What Makes a Good Scrum Master? Top Tips and Common Scrum Master Mistakes

what makes a good scrum master

As a Scrum Master, you’re expected to know the Scrum Guide inside out, maybe even recite it from memory. You’re expected to diplomatically manage others’ expectations, resolve conflicts between people, or be the first to spot any impediments and find quick solutions. 

The Scrum Master role is challenging as it primarily focuses on dealing with people, and we all know that everyone is different. You need to juggle different personalities, communication styles, projects, and even multiple teams. On top of that, if you work in an environment that is resistant to change, your job gets much more complicated.

How to navigate the Scrum Master role without losing your sanity and without building up frustration as you advance your career? 

The most important tip — be Agile about it! Start small, test, see what works and what doesn’t, learn more about the people you’re working with, and get and give feedback. Introduce small improvements, and above all, be patient.

Most of the resistance in organizations comes from the fact that Agile and Scrum are misunderstood, and people don’t see value in Agile events. Your job as a great Scrum Master is to communicate that value in an efficient way so that, eventually, everyone gets on board. 

Here are a couple of Scrum Master qualities that could help you achieve that goal!

Scrum Master Qualities

Interpersonal communication skills are key. Check out which other areas you should be also working on – if you want to excel at your Scrum Master role.

Meeting people where they are 

Often people are at a different stage of Agile mindset transformation. Maybe they’ve had some Agile-related training, but they’re not actively practicing Agile in their everyday work. Don’t expect everyone to be on the same level as you — it probably took you some time to reach that level; they need time too. Don’t get frustrated if those around you don’t see the full potential of Scrum at first. You’re bound to come across some resistance. That’s a given, but meeting people where they are and not expecting a lot at the beginning will get you far.

Being comfortable with different personalities 

Each of us communicates our thoughts differently. We react and respond to the same situation in different manners, some are aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive, or assertive. Great Scrum Masters know how to adapt to others’ communication styles and strive for common understanding rather than escalating the conversation into a fight. 

Scrum Master is a people person. In your day-to-day activities, you’ll be dealing with people of all kinds, techies, non-techies, specialists from various fields with deep specialist knowledge, stakeholders, developers, product owners, you name it. You’ll be surrounded and talking to people ALL THE TIME. A good Scrum Master can communicate effectively and find common ground with different personality types. 

A good Scrum Master understands how each person expresses their feelings and adapts the conversation to their level. It’s a hell of a job — probably something we should all work on as it’s not only useful in our professional life but may come in handy in our personal relationships too.

Knowing it’s not your job to do EVERYTHING

This may ring true for the newbies. As a Scrum Master, you might think that it’s your job to do everything. Worse, you might even get your team accustomed to the fact that you do everything. Sooner or later, you’ll find out that you’re doing tasks that are way beyond your job description — like booking flights for the whole dev team for the company’s get-together or working with IT to replace someone’s laptop.

It’s not your job to remove all the impediments. You’re a team, and you’re part of the Scrum Team. You should always work together. Great Scrum Masters are great coaches, and they mentor the team to self-organize. 

It’s fair to lead the team at the beginning, especially if they are new to Scrum, but with time they will rely on you less, and they’ll take ownership of the whole development process. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be needed at that time. Your role will evolve once the team gets more mature in the Agile way of working. Great Scrum Masters empower the team to shine and make their own decisions.

Bringing clarity to what works well and what doesn’t

Scrum Masters experiment on a daily basis. You’d want to find out what really works and what doesn’t. Great Scrum Masters are not afraid to try new things – new retro formats, new ways of engaging stakeholders – just to be clear what really works well for your team. You will constantly adapt and find new ways to improve the communication, collaboration, and Agile way of working.

Being good at giving and receiving feedback

What brings clarity to what works well and what doesn’t is the ability to give and receive feedback. Good Scrum Masters know how to receive it and act on it. They’re also skilled in giving feedback to others so that they don’t appear judgmental and they don’t put the blame on others.

As a Scrum Master, you should do recurring check-ins with your team to hear their opinion. Don’t forget to provide your team with feedback too so that they can improve as well. Positive and negative feedback should be given on a regular basis, not only to focus on what didn’t work well but to learn how to praise others if they deserve it. Such actions will increase the team’s morale.

Being good at coaching others

Scrum Masters are great teachers, coaches, and mentors. As a Scrum Master, you’ll be the go-to person for anyone interested in learning more about Scrum. You’ll need to have the patience to explain the same concept over and over again to different people. You’ll be educating everyone about Agile, and Scrum, showing why following the iterative and incremental approach in software development is beneficial to the customer as well as to the organization. 

