Mentoring Scrum Masters

Scrum May 25, 2021

One of the great privileges of being an agile coach is that I get to mentor scrum masters. This is particularly rewarding when I can support someone coming into the role from a non technical background. I avoid focusing on the mechanics of scrum and take the following approach to mentoring, that I believe helps create a deeper understanding of the role.

In thinking this through on my morning walk, I have realised that this also probably has value in it for seasoned scrum masters starting with a new team.

Month 1 - Build Observation Skills

In the first month of starting the role I spend time with the scrum master focusing on listening and observation of as many teams as possible - with permission from the team of course. Some of the following questions are useful for exploring at this time:

  • How would you describe the team?
  • What aspects of the team are you curious about?
  • How would you describe team dynamics?
  • What topics are the team avoiding discussing?

I usually encourage them to share those observations with the team, or at least with the scrum master of that team.

Focussing on observing and listening enables me to bring in topics such as levels of listening, non verbal cues and drama triangles as well as others that might appear valuable during this discussion.

Month 2 - Creating Insight

In the second month we spend some time looking at how we make hypothesis on what's going on, how we might go about identifying indicators of change.

We also discuss how we might work with teams to help them uncover insight, using tools such as 5 Whys, Fishbone diagrams and other root cause analysis tools. This provides us with a toolbox for analysing scenarios that we observe.

Month 3 - Action

Once we have explored observation and understanding, we then move onto action. In identifying potential hypothesis and indicators of desired, we can start looking at different actions that may help the situation.

The whole approach gets more contextual as it progresses, so it is here where a toolkit can really grow and be applied. To list all the potential tools here would take a long time!

I encourage scrum masters to take a structured approach to all of the above and recommend using the coaching cards as outlined by Agile42 here. This gives a structured approach to coaching teams and can help focus, assess and measure.

By developing skills in observation, listening, forming measurable hypotheses and having a toolkit to support this and changes arising is a powerful starting point for both the new scrum master and a seasoned scrum master refreshing their craft on joining a new team.

How do you go about mentoring scrum masters?

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John Cumming

I am a Scrum Alliance CTC with BAE based in the UK. I hope to inspire people to develop themselves, their teams and their organisations through curiosity, collaboration and creativity.

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