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This article describes a routine Day in the life of a Scrum Master. A Scrum Master’s role is often misunderstood. People think that its a co-ordination role or worse still, Scrum Master is often considered a renamed “project manager”. The Scrum Guide says that Scrum Master is a true leader who serves. In this article I have shared some possible activities that I found useful as a scrum master in order to help the Scrum Team to implement Scrum – as defined in the guide and improve their effectiveness.

Day in the life of a Scrum Master – Supporting the Scrum Team(s)

Checking on the team space

Checking if everything is going fine could be a good start. Scrum master observes the team space to check if there are any infrastructure issues, anyone not able to work because of IDs locked out or zoom ID suspended etc. Scrum Master not necessarily checks with everyone however observation technique should be enough. If people are working remotely just a message on a messaging tool such as WhatsApp could be enough.

Sometimes human being related issues could affect. Resignations, unplanned leaves, sickness, demotivated team members could be some examples. It might be worthwhile for the Scrum Master to think about some suggestions that he/she might make to the developers or product owner during the day. 

Observation of Burn downs, Scrum Boards, impediment boards, happiness index

Observation of day to day boards, missing updates on scrum boards, deviations etc might be some good points for the Developers to talk to each other in the daily Scrum. If the developers don’t bring it up then politely coach them to discuss the deviations and what help they may need to bring things back on track.

Facilitation of Sprint Planning, Daily scrum, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective

Scrum Master does not run the daily scrum. However, Scrum Master must ensure that the daily scrum happens and developers know the intent. 

Many of the times daily scrums become a “show-off” forum for many people. Scrum Master must get the daily scrum back on track while ensuring people don’t get upset for stopping them. Saying things like 

“Hey Vinay, looks like you have done really substantial work on this aspect. Why don’t we have a coffee to discuss the same after the daily scrum. Anyone who wants to join is welcome”.

“Hey Dilip and Madhavi, it looks like you both are having a great conversation. Why don’t you do this after daily Scrum and I would also like to join the conversation if you both are ok? Anyone else wants to join the discussion, you are welcome as long as Dilip and Madhavi are ok”

Using facilitation techniques such as round-robin or tossing the ball after 30 seconds, those who have impediments first should speak etc could be good techniques.

Facilitation of Sprint Planning, Sprint Review

First, Scrum Master has to ensure that the Scrum Events happen and people know the essence of them. Other than the Daily Scrum (which is a daily event), Sprint Planning, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective are events which must happen in every Sprint.

Second, The participants of the meetings often do not come to conclusions and the meetings extend. Scrum Master should get the meetings focused and results achieved. For example, in a Sprint Planning, the Sprint Goal and PB Item selection should be done before the meeting ends. Sprint Review is about feedback process. Many a times the Sprint Review turns into a bashing forum for the stakeholders to bash the developers. Scrum Master should get the meeting focused back on the feedback rather than being a bashing forum or just a gate check forum.

Causing Impediment removal

There may be some impediments identified which the team may not be able to solve themselves. It might be worth contacting the right persons in the organization who may help with impediment removal.

Facilitating Product Backlog Refinements

Many times Product Owner and Developers come unprepared for Sprint Planning Events. This ends up being an understanding-of-requirements forum. The work should be split into smaller items much before and not during the sprint planning. Sprint Planning should be quick and should focus on any remaining clarifications. Understanding of what needs to be done over the next or next-to-next sprint should happen in a structured way in the form of product backlog refinement activity. While Scrum does not suggest any specific formats or timelines, it is worthwhile for Scrum Master to discuss it out with Product Owner and Developers on a frequency and format to understand the future. It is then worthwhile for Scrum Master to keep reminding the Product Owner and Developers on having the activity at a decided frequency to ensure that the Product Backlog is ready enough for the next couple of sprints.

Coaching, Mentoring, Teaching the Scrum Team in a Sprint Retrospective or elsewhere

Scrum Team members need help on various things on a day-to-day basis. They might get stuck on a problem (technical or non-technical). Scrum Master may wear a teacher hat if he/she knows the direct solution. Scrum Master may wear a mentor hat if direct solution is not known but if Scrum Master has faced similar problems in the past and help the team solve the problem using the experience. Sometimes if the solution is neither known to Scrum Master or to the Scrum Team, then one can wear the coaching hat and ask probing questions to lead the Scrum team to answers. This is usually done in a Sprint Retrospective but not limited to the forum.

Creating a safe environment and remove fear for failure

Many organizations look at failures negatively and there is a culture of punishing failures. On a day-to-day basis, removal of fear is an important activity. If there is a fear for failure then encouraging and motivating is an ongoing activity. Ensuring that team members don’t get exposed even if the failure happens is important. If the culture of punishing failures is not removed, people don’t try things and always take a safe route. This inhibits innovation and risk taking abilities.

Creating a culture of Self Management

Team members often wait for directions from seniors. Discussing and talking it out with people on self management is extremely important. On a day-to-day basis it has to be discussed with the Scrum Team on the importance of managing their own taks, allocating their own tasks, alignment of team members to goals etc. Scrum Master’s job is to get the team self managed and in fact not increase dependency on self.

Facilitating Release Planning

Workshop may have to be facilitated between stakeholders, Product Owner and Developers to plan releases. Scrum Master’s job is to make sure this happens and things don’t progress in an ad-hoc fashion.

Facilitating communication with managers

Managers many times indulge in ad hoc requests which may cause flow problems for the teams. Evaluating, discussing, negotiating with managers might be required many of the times. Developers might not be equipped to speak up due to various issues such as cultures, customer-vendor relationships, unrealistic service levels etc. 

