Getting started as a Scrum Master can be pretty easy. Take some time to read the Scrum Guide to learn the mechanics of the framework, watch a few videos to go deeper into the role, and then perhaps attend a certification course to learn how to apply these principles in practice.
But even though getting started as a Scrum Master can be relatively easy, the next steps in your journey to becoming a great Scrum Master often aren’t so clear. How do you learn to handle the tough situations that will inevitably arise day-to-day? Or how do you learn to step out of your daily responsibilities and see the bigger picture of how your team is evolving? And finally, how do you ensure that you are growing as a Scrum Master so that you’re continually improving in your quest to help your team become more effective?
Achieving these more advanced goals often isn’t as easy as getting started, but lucky there are some simple practices that can help you take those next steps.
Find Your Tribe
One of single the most effective things you can do to become a more effective Scrum Master is simply to interact with other Scrum Masters. Spending time with other Scrum Masters can reveal a wealth of information, practices, and resources that you may not have been aware of. You’ll be exposed to new perspectives on how to handle common problems faced by Scrum teams and you might even gain insights into how your own practices and behaviors are perceived.
But how do you do this? The easiest way is to simply invite other Scrum Masters in your organization to a regular session in which everyone can meet and share their experiences with their own Scrum teams. A morning coffee chat or even a Friday afternoon session to unwind at the end of the week once per month both work well for this. The only rule is to make it a regular occurrence at a time when everyone can attend without feeling rushed.
Once your group is together, take the opportunity to share recent experiences and developments that have affected your team as well as how you handled them. Then ask if anyone in attendance has encountered similar situations and, if so, how they handled them. You might learn some new approaches to handling the situation should you encounter it again. In addition, if there are others in attendance who haven’t encountered the same situation then they will not only be better prepared to recognize the same situation but they will also have a few tools in their toolbox to handle it when it occurs.
But what if you’re the only Scrum Master in your organization? Maybe you work for a small organization or maybe your organization has just begun its Scrum journey and yours is the first Scrum team on the ground. What do you do then?
In that case, try to find other Scrum Masters in your local area with which you can establish the same standing meeting. Perhaps this is a coffee chat early one morning or lunch at a convenient location one day per month.
While it’s true that Scrum Masters from outside of your organization may not have the same insights into your organization’s unique culture and dynamics, you may find that these same Scrum Masters bring a fresh perspective to your problems simply because of different approaches that they've tried in their own organizations. Simply becoming aware of the challenges and experiences of Scrum teams in another organization can open your mind to perspectives and practices that you may not have even considered.
Start a Scrum Master’s Journal
The next practice is even simpler. Go to your favorite bookstore and buy a nice journal and pen. Then every day, at the end of the day, take 10 minutes to write down the day's experiences.
A great model for this is the Sprint Retrospective that you’re already engaging in with your own team, but from the perspective of your own daily interactions.
Record what you did in your role that day that seemed to have a positive effect on your team and what that effect was. Then record anything that occurred that didn’t go as well as you would have liked. And finally, consider whether there is anything that you’d like to try differently tomorrow.
I would also suggest that you make a note of any major events that occurred during that day, such as key developments that occurred with your team or important events that occurred within your organization. This will help you better understand the context of your notes as well as any external dynamics that may have been affecting your team when you revisit your notes in the future.
Taking a mere 10 minutes at the end of each day to perform a bit of introspection can be incredibly powerful. Not only will this help improve your awareness of your own actions and what effects they have on your team, but it will also help you start to better identify patterns that seem to be affecting your team and better equip you to intervene when you spot those patterns occurring.
Find a Mentor
Interacting with other Scrum Masters will expose you to new perspectives that you may not have previously considered. And starting a regular habit of journaling will help improve your self-awareness of your own behaviors and how those behaviors may be affecting your team. But what about the truly tough problems that you’ll face as a Scrum Master? What about those challenges that are not only facing your team, but also your own growth as a Scrum Master? For that, you’ll need the one-on-one interaction of a mentor.
A great mentor can help illuminate the path on your journey to self-development, act as a sounding board as you work through some of your toughest challenges, and even help you spot possible pitfalls that may lie in wait on the path ahead.
Many Scrum Masters have found that regularly participating in a structured mentoring session on a weekly or monthly basis has been one of the most impactful experiences of their career. But where do you find someone to fill the mentorship role for you?
Many senior Scrum Masters are often willing to serve as a mentor to those who are more junior not only because it can be so personally rewarding, but also because serving as mentor can often be an incredibly illuminating experience, as well.
However, if a more senior Scrum Master is not available then many agile coaches are often more than happy to serve this role. Or, if you’ve taken part in a formal Scrum Master training course then consider reaching out to your Scrum trainer as many trainers are happy to continue their relationships with their students beyond the classroom in this same capacity.
But, barring that, many coaches and Scrum Masters are also happy to engage in virtual mentoring arrangements. In these arrangements, a mentor will regularly engage with you in a virtual setting, often working through a very structured and productive mentoring relationship using video conferencing and other collaboration software.
Putting This Into Practice
Regardless of how you start, regularly interacting with other Scrum Masters and engaging in a broader practice of introspection and increased self-awareness will pay tremendous dividends for your growth as a Scrum Master.
You owe it to not only yourself but also your team to begin investing in improving your craft as a Scrum Master by putting these ideas into practice today.
Are you new to the Scrum Master role and are just trying to find your way? Or, are you an experienced Scrum Master who has your feet wet but now you're ready to take your craft to the next level? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Scrum Master and help your team reach their highest potential.
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