The Scrum Master Craft

06 Aug 2018

Learning through doing

Working with the Professional Scrum Trainer community, and particularly with Ken Schwaber as one of the Professional Scrum Master Stewards has been a very rewarding learning journey.

Helping with the launch of the new PSM II course invited me to reflect even more on what it is to be a Scrum Master. Being a Scrum Master is a craft, as it is combination of knowledge, skill and experience that enables you as a Scrum Master to be effective.

Servant Leadership

When you work with a team, the best you can do is help them achieve what the stakeholder wants. To do this you need to hold a clear vision, be clear on the constraints and grow the capability to deliver. An effective leader takes ownership of the learning culture, and empowers everyone in the team to share the ownership of the outcomes. This is a huge topic in itself, and there a lot of great resources out there.

The key is not in what you do, but what you tolerate. Don’t tolerate complacency, poor conduct, a lack of Scrum values, or not having a regular achievement of a Done product Increment.

The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate Gruenter and Whitaker

Reveal not Resolve

The duty of the Scrum Master is to reveal not Resolve. There are many anti-patterns from the misunderstanding around Servant Leadership. Some of the most common are:

  • Scrum Nanny – cleaning up and doing all the admin
  • Scrum Secretary – booking meetings and rooms, then taking the minutes of every event
  • Scrum Police – blindly enforcing the framework
  • Scrum Caterer – organising the coffee and snacks
  • Scrum Referee – making the ruling on any arguments/conflict

Each of these diminishes the role of the Scrum Master, and prevents the team taking ownership of their work and how they do their work. The end result is the team loses interest in self-organisation, and is disempowered. Every time you make a decision for someone, you are reducing their decision space. You are literally taking the decision for them. Give, don’t take.

When you operate from a space of curiosity, you create space for people to take decisions and ownership. By asking questions or helping people understand context you are helping reveal a better understanding of their situation.

Pull not Push

Flow works best in a pull-based system. This applies to learning as well as work. Create a welcoming space for people to share ideas and discuss with each other. Try as hard as possible not to offer unsolicited advice!

Create a space of psychological safety, this allows for the flow of ideas and information. A google study ( ) showed that teams with psychological safety were the most performing. Create a space of trust.

Ask don't Tell

The shift in your mindset is to move from being directive to empowering.

A technique I have found helpful is to flip every statement in to a question. “You seem to be covering up progress” becomes “How are you making your work transparent”.

This allows people to act on ideas when they are ready, not when you are ready!


A phrase I have heard a lot is “The person talking is the one doing the learning”. The meme/trope of the evil villain monologuing, while their downfall is being prepared for them is not a good space to be in within a team. This was summarised for me by Andy Hiles as W.A.I.T.

The less that you say, the more opportunity there is for people to think.

For a year, I had a note below on the back of my phone:

It worked for me. The best answer for the people and teams emerged, and it was usually not one I was considering.

It Depends

Context is everything.

The power of the Scrum framework is the lightness, and the Achilles heel is the lightness. There is not prescriptive practices to deal with every situation. There is a foundation of Empiricism (Transparency, Inspection and Adaptation) and the Scrum Values. Your team needs to build a useable potentially releasable increment, within a Sprint.

The rest is context. Your team, product, organisation, market and so on.

Just be prepared for the “On What ?” reply. This is a trigger to be curious!

Let the Team Decide

As a Scrum Master you don’t have to have all the answers!

Using the framework, you create the space for the team to learn. To enhance the learning, let the team build the experiments. The team then own the success, and the outcomes. That is your duty to the team.

The craft of Scrum Mastery

Scrum is based on people, and all the uncertainty and complexity that comes with it. Knowledge on its own will not shape success, you will need to practice. When you develop trust, then the you build the space of being an effective team.

Find out more

Discover more by reviewing the Scrum Master Resources

Review the PSM Training Page:

Review the PSM II Training Page:

Review the Scrum Master Role page:

Come to one of my Scrum training courses:

Come to one of my PSM II Training courses:

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