How Does a New Scrum Master Learn the Mastery of Scrum?

Learning to be a Scrum Master is hard. But what’s the best way for a new Scrum Master to learn to be a Scrum Master?

I had it easy. When I learned, I had an awesome team. They were open, engaged, and always wanting to improve. The Product Owner was awesome also. Again, open and engaged. The thing they all had in common was that they wanted to learn Scrum. I introduced Scrum to our department. I read a little, implemented a little. Screwed up, tried again. Read a little more, tried a little more. And so on. It was basically a self-study program with help from blogs, books and the team itself.

For me this was easy. I was never really a “command and control” person anyway. Sure, I had my tendencies, but pretty mild. I knew that my team were the ones that “really” knew what to do anyway…so why not give them the tools to empower them and help them be focused on quality and value? There wasn’t a lot of “unlearning” that had to take place for me.

After that first (great) experience, I became an agile coach. Now it was my time to help teams transition to Scrum by educating the team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master. Well, admittedly, I was winging it for a while, but through trial and error I fell into a pretty good groove.

What I’ve done recently is come up with three options/approaches to helping others become Scrum Masters.

  1. The coach leads

    With this approach, the coach plays the role of the Scrum Master, while the soon-to-be Scrum Master watches, and helps. Then, after a while (depending on their comfort level), there is a switch, and the coach becomes the observer/helper.

  2. The coach observes

    Here, the new Scrum Master will be the acting Scrum Master. However, the coach will be there to observe (and help) while the new Scrum Master is facilitating. The coach would only correct/advise/encourage in private.

  3. The coach advises

    In this scenario, the coach is not directly involved in any of the ceremonies. They are only there to advise. The new Scrum Master and coach would regularly meet to go over gotchas, issues, etc.

  4. Coach? What coach?

    This is how I learned. We didn’t have a coach. But, we were completely free to do what we needed to do to be successful. And, there was complete buy-in from the team and leadership. Oh, and we were allowed to make mistakes. And, I think what really made it work was that none of us had any “baggage” from other environments. I recently had change careers (retail to software), and most of the folks on the team were relatively fresh college graduates. After working with many teams, I’ve found that this is indeed a rare situation.

I give my team (and anyone else in the organization who wants to be a Scrum Master) those three options. #2 is the most popular. However, I just had someone pick #3.

So, which the best option? It depends. It depends on the experience of the new Scrum Master and of the team. It also depends on who the coach is in the organization. For example, I am a manager where I work. I don’t have the word “coach” in my title, even though this is something that I am responsible for. As with most organizations, having “a manager” present may send the wrong message, no matter how cool you think you are! There are some teams where there would be no issue, but there may be others where it might be questionable. You have to be aware of this, and make your decision accordingly.

As an independent consultant (coach), who is brought into an organization to introduce Scrum, then #1 is typically the best. If the coach is there to help “improve” their implementation of Scrum, or if maybe the organization is backsliding, then maybe #2 is best. When there are experienced Scrum Masters that are experiencing new situations and need to just bounce ideas off of someone, then #3 is best.

As far as #4…I’ve heard about many teams that tried to “do it on their own”, and completely tanked. They didn’t have that utopian environment that is oh so rare. So, if you do decide to do it on your own, start reading. Read, read, read, and read some more. Blogs, books, and user groups. Ask questions on these user groups…you will find a wealth of knowledge and people who want you to be successful. Also, twitter will be your friend. Personally, I have gotten so much out of following Mike Cottmeyer, Alan Shalloway, Ron Jeffries, Scott Ambler, Mike Cohn, and Esther Derby (to name a few). They post awesome information and articles that are thought provoking and hard to find otherwise.

I would love to hear from others on this topic. What are the approaches you have taken in coaching, or have seen others take? How did YOU learn to be a Scrum Master?