Scrum Masters in early project phases
For the purposes of this article, let’s fall back on a simile: IT projects are like journeys across unknown lands, challenges and goals. Fortunately, good Scrum Masters will always know how to set the course and, like a compass, steer the team across a sea of opportunities. Thanks to their skills in open-sea navigation, not even the worst storms will seem scary – and the sun will always come out in the end.
Read on to find out who Scrum Masters are and what they do from the very start of the project, setting the course, inspiring the team, and creating an atmosphere that leads to success. You will see that it is more than a title: it is a role with great impact and responsibility.
Who are Scrum Masters?
Scrum Masters play a key role in a project management methodology known as Scrum. Scrum is a popular framework under the Agile umbrella, aimed at facilitating flexible, effective product and service development. Scrum Masters play an important role in ensuring good outcomes and adherence to Scrum principles.
The following aspects and issues are most frequently mentioned in their job description:
- Facilitation and coaching: Scrum Masters are trainers and facilitators. They support processes and helps Scrum teams work more effectively.
- Obstacle removal: Scrum Masters are responsible for getting any obstacles out of the way. These may involve technical glitches, but also inefficient organisation. Moreover, they often help resolve conflicts between different team members.
- Adherence to Scrum principles: Scrum Masters make sure the team adheres to Scrum principles and practices, such as meetings (e.g. Daily Standup, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective) and correct roles and artifacts.
- Team protection: Scrum Masters protect the team from outside pressure and interruption, helping them focus on developing products and delivering value.
- Backlog control: Scrum Masters support Product Owners in controlling the backlog by eliminating doubts, excess tasks or tasks that do not contribute to project goals.
- Process improvement: Scrum Masters introduce and support processes (e.g. retrospectives) that help developers assess their own work and identify areas of possible improvement.
- Agile insights: Scrum Masters should come in with an in-depth knowledge of Agile and Scrum principles and know how to adapt them to the needs of the project at hand and its participants.
- Stakeholder connection: Scrum Masters communicate with stakeholders and developers, helping them understand their needs and making sure the team is working on top priorities.
Below, we will talk about how Scrum Masters approach their practice in a mature organisation that puts an emphasis on proper methodology from the get-go, i.e., from the start of the project. This is an ideal scenario and if an organisation wants to be really agile, it should always take care to implement it.
In the next instalment of our series, we will cover the role of an “emergency” or “life-saving” Scrum Master, who steps in at a later project stage to fix bugs and problems that developers would struggle with when left to their own devices.
When should Scrum Masters be included in a project?
Scrum Masters should join the project before it even begins, i.e., at the presales stage. Their assistance may have a really positive impact on project preparations and ultimate success. At this stage, they should be available for consultation on Agile frameworks. They can advise clients on Agile and Scrum issues and explain the benefits these methodologies may bring.
Once an agreement is signed, Scrum Masters join the project before it takes its final shape. Using their experience, they support the team in the team recruitment process, helping identify the skills and competences necessary for a given project type and making sure team members are a good fit for the project’s Scrum culture. If they know the organisation well, they also know how to transplant, e.g., personal duos, which have already worked well in similar projects in the past.
Scrum Masters and their role in a team
The job of Scrum Masters is to help define roles and responsibilities in a team. They help the team understand which tasks are assigned to which role and who does what, so as to avoid any future confusion and ensure clarity. This can be done, for instance, with a team chart containing information about the skills, experience and interests of each member. This will allow each member and their potential to be represented in more detail.
It is also a great idea to hold preliminary meetings where everyone can get to know each other, discuss their expectations and set common goals and rules of cooperation. Before the project starts, Scrum Masters may help the team create a schedule encompassing not just project tasks, but also training course, workshops and other activities designed to build a shared foundation of knowledge and skills.
From the very get-go, Scrum Masters play a crucial role in introducing the team to the principles, values and practices of the Scrum framework. They make sure each team member understands how Scrum works and grasps the meaning of its individual elements. They organise introductory training courses or workshops to build a shared foundation of knowledge and skills the team will need to work within the framework.
Preparing workshops/training courses includes the following tasks:
- Introduction to Scrum: Scrum Masters may organise dedicated training courses to discuss the basics of Scrum methodology, as well as the different roles and responsibilities within this framework. During the course, they will discuss the responsibilities of Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Project Managers and Development Teams, and explain how their cooperation affects project outcomes.
- Practical workshops: Workshops allow team members to understand the Scrum framework through interaction and group activity. These can involve exercises, sprint simulations, planning and other Scrum practices, organised in a controlled environment.
- Individual conversations: Scrum Masters may talk to team members individually to make sure everyone has understood basic Scrum concepts and principles, clear up any doubts and answer any additional questions.
- Contextualisation: Scrum Masters adapt their introductory courses or workshops to specific teams and projects. They explain what practices will work best in each case.
