Starting as a Scrum Master

explore thedeepestwatersI’ve had a lot of individuals ask me how to get started as a scrum master and how to go about working with teams. So I thought it be best to try to answer these questions in one post.

Scrum Master Role

Before I start lets go over what a scrum master is. The scrum master is known as the servant leader. They are the teams facilitator, owner of the scrum framework, and part of the team. They aren’t Project Managers.  A Scrum Master works closely with the team to help them grow, remove impediments, and keep them continuously adapting. I recommend you read through the scrum guide to get a full understanding of what scrum is and your role.

Getting Started

To answer how you can get started as a scrum master, I recommend getting certified. Getting a certification that proves you have a mastery of scrum.  Certification gives you credibility, specially if you don’t have the experience. Now let me warn you, not all certifications are equal. Here are your choices:

Professional Scrum Master

This certification is designed by co-founder of Scrum Ken Schwaber to set you apart and to prove your mastery.  Passing this certification demonstrates you have a fundamental level of understanding. The PSM I certificate holders not only prove that they understand Scrum as described in the Scrum Guide, but that they can apply Scrum concepts.  PSM II holders prove that they can effectively apply Scrum in complex, real-world situations. You can assess your understanding free of charge at scrum.org

In my opinion this is now the best indicator of your scrum understanding and extremely cost effective if you decide to study for this online and take the exam at scrum.org. The cost of this two day training event could run you approximately $1,200.

Certified Scrum Master

This certification was available before Ken Schwaber’s PSM, and is widely known. The Certified Scrum Master from the Scrum Alliance is also a two day training event where you will learn the basics of scrum, its roles and responsibilities.  The Scrum Alliance is the certifying board, you must take the course from a Certified Scrum Trainer to be able to take the online exam. These courses can run approximately from $1,200.00 to $1,300.00.  This does not have an online self study option.

 

Scrum Master Certified

This certification is growing in popularity but is not as well know as the two above. The certifying body is ScrumStudy.  There approach is similar to the PMI’s  PMBOK.  This certification can be earned through self pace study, virtual or onsite training events. They can run anywhere from $500.00-$1,300.00.

Agile Project Management Certification

ICAgile came out with the Agile Project Management Certification, this is a good certification if you don’t want to concentrate on Scrum.  With this certification you can work as an Agile Project Manager, it focuses on “equipping the learner with strategies and techniques for successful Lean and Agile project implementation”,  but doesn’t prove mastery of Scrum . It is a good way to obtain an understanding of other Agile practices such as Lean, and Kanban.

These courses range from $1,200.00 to $1,895.00.

Gain Experience

babystepsNow that you are certified, its time to get your feet wet! Start practicing everything you learned, take a baby step approach. Go slow and keeping reviewing.

If you have a team or you are part of a team, here are some steps I recommend:

Step 1: Get your team to by in

Speak to your team or manager and let them know you’re trying to make a personal transition to be a Scrum Master and you would like their support. If your team or manager don’t know what Scrum is, be ready to educate them.

Step 2: Volunteer

If your organization is already an Agile environment or transitioning, jump in and volunteer to take part in the transition. This will get you the exposure you need.  If you don’t have a team to practice with, the Project Management Institute offers volunteer opportunities, take advantage of this. See if there is an agile project you can help with.

Step 3: Don’t try to do it alone!

Connect with as many Agile Coaches you can, and ask them questions. I usually take questions on this page, or my linkedin. There are no dumb questions, and any credible coach should be willing to answer your questions. The more you ask the more you learn.

Step 4: Don’t stop learning

Be an example of continuous improvement. Keep learning and experimenting. Yes, experimenting different techniques with your team. Not all teams are alike, what works with one team may not work with another. Experimenting is important for your growth.

What to do with your team?

Now that you have a team to practice on. Start with reviewing your responsibilities. Here are the top four  that were consistently overlooked by Scrum Masters I coached:

  • There are two words in servant leader. Teams don’t just need someone to facilitate, they also need someone to show them the way.
  • It’s your responsibility to help grow your team to self-organization
  • Your authority comes from the Scrum Framework. You are the owner of the framework.
  • You need to hold the team accountable to the decisions they make.

 

6 Steps to getting your team started

Step 1: Name

Every sports team has a name. Do you know why? It helps individuals bond, you can read more on this on one of my earlier posts “Why name your team”.

Make it fun! Have everyone submit names. Make sure to avoid embarrassing names.

Step 2: Team Norms

Sit your team down to discuss how they will work together.  Team norms should cover communication, and team self governing rules like a dollar paid by anyone who is late to the daily scrum.

Step 3: Definition of Done

Make sure to discuss what will “done” mean to the team and that the Product Owner participates in this.  If you are truly executing Scrum, you’ll need to make quality part of your DOD. Your code is not potentially shippable otherwise.

Step 4: Estimation

Teams will need to estimate complexity of a user story to know how large the story is and whether it could fit in a sprint. The most common way of doing this is using “relative sizing”.  Relative sizing is So, what estimation tool will your team use?  Will it be story points, planning poker tee shirt sizing, or something else?

Fibonacci Sequence is one tool to story point. The sequence work as follows: 0+1= 1, 1+1=2, 2+1=3, 3+2=5, 5+3=8, and goes on indefinitely. Your team will use 1,3,5,8,13,21,34,etc to indicate how large a story is, comparing each to a reference point. That reference point is a mid size user story that the team either previously worked on or will work on.

Planning poker could be done on line or with a deck of cards. It uses the fibonacci sequence to start and then follows a weird number pattern.   However, the poker cards stop at 100, it doesn’t make sense to have a user story larger than that.  In fact, I like to keep my teams to no larger than 40 if using the planning poker.  Planning poker is widely used because you don’t need to convert to numbers.

Tee shirt sizing (S, M, L, XL) is easy to use but… you got it. You need to convert your size, for example a small would need to be represented by a number. This could trap your team into how small will small be and so on.  I prefer to use the Fibonacci Sequence or Planning Poker.  You want to keep things simple.

Step 5. Your Backlog

Take time out and review the Product Backlog.  Check that each story uses the user story format (As a (role), I  (want), so that (value)).  When user stories follow this format, they are clear in who wants what and what value they see in it.  Code can be written to this and testers can test to it.

I also recommend that you ensure the Product Owner has added acceptance criteria to each of the user stories. Acceptance criteria makes it easy for the Scrum team to determine of a user story meets a Product Owner’s criteria or not.

Step 6 Refinement

You are finely ready to get your team to estimating.  Keep them on track by reminding them they are there to determine how large a user story is.  Don’t let them get stuck on how they will be executing. Remind them of their reference point, that user story they considered a medium story, and ask ever so often, is this user story smaller or larger than the reference story. It helps them keep the reference point in mind.

Now it is your turn.  Let me know how this helped by leaving me a comment. If you didn’t think this helped, let me know what will.

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