You’ll be the person that drives and opens an honest conversation about the challenges and solutions. Many will look up to you as an expert in Agile software development and someone knowing the Scrum Guide principles inside-out. You will help everyone understand the theory behind Scrum, and you’ll also safeguard the dev team and explain to everyone what they can work with and what they can’t.

Building trust

Trust is an important factor in any team’s dynamics. Great Scrum Masters know how to build trust within a team, observe, and listen. Everyone needs to feel safe to express their own opinions and feelings. They treat everyone with respect and as equals. Developers and stakeholders should see each other as peers and be at the same level, not one above the other, as this usually creates mistrust in the organization.

Scrum Masters help stakeholders put their trust in the development team so that the team can make their own decisions. They help also the development team understand the stakeholders’ perspective, which creates more understanding and respect for one another. 

Being assertive

Great Scrum Masters know when to simply say ‘NO.’ One of your tasks will be to protect the development team from distractions and work overload. You will learn how to manage others’ expectations and know when to push back if it’s too much for the team to handle.

The dev team is focused on the Sprint goal, and Scrum Master protects the quality of the project to the best of their abilities. No cutting corners or unnecessary technical debt. Great Scrum Masters will know how to talk to the stakeholders to safeguard the dev team.

Being creative

As a Scrum Master, you will run various workshops, striving to engage your audience so that they come up with better ideas, solutions, and improvements. Your creative spirit will help you in energizing your team’s brains. By incorporating some fun and gamification, you will continue to build trust within the team and let everyone get to know each other better. 

Laughing with your team is a great way of bringing everyone closer, which considerably improves communication and collaboration — especially if your team works remotely. Remember, bring some creativity and fun to the table!

And if you need some handy tips on how to work with distributed teams effectively and you want to get access to a bunch of templates that can give you that creative boost, check out our blog!

Easily adapting to new teams and environments

Good Scrum Masters know that the Scrum Guide doesn’t have all the answers. They need to adapt to teams that might operate in a different way or to environments where some processes need to be tweaked in order to be more effective. Being Agile is not about strictly holding onto the rules and principles that might not work for your particular team or set-up. It’s learning what works here and now and continuously improving the process.

Comfortable at managing and resolving conflicts

As a Scrum Master, you might come in between the dev team and product owner or the dev team and stakeholders. Miscommunication and misunderstandings are bound to happen with so many different people involved at different managerial levels and with different knowledge and skill sets. You should be comfortable with handling and resolving conflicts, making sure everyone is understood, and expectations are being managed without overpromising what can be done. 

Scrum Master Tools

Which tools are necessary for successful Scrum Masters? The fewer tools you use, the better, so pick them wisely. Here’s our list of what you mind find handy.

  • Productivity tool to manage the backlog and easily visualize the progress of the tasks (like Jira, Trello, or Asana).
  • Digital Whiteboards where you can brainstorm with your team, visualize Jira tickets, create a user story map, or conduct Daily Scrums. It’s especially beneficial for remote teams that do not see each other face-to-face daily.
  • Communication apps (like Slack or Teams).
  • Video conferencing tools (like Zoom, Skype, Google Meets, or using the in-built video chat option on a digital Whiteboard — the fewer tools, the better!).
  • Noise-canceling tool for calls that can come in handy in the most unexpected moments (like Krisp.ai).
  • Pen and pencil or a virtual notepad where you can note down all the ideas that come to your mind.
  • Last but not least — your eyes and your ears — to observe and listen so that you know exactly how to respond to a particular situation.
scrum master techniques for better communication

Scrum Master Techniques for Better Communication

Try these simple techniques in order to elevate your communication skills and effectively collaborate with people from different backgrounds.

Always have your camera on

Video chat is the second best thing after face-to-face communication. Make sure that you always turn on your camera, whenever you’re communicating with your team. It helps to convey the message and prevents misunderstandings. Gestures and facial expressions promote understanding much more than the language itself, plus it adds that human touch that sometimes we really miss — especially when working remotely.

Limit Daily Scrums to max 15 minutes

Make sure you limit Daily Scrums to max 15 minutes. Your team will convey concise messages, including the most important points that are valid for the whole team. Make it fun, and use a timer! If someone goes over time, think of a fun way to highlight it. 

