Scrum Master Success: How Do You Identify a Successful Scrum Master?

TL; DR: Scrum Master Success — My Top-Nine Indicators

How would you know that your Scrum Master is competent? What are indicators for Scrum Master success? Is the regular use of the Confluence retrospective template one of the desired signals? Or is the quest to understand contributing factors futile, as success reasons are so diverse? Probably, there is no direct connection between a Scrum Master, not having authority anyway, and the overall Scrum team’s performance.

Read on and learn more about how Scrum Masters can contribute to the success of a self-managing team in nine simple lessons.

Scrum Master Success: How Do You Identify a Successful Scrum Master? Berlin Product People GmbH

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Scrum Master Success: My Top-Nine List

Here is my top-nine list of indicators that a Scrum Master is successful:

  1. Value delivery: The Scrum team delivers a valuable Increment every single Sprint. As a framework, Scrum is focusing on delivery. Admittedly, this comes with many challenges. However, if a Scrum team is not regularly creating value for the (internal and external) stakeholders, everything else is of lesser importance. (A secondary positive effect of regularly delivering valuable Increments is building trust among stakeholders. Typically, building trust with them results in less supervision, for example, in the form of reporting duties or committees messing with Scrum—you get the idea. All of this is bolstering self-management, thus making working as a Scrum team more effective and enjoyable.)
  2. People want to join the Scrum team: Other people want to join the Scrum team because nothing succeeds like success. (People voting with their feet is an excellent indicator for Scrum Master success, and it applies in both directions. My tip: Run regular, anonymous surveys in the Scrum team and ask whether team members would recommend an open position in the organization to a good friend with an agile mindset and track the development of this “employer NPS®” regularly to spot trends.)
  3. Living Scrum Values: A successful Scrum Master lives Scrum Values 24/7, and all other Scrum team members follow their example. As a result, our Scrum team’s morale is high.
  4. Supporting psychological safety: Closely related to living Scrum Values, an obvious sign of Scrum Master success is candor in the Scrum team’s communication within the team and regarding its stakeholders. If everyone feels safe to speak their mind, the Scrum team will be significantly more effective, subsequently increasing the return on investment.
  5. Creating an egalitarian team structure: Scrum has an egalitarian approach to collaboration. On the one side, self-management is essential. On the other side, there is no hierarchy in a Scrum team; there are no sub-roles. Any successful Scrum Master fosters such an environment. (The Scrum team is collectively responsible for the team’s success, and leadership and authority is based on gaining the trust and respect of your fellow Scrum teammates.)
  6. Fostering self-management: The Scrum team is managing itself; there is no need for the Scrum Master to hold hands or play Bob Marley every morning at 9:58 am. (Scrum Master success is based on being “invisibly present,” too. By the way, successful Scrum Masters can enjoy a decent holiday as they do not intentionally keep the Scrum team dependent on them. Gradually, as the Scrum team is learning, it becomes self-reliant.)
  7. Kaizen mentality: The Scrum team has an intrinsic motivation to improve its way of working, understanding its customers’ problems and possible solutions, and how it can contribute to the organization’s success and the well-being of the commonwealth in general. (This continuous improvement drive includes a commitment to product quality and keeping technical debt at bay.)
  8. No enforcement of Scrum: Successful Scrum Masters do not enforce Scrum. (Please note: Scrum cannot be pushed upon someone, it needs to be pulled. Also, we are not paid to practice Scrum but to solve our customers’ problems. Probably, there are viable solutions of doing so beyond Scrum. Kanban, for example, is often a good choice.)
  9. Understanding the big picture: Any Scrum Master success is rooted in supporting the team members in understanding the big pictures of the problem and solution space. For example, by learning to excel at product discovery and how to create actionable Product Backlogs. (Garbage in, garbage out: No matter how good your Scrum team is a practicing Scrum in general, a mediocre Product Backlog will not result in any recognition by customers or the organization.)

By the way, I would consider “good knowledge of the Scrum framework” to be self-understood. Or would you call a surgeon who can hold a scalpel already “successful?”

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Scrum Master Success — Conclusion

There is no simple checklist available that helps to identify successful Scrum Masters. They are true servant-leaders without any authority, and it is very challenging to align a Scrum team’s success with the distinct actions of a Scrum Master. Probably, some Scrum teams are successful despite their Scrum Masters.

If you have a look at the suggested nine Scrum Master success patterns, you will realize that all of them are crafted around a few basic principles: Embracing self-management, using Scrum for complex adaptive problems and not just every problem, focusing on quality, aligning everyone with the big picture, the why, what, and how.

What indicators of Scrum Master success have you observed? Please share your learnings with us in the comments.

📖 Resources

The following resources may support your efforts to understand Scrum Master success:

Three Essential Agile Failure Patterns in 7:31 Minutes—Making Your Scrum Work #12

How to Sabotage A Scrum Master — 44 Anti-Patterns from the Trenches

Four Scrum Master Success Principles

Scrum First Principles — How to Elon Musk the Scrum Guide

Agile Failure Patterns in Organizations 2.0

Cargo Cult Agile: The ‘State Of Agile’ Checklist For Your Organization

Download the ’Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide’ for Free

The Scrum Guide Reordered — understand the Scrum Guide’s patterns and concepts quickly

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