Relationship Management

Causing Impediment removal for your team might be easier said than done. People help you because you help others. Scrum Master is a lot about relationship management. Other Scrum Masters might need help from you. Checking if you can extend help to others may be a good idea. One must ensure that you don’t go overboard on providing help. However , if you don’t do it then why would anyone extend help when you need it for your team.

Tools and techniques demonstrations

Looking at the day to day should instigate the scrum master to find out possible ways to improve productivity and reduce routine repetitive work. Finding out from other teams, other organization’s or researching may give some ideas for the Scrum Master to suggest to the Scrum Team. These tools and techniques demonstrations or presentations can be arranged for the Scrum Team.

Awareness about what is going on around

Catering to organization invites for what is happening in the organization is necessary. If you are not aware about what is going on then how would you know what to offer to your team?

Team Building activities

Scrum cadence introduces a lot of stress for people. Relieving stress via some team building activities may be a good idea to arrange for the team.

Floor meets

Creating the euphoria and excitement of a change is an important job of a Scrum Master. When organizational design changes happen, it is important to hold floor meetings, communicate the desire to change. While Scrum Master may not himself/herself do all this, facilitating the floor meeting with the help of HR and leadership is an important activity.

Day in the life of a Scrum Master – Supporting the Scrum Team(s) – Working in a Multi-Team Environment for a large product setup

Facilitating Scrum of Scrums

Multi-team products require dependency resolution on a regular basis. Scrum of Scrum forum is a good way for representatives of teams to talk to each other and resolve dependencies. Scrum Master should help create a cadence for these meetings and help the teams resolve technical and inter-team dependencies.

Facilitating Meta Scrums

Multiple Products in the organization may need Meta Scrum to discuss business dependencies, release planning process, process to organize release trains etc. Scrum Masters across multiple products should organize the structure by suggesting a cadence for the multi-product releases.

Facilitation of DoD creation

Multiple teams may go out of sync on the quality criteria and may end up with a product which does not meet customer expectations. Scrum Master must facilitate discussions between various teams to discuss the DoD among themselves and agree upon the quality criteria. This should happen regularly so that the quality improves consistently.

Day in the life of a Scrum Master – Working with rest Of the organization

Organizational impediments often impact the delivery of products. This may involve the different departments causing impediments or there may be organizational support required by the teams on the ground to get success

Preparing for attritions or career moves

Attrition, job-moves, role-changes are part and parcel of real life. As a Scrum Master one must facilitate knowledge sharing sessions, prevent formation of silo cultures, prevent the hero cultures in organizations. Honing and getting the new generation ready as team members move from one role to another has to be a well planned process. This requires facilitating with managers and Product Owner for budgets to onboard new trainees, training budgets, time for cross-skilling etc.

Creating and Nurturing communities

Impediment solving is easier said than done. Impediments are solved by a community of people and not by individuals. Nurturing communities and connecting people is the easiest way of solving problems. Scrum Masters of different teams should connect with each other and create communities for collaboration. This could be based on skills or cultures or regions. Many organizations call these guilds.

Coaching, Mentoring, Teaching the organizational players

Organizational players such as customers, management, HR, Administration may not be aware about Scrum, Agile or its benefits. They end up causing various impediments for teams. For example, some management’s take adhoc decision of using some framework such as Scrum. They may not know why they are doing it. HR might take decisions on individual rewards model not knowing what the implications of individual rewards in a collaborative environment are.

Facilitating Organizational Design Changes

As a change agent for the organization, the Scrum Master helps change the thought processes of the entire organization which may include Management, HR, Admin and other departments. Following could be some of the examples of organizational design changes brought about by the Scrum Master

Command and control leadership style to servant leadership style

Leadership is used to a particular leadership style. Many leaders resort to “Do it because I say so” kind of style. Servant Leadership style involves enabling the team to take decisions instead of forcing things on the team. This requires time and substantial convincing effort for the Scrum Master.

Establish Fear-free culture and creating a safe environment

One of the major issues with organizations is that the management is always judgmental of the people. Therefore, the team members rarely like to take risks. Being defensive may not always be the right behavior in the team. Scrum Master has to ensure that a safe environment is created for people to fail. This requires a lot of mentoring of Senior management and cultural change in the organizations. This requires a design change in the organizations in the way people think and the way people are appraised.

Feature teams vs Component teams

A Feature team takes end to end responsibilities of the product and creates viable products each sprint. To take end to end responsibility, the team restructuring and reskilling may be required. More importantly the culture within the organization may have to be relooked at. For example, the team needs to be cross functional to make a good feature team. That means, Scrum team needs to have all skills necessary within the teams to make products. This involves teaching and mentoring of the team members to find ways to build cross functional skills. The team members have to be made ready to not think in silos. Silo culture removal requires design changes such as convincing the team members, management and also making sure that the team members are ready for some cross training.

Collaborative mindset with vendors

Many a times the culture in the organizations is to look at the vendor as an outside entity. This creates divides between the customer and the vendor. Usually the PO accountability is taken up by someone from the customer side and the delivery is done by team members usually provided by vendors (usually in India in the IT world). If there is divide between the customer and the vendor, the collaboration gets affected and delivery may not happen properly. Scrum Master needs to make efforts so that the complaining mindset of many from customer has to go down and the vendor team members have to be made to feel a part of the product team. This needs Scrum Master’s effort in making thought process level changes in the organizations so that the collaboration happens. This may involve relationship building, confidence building and weeding out the bad behaviors – usually a long term design change.