Daily Scrums are not designed to discuss your holiday plans. Leave that for other sessions that are meant for socializing and getting to know your team better. The most important aspect of Daily Scrum is to spot any impediments that slow your team down. Get down to the bottom of it in max 15 minutes each day.

Make the communication visual

Pictures speak louder than words, and our brain processes visual information in a much more effortless way. Promote visual communication whenever you can; it’ll energize your team and bridge the communication gap far easier than words. Use a digital whiteboard, try new retro templates, or maybe some fun ice breakers, gifs, shapes, drawings, videos, and colors to give context and help visualize the ideas. No one likes sitting at a boring meeting; make sure the time you have with the Scrum team and the stakeholders matters and is fun. 

Promote open and non-violent communication

In case of heated discussions, figure out a way to make it possible for everyone to share their views without being interrupted. You can think of a specific item someone is holding or a specific icon that is attached to someone’s avatar on a digital whiteboard when working remotely. Everyone can listen to different points of view with respect, and everyone feels that their voice is heard. It creates a more inclusive environment and promotes peaceful conflict resolution. Accept that people will sometimes have different views, and express your feelings without blaming, criticizing others, or making demands.

Involve Stakeholders from the start

Great Scrum Masters know that the stakeholders should be involved from the start. Without their feedback, your job will be much harder because you will constantly bounce from the dev team to higher management and back. Stakeholders are your allies — it’s not about being the peacemaker between two camps — the sooner everyone understands it, the better. Show stakeholders that their involvement in Sprint Reviews matters, and find ways to engage them so that they provide invaluable feedback during and after each Sprint Review session.

common scrum master mistakes

Common Scrum Master Mistakes

Avoid these common Scrum Master mistakes to make sure your Scrum Master career is on track.

Acting like a personal assistant

You’re not someone’s personal assistant responsible for booking all the meetings, taking notes, sending memos, and bringing coffee in the morning (in the worst-case scenario). If the Scrum Master role is misunderstood in your organization, teach others what your role is really about and how you can bring value to the team and to the whole business. Explain, communicate, and mentor those around you; it might seem like a hard job at first, but once everyone understands that you’re not there to run all the errands, your way to converting everyone into having an Agile mindset will be much easier.

Being responsible for the whole project

You’re very much PART of the Scrum team, you’re not above it, and you do not hold the sole responsibility for the whole project. If something goes not according to the plan, it’s shared ownership — you are not the only one responsible.

Making decisions on behalf of the team

If a stakeholder or product owner asks your team to do a tiny additional thing during the current Sprint — don’t make the decision on behalf of the team on the spot. No matter how small the task is, take it to the team, discuss it, and give the answer back to the requester. Do not assume that it will be very easy to build and that your team can handle that additional responsibility where the current Sprint scope has already been defined. Your team will thank you.

Not running retro sessions after every Sprint

The Agile way of working is about bringing value in small increments, improving at every step of the process. Even if your team is great, there is surely something that could be improved. Don’t skip retrospectives; they are an essential part of Scrum so that you can reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and how to improve. You will be well surprised by how many insights you will come up with after each retro. And don’t forget, always finish the meeting with clear action points. 

Skipping Daily Scrums

Daily Scrums are essential for effective team collaboration, and they give an opportunity to communicate any impediments. The quicker they are spotted, the easier it will be to find solutions that won’t compromise the Sprint Goal.

Taking sides

Great Scrum Masters are impartial, no matter who their friends are. Everyone is equal, and each opinion matters, so try not to take sides. You should strive to be an objective listener, looking for the best possible solutions for everyone involved.

Key Points

The Scrum Master role is challenging but can be extremely rewarding when done with the right attitude! Remember these key points in order to elevate your career and become a great Master of Scrum.

  • Make sure your team communicates impediments when they appear.
  • Address and resolve conflicts as soon as you spot them.
  • Be human, recognize that everyone is different, and respect others’ opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. 
  • Bring clarity so that everyone is clear about your role and recognizes the value of Scrum.
  • Be impartial, and get and give feedback to constantly improve.
  • Experiment, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, be creative and introduce some fun to Agile events.
  • Know when to say ‘NO’ and push back — you know best what the Scrum team can and can’t handle.

One more thing, remember that conflict doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing. Conflicts open a conversation and bring something new to the table, a different perspective. Through conflicts, we can actually find better ideas, refine the requirements, or get a better understanding of the complexity of the task. Conflicts can actually lead to breakthrough innovations. Don’t shy away from them at all costs, as they might make your product better!

And for your next retro session with your Scrum team, try one of our templates.