Agile methodology is now the most popular project management methodology adopted by software development teams. A Scrum Master is the facilitator who needs to ensure that team lives agile values and follow the agreed processes and practices. The role of a Scrum Master is very wide and open-ended with diverse responsibilities. The top challenge any organization faces during transition to Scrum is ‘resistance to change’. This makes the role of a Scrum Master quite challenging.
Here are insights from Industry practitioners Scrum Masters in Ontario discussing about the challenges they face with tips to overcome these challenges.
Challenge – One of the misconception is that a Scrum Master should lead all Scrum events which ultimately lead to creating a perception among Scrum team members that these events are solely owned by the Scrum Master. The scrum teams sometimes do not collectively take ownership of the events allocated to them. They may consider it as a burden, and not own their outcomes.
Tip – To bust this myth, I would suggest the Scrum Master should facilitate fewer events and instead mentor the team members to facilitate their own events. Another way is to create delegates within the team and break the facilitation overall responsibility into multiple roles like scribe, time keeper and lead facilitator; and let the different team member play different roles on these events.
Challenge – As a Scrum Master you may not be technically equipped with the understanding of all technical estimations and are usually dependent on your technical team for estimates. This could sometimes lead to over or under estimations for timelines.
Tip – You can use wild card method (all developer to advise their estimates at the same time, so that any difference can be discussed); or, you can have a tech lead role assigned to the most senior technical resource in the team who can validate the estimates.
Challenge – Lack of Product Owner engagement in critical agile meetings can lead to issues within the team members with regards to scope and quality.
Tip – Scrum Master should build a strong relationship with the Product Owner and work closely with the Product Owner to establish common understanding with respect to the responsibilities of both Product Owner and Scrum Master early in the project.
Challenge – The biggest challenge you may face as a Scrum Master is to tackle with the expedited requests for change. An expedited change request from business often leads to disruption of the sprint cycles.
Tip – While the Scrum framework discourages taking any change request during the sprint, however, in practice, it is sometimes not always possible to defer. The way to handle it is to minimize the impact by re-prioritizing the items in the existing or upcoming sprint and ensuring proper communication with the stakeholders to ensure clear understanding of the impact of the change request.
One of the primary responsibilities of a Scrum Master is to help build self-organizing teams that trust each other and work collaboratively to meet goals. To build such teams, a Scrum Master has to be an effective Teacher, Coach and Mentor for the team in different circumstances. While these terms can sometimes be used interchangeably, they are quite different and require different actions from the Scrum Master.
One major challenge for Scrum Masters is identifying when to wear the right hat (Teacher, Coach or Mentor) when working with Agile teams.
Teacher: A Scrum Master has to be a teacher when the team is relatively junior (or does not have all the skills) and needs to be taught how to work on their task. Here, the Scrum Master gives helpful hints and points the team to what the solution could be. These tips encourage the team to investigate a little more and come to the conclusion on their own. This way they have a sense of achievement and become confident in being able to complete their tasks. If not done properly, the team will become dependent on the Scrum Master and will wait to be told what to do the next (like a typical Manager would), instead of self-organizing and experimenting with options.
Coach: A Scrum Master has to be a coach when the team has the skills but cannot choose between the various ways or options available to address a specific problem or issue. The goal of coaching is not consulting or problem solving. Rather a good coach asks open-ended questions in a neutral environment focused on the challenge at hand. Using effective listening techniques and asking “non-judgmental” questions allows the team member or team to unlock their potential and realize that the solution lies within them.
Mentor: This is a long term relationship that the Scrum Master forms with the team, and it is not targeted at a specific problem like a Coach. As a Mentor, the Scrum Master forms a bond with the team and progressively shares his/her experience that can benefit the team. This exposes the team to situations they can learn from and expand their decision-making skills. In this case, the Scrum Master does not “teach” or ask questions like a “coach”, but shares personal experiences over time. This can be a powerful way to connect with the team and by sharing both ups and downs gives the team the trust and confidence to experiment with creative options in their tasks.
Selecting the right “hat” allows the Scrum Master to give the team the appropriate level of support the team might need to succeed. This also helps build strong relationships and trust within the team, and creates an atmosphere of transparency, creativity and trust that ultimately leads to high performing, collaborative and self-organizing teams.
Challenge – Scrum is one of the most agile and robust methodology which has changed the way projects are delivered. With quick response time and regular iterations, it helps in overcoming any issues/changes early in the project. That said, one of the major challenges which a Scrum Master faces is to manage conflicts. Conflicts can arise from your team, stakeholders or Product Owner. As a Scrum Master, it is your responsibility to curb them at an early stage and focus on delivery.
Tip – To overcome this challenge, a Scrum Master should always try to be connected with the team and keep them motivated at all time. This comes from having regular discussions with team, asking open-ended questions, having empathy, finding common ground and inspiring your team members to do the same with other team members. This gives them a sense of respect and helps in imbibing the feeling of ownership, thereby contributing to the success of project.
Challenge – ‘Working software’ over ‘comprehensive documentation’, one of the guiding principles of Agile software development is often misinterpreted by delivery teams. Scrum Master needs to ensure that the project delivery teams understand the priority and act accordingly. Documentation is imperative for any project as long as it provides the value and doesn’t obstruct the incremental shippable functionality of the product.
Tip – In order to reduce time-to-market and deliver value to the business, teams need to focus on writing test cases for the system. This is executable documentation that justifies the realities of the working software. Unit test, functional test, acceptance test and integration test not only empower teams to create working software but also create worthy documentation of the system. High ROI(return on investment) and low TCO(total cost of ownership) are the results of a successful delivery team that is engaged, and has the clarity and buy in to guiding principles.
Challenge – I believe the biggest challenge for a scrum master is having the team work collaboratively so we can deliver incremental value to all the stakeholders.
Tips – The way I approach is by the following methods:
What all these top tips have in common is that communication is the foundation of any methodology adopted for project management and delivery. Scrum Master has a key role to play in communicating well with stakeholders at all levels to support the organization in its transformation journey.