How to get started as a scrum master

Congratulations you’re now a scrum master! You probably just got your certificate or you have been transitioned into that role and are now beginning your journey into the agile world. Great! So what comes next after that? It’s time to get started and do the work. Like many things in the agile world, there is no absolute “correct” way to start being a scrum master but fortunately, there are things you can do to get off to a good start and here are some of them.

#1 Don’t make any recommendations… yet

When starting as a scrum master whether with a new team or as a freshly minted scrum master the first thing to remember is to do no harm. Your first days or weeks should be focused on building an image of their current way of working. It’s to understand the stories behind their current way of working and the people who have shaped them. The first order of business is to understand which means that you as a scrum master should listen more than you talk.

The worst thing you can do is to come in with your guns blazing and prescribe what needs to be done without first understanding what you are getting into. So the first thing to do is to make sure that you don’t make the situation worse. Coming in and making things worse automatically makes the rest of your engagement with the teams an uphill battle and we don’t want that.

#2 . Join the fun

The best way to understand what’s going on is to be a part of it. Spend time with the teams. Join whatever practices they have now, sit with them or eat lunch together. While you do that be observant with the nuances of the different teams. Understand the dynamics in play and listen in for the pain points that the team talks about.

#3 Get organized

Write down what you know and what you’ve observed. There are many dimensions that need to be considered when you look at an organization. The most obvious one is the way its structured, which people are in which teams and who reports to who. Beyond that there is the political and social structure. This refers to the social groups like which social groups exist in the organization? Are there members of the group that are highly regarded and respected? All this information is useful and will come in later on. As a baseline these are some key questions you should have answers to before you start rocking the boat with changes:

  • Who are the stakeholders and what is their idea of value?
  • Where is the work coming from and where does it end? Which people and teams are involved in the work?
  • How is the team composed?
  • What roles do people have? How do the roles work together?
  • What the most painful thing for the team right now?
  • What do people want to achieve in the long run?
  • Where does the work come from?
  • How do the teams interact with other teams?
  • What kinds of blockers or dependencies do the teams have?

#4 Build a plan

A plan doesn’t have to be a really long one but being able to have an idea of where the team is now versus where the team should be in the future. To start with your plan should be able to identify what the biggest pain points are and what experiments you’ll be running in order to address it. Of course, the plan isn’t set in stone and it will continuously evolve but having one at the start helps you keep organized.

#5 Get down to business

Time to put your plan into action. There are generally two approaches that people take. The first being the big bang approach which is to try to take on the biggest pain point right from the start. For some teams, it could be something like introducing Scrum and all the practices and artifacts that go along with it. A really big change that is sure to rock the boat. Big bang changes are deceiving in nature. On paper, it looks like a lot has happened overnight but the real work starts after the big change has happened because no matter how much introduction talks or primers you give a team they’ll never be a hundred percent ready for the real thing. So when the real thing happens you’ll still have a lot of day to day coaching to do.

The other approach is less invasive and focuses on small wins. Look for easy changes the teams can make and start there. This approach slowly adds changes on top of changes that over time will reshape the way people work. This also gives the benefit of having the chance to explain each change on its own which gives teams more time to digest and internalize the value of what is being done.

#6 Stay organized

As you do the day to day work with the teams you need to stay organized. Keep track of the experiments or changes being done and what problems they aim to solve. Keep an eye on the general mood of the team and how they respond to changes. Look for trends and recurring problems that come up when the team discusses things. Staying organized will help you figure out your next step in the journey.

That’s it! That is my quick guide on what to do as a new Scrum master. It’s an exciting journey and will definitely have its ups and downs but is very rewarding nonetheless.

If you like my writing check out my book The Agilist Field Guide. It has a lot of content which will help you out on your journey as a scrum master.