Scrum Master skills are different in business teams than in software teams
Is your business looking to become agile and looking for Agile coaches and Scrum Masters to support your transformation? There are others out there looking our for the experienced professionals to guide their Agile journeys, too! According to the annual State of Agile report (2022), 16% of HR, 29% of Operations, 17% of Marketing and 10% of Sales functions have adopted some level of Agile principles and practices.
While the Agile coaches work on the organisational level, the Scrum Masters work within the teams. Any agile team will gain a lot from having a Scrum Master preparing and facilitating the meetings, the workshops, the decision making events, and the improvement workshops. The efficiency, improvement rate and collaboration in teams with great Scrum Masters is remarkable, compared to teams that don’t have one.
While the Scrum Master role has its roots in software development teams, we have found that being a Scrum Master in business teams or in an HR team is very distinct from Scrum Mastering in a dedicated software development team. We recently ran a meetup with two experienced Agile coaches/Scrum Masters sharing their thoughts around the key skills and aspects of facilitating Agile work in business teams.
The meetup recording can be accessed on our YouTube channel (link below), but if you don’t have time for a 50 minute video, here are some of our best recommendations for Scrum Masters in the business and HR teams, by Stephen Robinson and Riina Hellström, both of whom have worked over 10+ years with Agile teams in all kinds of business units, support functions and across industries.
7 important tips for Scrum Masters in Business teams
- Contextual sensitivity – do your homework before starting!
Understand the context you are in. Invest time in knowing the environment and the business you work in. You will have to know on detailed level what the Agile maturity is in the team. Has the team tried Agile before? Do you need to start with a sell? Will this include a big stretch, a leap in behavioural change? What are the engagement levels in the team, are they up for giving Agile a go? Or is it an experienced Agile team, where you have to dive in to grasp how they view agility, where it aligns with the company goals in adopting agility and together start dissecting how to improve or change the approach. Our tip for the Scrum Master is to really sit down and do contextual mapping, discussing with the individuals about Agile and their understanding of it and the previous wins/fails with agility.
- If allocation is less than 50% don’t even try to do Scrum
What’s the level of allocation to agile work? We’ve found that if people are not dedicated to the team with at least 50% you really can’t follow a professional Scrum/Kanban cadence. You’ll have to modify your Agile approach to fit the reality. Perhaps you’ll be using backlogs, and ring fencing 10 hours or time per week of each team member to actually work on the items simultaneously. You might find that one check in per week is good enough instead of daily standups. Many teams have massive amounts of dependencies to other functions, so modifying your Kanban board to visualise and measure the delays and bringing in continuous improvement practices might be a good idea.
- Learn to work without a Product Owner
Quite often we have found ourselves in a Scrum Master role in a business team, without a clear, mandated PO position to go along with the work. As a Scrum Master what we can do is to help the team make product decisions, and offer evidence based and tested/validated alternatives to steering groups or managers to choose from. What’s most important is to keep moving, instead of waiting for decisions. Of course, everyone would prefer to coach teams where the bigger buy-in is there, with a mandated PO to make quick decisions. Sometimes we just don’t have that. But we’ll find the way to support decisions to be made quickly anyhow.
- Get the foundations right.
Start with getting the foundations right for the team. Establish the Agile HR mindset, readiness to try and learn quickly. Don’t wait too long to dive in, learning Agile by applying Agile to the team’s work. Co-create the first backlog, establish first sprint plan, and agree how you will run your iteration together with the team. Top it off with a great review with valuable feedback and a very honest retrospective where you make sure to build psychological safety. Just these basics take the team a long way. Nothing extra is needed. Keep to the very basics in the beginning and through improvement start adjusting.
- Always Prepare and be clear on the focus of each meeting/workshop
Be prepared and organised for each meeting, each interaction that you have with the PO, stakeholders or the team. Have clear intent with your communication and actions. With great preparation you’ll also learn how you can flex when facilitating the meetings. You know where to cut the time boxes shorter, what you must have time to cover, and what you can deprioritise. You will earn the trust of your team during the first 2-4 sprints. Make them count.
- Display Agile Values Yourself. Every day.
Really deeply internalise the agile values, and exhibit them every day. For example, in the first retro share openly what you did well as a SM and what you didn’t do well, and ask for feedback around the Scrum Mastering.
- Coach the team towards self-management. You aren’t the team’s manager, mum or therapist.
Remember, the team owns the work, and you are part of the team. You are accountable for supporting the team to work according to Scrum and Agile, and helping the team improve. The development team is accountable for the delivery. Bring the team along, help them make decisions, i.e. don’t fall into the trap of making decisions for the team! Facilitate agreement on how the team will take care of problems. You are not the mother or the manager for the team, neither are you the administrator of the backlog, or a fixer of problems. Don’t start your Scrum Master career with shooting yourself in the foot. Your role is to help the team become a high-performing and self-managing team, stretch the team towards this accountability, freedom and ownership.
Good luck in your new Scrum Master role!
Becoming a Scrum Master is a life long journey. You’ll continuously evolve as a person, a leader, an influencer, a coach and facilitator. Learn as much as you can from Agile coaches in software, and then be creative in how you adopt agility into the varying business and support function teams. Hope our tips are useful and the stories in the meetup video come in handy.
Agile HR Community Meetups
Riina Hellström – Agile HR pioneer at Agilehrcommunity.com
Riina Hellström is recommended internationally as a brilliant agile enterprise coach and modern HR professional, who quickly helps organisations adopt an Agile mindset and Agile practices across their business. Her motto is ”Let’s co-create a healthy future of work”. She is a global pioneer in Agile HR and the Founder of Agile HR Community, providing certified Agile trainings for HR and business professionals. Agile HR Community works with exciting Agile development projects across Fortune 500 companies globally. She is the co-author of the book “Agile HR – Deliver value in a changing world of work” which has become the go-to Agile HR handbook. Riina holds several Agile trainer licenses and a double Master’s degree (Technology and Applied Neuroscience). When having free time, she loves spending time on an island in the Finnish archipelago with her family.