most of your time. If you need to give your ScrumMasters more work, let them take care of multiple teams. It will allow them to focus and gives them more experiences so that they can become better ScrumMasters.

InfoQ: How does the work that a ScrumMaster does change when the team becomes more mature?

Šochová: When the development team is more self-organized, ScrumMasters willl have more time which they can spent at other levels of #ScrumMasterWay concept. They can coach Product Owners, facilitate communication with other teams, help the organization as such to embrace agile and Scrum values, and build communities. At this point of time ScrumMasters will help you to create an agile organization and change the leadership style. 

InfoQ: Which are the three levels of the ScrumMaster Way?

Šochová: The first is MyTeam. ScrumMasters where are almost like team members. They look at things from the development team perspective: Explaining different agile practices, facilitating Scrum meetings, help removing impediments, coaching the team, and making the team great.

The second level is Relationships. where ScrumMasters are looking at team from much higher perspective, focusing their teaching, mentoring, facilitation, and coaching skills to improve relationships between team and other entities. Coaching the Product Owner to build a great vision, and facilitating conversation with other teams. Building a bigger eco-system which is self-organized.

Finally, the third level is the Entire System. ScrumMasters shall look at the company as a system, from ten thousand feet distance. Searching for organizational improvements. They shall become servant leaders, helping others to become leaders, grow communities, and heal relationships. Bring the agile values to the organizational level.

InfoQ: Which skills do ScrumMasters need to acquire to become great ScrumMasters?

Šochová: In addition to the solid agile and Scrum foundation knowledge and experiences, the most important would be to get facilitation and coaching skills. Without those they can’t reach the goal of high-performing self-organized teams. Furthermore, they need some understanding of change management, agile product ownership and business, extreme programming practices, and leadership and people development. They shall improve in communication skills and become good listeners.

InfoQ: In your book you mention that ScrumMasters should be working at the system level. Can you explain why, and how they can do that?

Šochová: At a  certain point of being agile, the traditional methods for achieving the next state fail because they are not based on self-organization and don’t see the organization as a system but as a hierarchy. The methods that were useful on the previous two levels of the #ScrumMasterWay model, such as organizing workshops, explaining, bringing in new concepts, and coaching at the team level are failing as the organization is already too complex. You would have to experiment, be playful and curious, and try different things to stimulate reactions. The system will give you some feedback, and all you have to do is to believe that every system is naturally creative and intelligent, so the people in that system don’t need you to tell them what to do. They will find out. However, they might not see it in the first instance, so they need you as a coach to challenge their status quo and reveal to them what you have seen from your different viewpoint.

InfoQ: How can ScrumMasters use retrospectives to increase positivity?

Šochová: ScrumMasters shall use any situation to increase positivity and the retrospective is definitely one of those. Positivity works as a bank account. If you have enough money you are good. And no surprising expenses can make you frustrated. If your balance is around zero, even the smallest exceptional expense will stress you out. The same applies to positivity. If you are in great shape as a team, happy, fulfilled, motivated, then even a big problem can be approached and solved smilingly. If you have a dysfunctional team with lack of trust, every small issue starts a war. Positivity is actually one of the secrets of the great ScrumMaster :)

About the Book Author

Zuzana “Zuzi” Šochová is an independent agile coach and trainer and a Certified Scrum Trainer with more than fifteen years of experience in the IT industry. She started with agile and Scrum back in 2005, when she was implementing agile methods in the USA. From that time, she has been credited with agile transformation and implementation for many companies and teams around the world. As a Certified Scrum Trainer with Scrum Alliance, Zuzi has trained thousands of ScrumMasters and Product Owners. By creating and sustaining agile leadership, Zuzi believes the worlds of work and life can be made happier and more successful.

She is a regular speaker at conferences. Zuzi is a founder of the Czech Agile Association, and the world famous AgilePrague conference. Zuzi was elected to the Scrum Alliance Board of Directors in 2017. She is author of The Great Scrum Master: #ScrumMasterWay book.

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