The keys to being an effective scrum master

by Bee Heller
May 23, 2017

I’ve been immersing myself in the world of scrum and agile software development recently. If you work in a tech business, with a tech team or in an organisation going through a digital or agile transformation, then you’ll have heard of scrum. Scrum is an agile product development framework used by software developers.

A scrum teams consist of 3 – 9 people with all the skills necessary to create a potentially shippable product. There are different roles within a scrum team. The ‘scrum master’ is responsible for: “guiding the team to ever-higher levels of cohesiveness, self-organisation, and performance.”

The success of the scrum approach is its simplicity. Read ‘Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction‘ by Chris Sims and Hilary Louise Johnson, and you’ll have a good idea of the roles within a scrum team and the process you would implement if you wanted to introduce scrum into your organisation. However, the perceived simplicity of the framework can also be a challenge as it masks the importance of the mindset, values and culture that really make scrum work in practice.

I attended the London Scrum Day on 11th May and listened to an excellent seminar by Barry Overeem on ‘The 8 Stances of a Scrum Master’. Through years of experience Barry has developed his understanding of what being an effective scrum master is really all about. In Barry’s view, the mindset of the scrum master is critical.

A naive scrum master can perform a mechanical role: policing that things get done, taking notes in meetings, bringing team members tea and coffee, sorting administrative tasks, chairing meetings and holding people to time; and fail to adequately support their team. These same functions approached with a different mindset can help a scrum master be much more effective. If they see their role as: removing impediments preventing the team from performing at their best, facilitating good meetings, coaching the team, sharing knowledge and experience, and championing change in the wider organisation; they are much more likely to succeed in helping the team to collaborate, self-organise and perform at their best.


Illustrations from Barry’s seminar

Having the right mindset is critical if you want to be a successful scrum master. However, I also think there’s a need to ensure scrum masters have the practical skills to perform their role successfully. You can spend a long time preaching the scrum values and instilling the right mindset, but if you don’t invest in your scrum masters’ impact and influencing capability, then they’ll struggle to perform the scrum master role as intended. In my view organisations working with scrum need everyone to appreciate the scrum values and agile mindset and they need scrum masters with the practical capability to have good coaching conversations, facilitate great meetings, and provide mentorship and teaching to their colleagues.

If you’re a scrum master, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the importance of mindset and practical skills in being effective in your role. I’m looking to bring The Pioneers’ expertise in people management, behaviour change and organisational culture to the world of scrum. I would appreciate feedback on the ideas I’m developing. Please get in touch with me direct (, or comment on this blog on LinkedIn or Twitter.

There will be more agile and scrum inspired blogs to follow.

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