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The Scrum Master’s dark side

    The main goal of the Scrum Master is to create a highly productive team that is self-organizing and continuously improving. They do this by acting as a servant leader, coaching the team when needed, and creating the space for team members to own their work, their decisions, and the opportunities for self-improvement.

    Many Scrum Masters act in the dark side. Often because that’s how their organizations define the role, other times because they feel the urge to step in and “help the team”. When these things happen, the role of the Scrum Master is diminished and the ability of the team to grow as a productive and self-organizing team is compromised. Let’s look at some common anti-patterns:

    Thing that Scrum Masters often do – and they shouldn’t

    Common anti-patterns for Scrum Masters:

    • The Scrum Master is the one updating cards in Jira, adding details, and assigning tasks to team members.
    • When the team changes how to do the work, the Scrum Master interjects and tries to correct them immediately, instead of letting the team try a new way.
    • The Scrum Master facilitates the Daily Scrum by deciding who speaks, when, and how much.
    • The Scrum Master jots down what is said at Daily Scrum and later emails a status report to everyone on the team to summarize decisions taken and update who missed the event.
    • The Scrum Master measures team metrics and provides status or progress updates to external stakeholders.
    • The Retrospective is just another meeting rather than an opportunity for the team to find ways to improve and identify actions items.
    • The Scrum Master sweeps conflict and problems under the rug by not using Sprint Retrospectives to address those openly.
    • The Scrum Master provides estimates for the work when the Developers are not available.
    • The Scrum Master writes User Stories to get them “Ready” for Sprint Planning and updates the Acceptance Criteria without engaging the rest of the team.

    Scrum Master tips

    Effective Scrum Master create such an effective team that they are no longer needed and can move forward to another team. A few things Scrum Masters can do to help their teams grow:

    • Do not touch the work. Let the team members update cards in Jira, refine acceptance criteria, check Burn-down charts for status, move cards on the team board, etc.
    • Coach the Product Owner and the Developers on how to write User Stories and Acceptance Criteria, and how to refine them. Don’t do the work on their behalf but teach them how to do it.
    • Let the team fail at times and guide them in Retrospective on ways they could improve
    • Facilitate events by creating the space for the outcomes of the event to happen but without guiding every action in it
    • Step back from guiding the Daily Scrum. Let the team self-manage it on their own. Use the Retrospective to discuss ways for the team to make it more effective.
    • Do not attend the Daily Scrum, and later ask the team how it went. Or participate by dialing-in, and don’t say anything to observe how to team self-organizes.
    • Ask another Scrum Master to facilitate your team’s Retrospective, and offer to return the favor. This will allow you to participate in your team’s Retrospective, and learn techniques from another Scrum Master.
    • Make sure the Scrum Team uses Sprint Review not as a “demo” but more as an opportunity to solicit feedback from stakeholders. Also, get feedback not only on the product increment, but also on the upcoming priorities in the Product Backlog, on updates to the Release Plan, and on updates to the Roadmap. Coach the Product Owner on how to lead these conversations.
    • Make sure that the Developers commit to a Sprint Backlog at or below capacity, and that they leave a buffer for unexpected work.
    • Coach the Product Owner/Manager on things they can do better to support the team (e.g. context about User Stories, availability for testing, access to customers for discovery, etc.)

    Sprint Your Way to Scrum

    These and other tips are described in the book Sprint Your Way to Scrum, available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other major bookstores. The book offers 50 tips on how to improve your Scrum Team.

    Sprint Your Way to Scrum book cover

    Learn more

    Read more about the five Scrum events and how to effectively run them.

    Get a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification.

    Test your knowledge of Scrum with a CSM practice test.