Scrum Master is one of the three core roles in Scrum, and Scrum is becoming a very popular framework for agile software development. But what do Scrum Masters need to be able to do? This article will go over the most important skills for a Scrum Master. So you can find out more about the role. And think whether it might be right for you. Let’s get into it!
Scrum Master is one of the three core roles (now called accountabilities) in the Scrum framework for agile software development. The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum team’s effectiveness, and for implementing and coaching Scrum. It is a crucial role and often misunderstood and undervalued.
I’ve written before about how Scrum Master is a difficult but rewarding job. It is also a very well paid one at the moment. You can compare Scrum Master to Product Owner and Project Manager salaries to see what I mean.
It is also a role that is increasingly in-demand. So you are future-proofing your career by moving into this space. Scrum is only increasing in popularity and that is likely to continue.
So there are lots of good reasons to become a Scrum Master. What skills do you need though? We will go through those one by one.
Here are the most important skills for a Scrum Master. These are of course my opinions. Others may disagree and that’s ok!
You need to be able to facilitate. That means, bring people together, get people talking, get people collaborating. You need to be able to listen (and that’s a harder skill than you might think!). You need to be able to balance voices, to encourage the quieter ones to speak more, and the louder ones to speak less.
You need to be able to keep a group of people on track and focus on the task at hand. This is one of the most important tools in the Scrum Master’s toolbag.
This one is a no-brainer. A Scrum Master is, by definition, supposed to be a Master of Scrum! You can’t call yourself a Scrum Master just because you’ve done a two-day course and a multiple-choice exam.
You need to know Scrum inside out and back to front. And not just regurgitating what is in the Scrum Guide either. You need to understand the why behind all the roles, rules and artifacts of Scrum. And how they relate to the values and principles of agile software development.
The team will need to make decisions, constantly. What to work on, what not to work on. Where to focus, where to swarm, when to mob, when to go solo. When to automate, when to not. When, where and how to pay down technical debt. When to slow down and focus on continuous improvement, when to surge and push through.
These aren’t solo decisions, of course. The whole team needs to have a voice here (and a Scrum Master has to be a good facilitator to ensure different voices are heard). But a Scrum Master, while being a servant leader, is of course a leader. And sometimes that means stepping forward and applying their Scrum knowledge.
While a Scrum Master doesn’t need extensive development experience, they need some form of technical knowledge. Assuming the Scrum team is building software, technology is core to all of the team’s work and decisions. A Scrum Master will be at a big disadvantage if they aren’t able to be in those conversations and join those dots.
I’m not a software developer by trade but I have taught myself some coding and stay on top of engineering ideas and practices. It is not only helpful in understanding conversations but can earn you the respect of engineers also.
A Scrum Master is a type of coach. It is actually a role not that different to an agile coach. A Scrum Master has to coach the team (and its members) on Scrum. And they have to coach the organization on Scrum.
Over time, a Scrum Master will often move from focusing more on the team, to more on the organization. But in either case, you need to know and understand coaching.
There are numerous coaching frameworks, such as the GROW, CLEAR and OSCAR. Get familiar with them. Read some case studies. Have a think about which of them might work in your context and organization. Apply them and learn from your experience. Then do it again. Coaching is a lifetime journey!
Scrum is a framework for developing products under conditions of uncertainty. (Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a project management framework!). So a Scrum Master needs to understand products and product management.
While a Scrum team has a product owner, that person might not have a background in agile or Scrum. And the Scrum approach to product management is quite different from what the organization might be used to!
The Scrum Guide is very clear that the Scrum Master needs to work closely with the Product Owner. And coach them on Scrum and how it relates to product management. So you need to know your stuff!
This last one might sound a bit “wishy-washy”, but it’s real. Emotional Intelligence has been shown to be a stronger predictor in work and life than IQ! (You can read more about EQ in Daniel Goleman’s landmark book “Emotional Intelligence“).
This skill (which is the ability to read, understand and respond to the emotions of yourself and others) is vital for coaches, managers, scrum masters, and many other jobs. It will help you understand and form strong bonds with teams and people. I can’t rate this one enough.
In summary, there are some key skills for Scrum Masters, including Scrum knowledge, facilitation, emotional intelligence and technical knowledge. These are skills that Scrum Masters need at least a basic level in to start, and need to work on and improve over time. A good Scrum Master never stops learning!
What do you think? Do you feel there are other important skills I have left off this list?
Please let me know in the comments!