Since the start of the new millennium, strategic planning and decision making within software development organisations have increasingly shifted to agile principles led by Scrum Masters.
The early founders of the Scrum Alliance, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, centre Scrum around five key values: Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage.
They believe that these values must be truly embraced by living them, but does that mean that anyone can be a Scrum Master? Ask yourself the following questions if you are considering this career path:
1. Do You Use Reflective Listening?
Scrum Masters should always be looking for methods to remove impediments to progress and productivity within a team. Simply listening to the concerns of team members can reveal potential impediments, but it can also help to develop a sense of trust amongst team members.
It’s always a good skill to be able to speak like a pro, but reflective listening techniques are amongst the most powerful tools a Scrum Master can use.
2. Can You Influence Others?
Are you a manager or are you a leader? Do you know the differences between the two? A Scrum Master is much more of a leader in that they encourage and inspire others without the use of authority (as a manager might do).
If you are able to influence others without imposing any authority over them, you are essentially empowering your team members towards progress and success.
3. Do You Genuinely Enjoy Helping Others?
Do you only choose to help others in a begrudging manner or do you genuinely enjoy the fruits of success in helping others achieve a common goal? A successful Scrum Master must enjoy helping others.
At the core of the Agile Manifesto, individuals and interactions should always come before processes and tools. This isn’t to say that processes and tools are not important, but rather that they are always secondary to the agile methods used to develop software by using the power of people through collaborative methods.
4. Do You Love Being the Centre of Attention?
The importance of a Scrum Master may lead one to believe that they deserve all of the glory and praise for a job well done, but this is not the case. Temper any hubris you may have and the desire to be the centre of attention and instead recognise that you are a facilitator and not a director.
The success of your team will be a moment shared amongst themselves, with the reward for the Scrum Master being the peace of mind knowing that they empowered their team to achieve their very best.
5. Do You Handle Pressure Well?
It’s well-known that in the tech industry, burnouts and the dreaded ‘crunch’ of software development schedules cause immense stress. Preventing burnout in the tech industry is certainly a good start, but as a Scrum Master, you’ve got to collaborate with team members that might be undergoing immense pressure.
How well you handle pressure as a Scrum Master in these situations can be critical to the roll-out of a new product, so the ability to handle pressure is a prerequisite.
6. How Do You Handle Uncertainty?
Scrum Masters and project managers alike often face uncertainty, such as incomplete product backlogs or changes to software architecture as a project progresses. Whilst a Scrum Master doesn’t need to be thrilled about uncertainty (and most likely, few are), they must at the very least feel comfortable within it.
To do so means putting trust in your team members. It also means not trying to completely eliminate uncertainty as this is a lofty goal that will either be impossible or lead to immense frustration amongst team members.
7. Are You Technically Adept?
This last question requires some moderation; as a Scrum Master, you must be able to understand enough technical jargon from your team members to adequately address their concerns vis-à-vis the project. On the other hand, you need not become a complete expert in each and every technical discipline.
Instead, a Scrum Master should be able to understand the needs of their team members, including some fluency in the project’s details.
Do You Have What it Takes to Be a Scrum Master?
If you’re able to confidently answer the above questions, chances are you may make a successful Scrum Master indeed. It isn’t for everyone and it does require plenty of people skills that not everyone has, but the prospects can be quite lucrative for those that do possess the right qualities.
Paula O Gorman is the manager at Promotive, a marketing agency based in Ireland.
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