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How do I identify a good Scrum Master?

Here are some possibilities:

  1. The person is agile (doesn't just do agile). Indicators: Blog, volunteer activities
  2. The person connects well with others at the level of emotions and needs (not just technical stuff).
  3. The person is relentless and fearless when removing impediments
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The way it's worded, it seems like this could be a question for a list of desirable attributes in a group leader for any profession... –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Mar 4 '11 at 16:07
    
I would avoid things like "relentless and fearless when removing impediments" - it's so vague. "Removing impediments" is a catch-all term for anything that could be slowing a team down, it's not like you have a hero who just picks them up and throws them out of the way. –  NickC Mar 4 '11 at 16:15
    
I disagree with #1 and #3 being qualities exclusive to agile devs. –  Anna Lear Mar 4 '11 at 16:17
    
@Renesis: Maybe you don't, but we do: The Caped Coder! :P –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Mar 4 '11 at 16:28
    
I dunno... ball skills? –  Alison Mar 4 '11 at 17:37
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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, BЈовић, MichaelT, amon, Kilian Foth Mar 27 at 12:36

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

7 Answers

They should deeply understand the scrum process since it is their job to make sure it is being followed.

The comment was made that they need the abilities of all good leaders.

Tao Te Ching Written by Lao-tzu Ch 17

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists. 
Next best is a leader who is loved. 
Next, one who is feared. 
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don't trust the people, you
make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn't talk, he acts. When
his work is done, the people say,
"Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!"
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Great answer. Very interesting quote :) –  Edgar Gonzalez May 2 '11 at 23:28
    
Epic quote, I'm printing this out for my cube. –  Wayne Werner Jan 31 '12 at 13:19
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Since it only requires a two days ass-to-chair course to become a ScrumMaster, I'd say that the thing that makes a better ScrumMaster is actual experience from agile projects.

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I've copied and pasted the top 10 from a recent blog post:

  1. Servant Leader – Must be able to garner respect from his/her team and be willing to get their hands dirty to get the job done

    Communicative and social – Must be able to communicate well with teams

    Facilitative – Must be able to lead and demonstrate value-add principles to a team

    Assertive – Must be able to ensure Agile/Scrum concepts and principles are adhered to, must be able to be a voice of reason and authority, make the tough calls.

    Situationally Aware – Must be the first to notice differences and issues as they arise and elevate them to management

    Enthusiastic – Must be high-energy

    Continual improvement - Must continually be growing ones craft learning new tools and techniques to manage oneself and a team

    Conflict resolution - Must be able to facilitate discussion and facilitate alternatives or different approaches

    Attitude of empowerment - Must be able to lead a team to self-organization

    Attitude of transparency – Must desire to bring disclosure and transparency to the business about development and grow business trust

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+1 for a useful list and not spamming/marketing your site as you have done in the past (even if it took an edit :) –  Rein Henrichs May 2 '11 at 23:55
    
thanks. I'm getting better at it. Not perfect! Though... we do have good stuff :) –  Agile Scout May 2 '11 at 23:57
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I hear Ron Popeil makes a pretty darn good rotisserie oven too ;) –  Rein Henrichs May 3 '11 at 0:03
    
Ha! Good one... The question really is... is there someone out there that can embody all? Is there the perfect ScrumMaster? –  Agile Scout May 3 '11 at 0:09
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Asking the person about what challenges have they had in implementing Scrum and dealing with impediments. How well have they seen this work? How much experience using this do they have,e.g. # of projects, size of team, turnover in team?

Notice their communication and interpersonal skills in having a conversation. If you have questions, how are these handled? If you seem to beat a dead horse, how soon is this recognized?

Asking the person about their personal values may be another idea though this may be seen as a trick question by some. The idea here is to see if the person has specific ideals that tend to be upheld over all others. For example, if a friend asks someone to lie there is a question of honesty versus loyalty as one way to view the question of whether or not the request is done.

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I think there are 2 key aspects:

  1. They should be interested and enthusiastic about using Scrum to improve and guide the software development process
  2. They need great social and interpersonal skills and have the time to use them to resolve issues

They don't need to be the best technically or be a rockstar at anything else. They simply have to keep the wheels greased and keep thing moving. In fact I think the less technically involved someone is in the project the better they can be at being the Scrum Master. It keeps them out of the fray and able to focus on keeping the troops going.

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A good scrum master should indeed know Scrum and related agile approaches, but he should also be well aware that these aren't just recipes to apply by the letter.

He should ensure that the concepts are well understood by everyone, agreed upon and respected while it makes sense (e.g., definition of done, retrospectives, ...). For example, if the team isn't always keen to do the stand-up meeting, he should be the one to start singing "Get up, stand up...".

The scrum master should be the first one to notice when a sprint planning meeting or the sprints themselves go wrong and try to find solutions together with his team.

Generally speaking, he should be try to push the team forward and constantly strive to improve its organization and communication (inside & outside of the group).

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If there's one thing a good scrum master needs to do, it's to get rid of blockages and allow their team to work with maximum efficiency. Competent teams will get a lot done if you just let them do their work.

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