- Explanation of scrum values: During the course, Scrum Masters focus on imparting Scrum values such as flexibility, inspection and adaptation, as well as cooperation and continuous value delivery.
- Introduction to tools: Scrum Masters may also introduce the team to tools used in the Scrum framework, such as Kanban board management or project progress monitoring tools.
Introducing the team to the Scrum methodology is the key to achieving its full potential. Thanks to introductory courses and workshops, Scrum Masters help the team focus on common goals and effective cooperation.
Framework-specific project planning
Planning in the context of Scrum project management focuses on setting high-level goals and directions that function as points of reference for the team. The process requires the active engagement of everyone involved in the project. When drawing up a plan, Scrum Masters, Product Owners and developers identify the main goals of the sprint. The goals should be measurable and clearly defined, providing unambiguous guidelines for further action.
Scrum Masters often offer invaluable help when creating a Kanban or Scrum board, which represents tasks visually, allowing the team to track their progress and make adjustments. It is the role of the Scrum Master to monitor progress and assist the team in any necessary changes whenever obstacles crop up; without losing sight of project goals, of course!
Experienced Scrum Masters will support the process of identifying relationships between tasks, and resolving conflicts and obstacles that may affect the plan. Task analysis allows them to identify potential ways in which different tasks may be connected and better estimate the time they will take. This, in turn, gives more accurate start and end dates of individual project stages.
Creating a clear project schedule is crucial for the team to get a full picture of the process. Scrum Masters cooperate with the team to draw up a schedule that helps them understand the goals and expectations in any given period. Thanks to the schedule, they are better able to maintain focus and coordination and adapt to any changes or unexpected challenges. Quite simply, it is a tool that prevents chaos and confusion in the project.
Scrum Masters during the project
Once the project has started, Scrum Masters have a crucial role to play in ensuring its smooth progress, coordinating Scrum rituals and managing artifacts. Their tasks include:
- Managing rituals: Scrum Masters organise and facilitate rituals, such as a Daily Scrum, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective. They support the team, encouraging open information sharing, problem-solving and task planning. It is worth adding that their role is not so much to assign tasks as to make sure they are completed efficiently.
- Maintaining artifacts: Scrum Masters make sure artifacts such as Product Backlogs and Sprint Backlogs are updated and understood by everyone involved in the project. They support Product Owners in creating and prioritising backlog elements and help in work estimates and planning.
- Eliminating obstacles: the role of Scrum Masters is to identify and eliminate any obstacles that hinder progress. They help resolve conflicts, eliminate stumbling blocks, organise workflow and ensure the tools and resources the team needs to carry out their tasks effectively.
- Improving the process: Scrum Masters draw on their experience to continually improve the Scrum process by analysing rituals and team outcomes. They support programmers in identifying areas for improvement and experimenting with new solutions that may make them more effective.
- Providing support: Scrum Masters are coaches and mentors who support the team in the context of the Scrum framework. They help them tackle challenges, improve their skills and create an atmosphere that promotes mutual support and growth.
To support teams in the deployment of the Scrum methodology and creating a friendly workplace, Scrum Masters need to have the relevant soft skills in areas such as communication, conflict resolution, adaptability, patience, empathy and openness.
Team performance monitoring
Team performance monitoring is a key element in the management process that allows not only project progress to be tracked but also to assess efficiency, identify areas for improvement and adjust strategies. By systematically collecting and analysing data on teamwork and achievements, Scrum Masters are able to make well-reasoned decisions, take corrective measures and adapt plans to a dynamic project environment.
Monitoring team performance allows determining whether sprints achieve their goals in the expected timeframe, but also to identify potential obstacles or imperfections in the project. This in turn enables a swift response and adaptation so that problems can be effectively counteracted, and good practices maintained.
Monitoring also promotes internal cooperation and communication. The team is regularly engaged in analysing their progress and outcomes, which shapes an awareness of common goals and creates opportunities to reflect on the challenges they face during the project. As a consequence, the team get a chance to readjust their approach, develop their skills and take decisions that will have a positive impact on their work quality and outcomes.
As a result, monitoring is not simply a control mechanism for Scrum Masters and other management, but above all a way to continually improve teamwork and its outcomes. This allows a flexible and adaptable work environment to be built in which all team members are equally engaged in the pursuit of shared goals and continuous growth.
Would you like to know more about development team performance? Read our previous article: Efektywność zespołów developerskich. Co mierzyć i dlaczego?
Make friends with your Scrum Master
We hope that this article made you see what Scrum Masters are really there to do, and understand that they are the architects of success from day one. Their commitment, along with their ability to guide, inspire and create harmony, is the key to better outcomes and more effective software development.
Just like a journey across unknown lands, every project stage is a challenge, and cooperation with a Scrum Master helps the team stay on course in the face of even the hardest obstacles. Read the second part of this article to find out about their role in moments of crisis.