Solutions to Ceaselessly Requested Questions on Scrum Masters

A typical Mountain Goat Software Certified Scrum Master course attracts people at almost every stage of their Scrum Master journey. I get people who are completely new to Scrum, people who have been working on a Scrum team for years but have recently taken on a Scrum Master role, and people who have been Scrum Masters for a while, but are just now getting a certification.

Do you know what all these people have in common? They have all heard various accounts, from various sources, of what it means to be a Scrum Master, and they are confused on at least one or two points. The three questions I’ve listed here are ones I hear a lot. I’m hoping that the answers will help you get everyone on the same page about Scrum Masters.

Who Do Scrum Masters Report To?

Who should Scrum Masters report to is a tough question because so much depends on the type of products being developed and how the rest of the organization is structured. Usually Scrum Masters will report into one of three places.

A first option is to have Scrum Masters report into the product management group. This can work in very product-centric organizations, but it’s not my favorite. It sometimes leads to dysfunctional reporting paths such as the Scrum Master reporting to the product owner or a product manager.

Second is for Scrum Masters to report into the engineering team. This is my favorite, but I may feel that way because it’s how I set things up in companies where I led the engineering or development groups. I found it beneficial to have everyone developing the product reporting into the same structure.

A third option, and maybe the best, is reporting into the project management office. In companies where a PMO truly seeks to help teams rather than just acting as the process police, this works well, especially for large organizations.

How Do I Prove My Value As a Scrum Master?

A related question I get is: How can I prove my worth when the organization questions whether Scrum Masters are necessary?

A good Scrum Master helps a team become the best it can be. They know how to facilitate meetings. They know how to anticipate and prevent problems. They know when to encourage a team to stretch its current level of performance. And they know how to push back on outsiders who may want to push a team too hard or too often.

But some Scrum Masters limit themselves to a facilitator role or as mostly passive coaches. The Scrum Master who sticks to those activities will very likely at some point be looked at as an unnecessary expense.

To avoid that happening to you, seek to broaden your impact. Help the product owner and stakeholders learn to communicate their needs. Act as a mentor to team members rather than solely as facilitator or coach.

Great Scrum Masters undoubtedly benefit their organizations. Unfortunately, too many Scrum Masters pigeonhole themselves as merely facilitators.

How Do Scrum Masters Introduce Agile Practices to Reluctant Teams?

Many practices will be foreign to a team first adopting agile. Team members may disagree on the importance of some Scrum practices or about how they should be implemented. Teams often hesitate when first introduced to agile practices like overlapping work and user stories.

As a Scrum Master, you can help your team be more comfortable with new ideas by explaining the principles behind any new practice and then asking the team to just try it for a sprint or 2 before passing judgment.

I encourage trying new things for 2 sprints because many new practices are hard at first. I don’t want a team to reject a new practice prematurely merely because it feels different.

As a team grows more mature in their use of Scrum, the Scrum Master can coach them through alternatives. A sprint retrospective is a great place to have these kinds of whole-team discussions.

Just remember that at first a team might need to be told to try a practice, rather than given free rein to pick and choose what to do. Selling vs telling is a common mistake Scrum Masters make with new teams.

Scrum Master Help

Being a Scrum Master is a rewarding role (suitable for superheroes like Batman). But it’s not for everyone, and those who do take it on often need a little help along the way.

Check out the related resources or attend introductory or advanced certified Scrum training to truly excel in the role. You can also sign up for weekly email tips, designed to give you little tweaks to improve team performance.

Got questions I didn’t answer here? Add them as comments. I read and value every one.

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