So you’re a day one scrum master and you’ve landed your first job! Congratulations, that’s really exciting! Being a scrum master is super fun and very rewarding, but now that you’ve got the job, where do you start with your new team?
Scrum masters have a lot to learn when they start at a new company. Early on, your job is to establish yourself as a trusted member of the team. Remember, now is definitely not a good time for you to start make changes. Use your first sprint to learn how the team works, get to know what makes each team member tick and what drives them, ask questions about how they work together as a group – then find out where things are working well and where there are problems.
It’s ok to be a “noob”, in fact the act of discovering your team’s strengths and weaknesses can be used to your advantage.
I’ve been asked many times what a scrum master should do in the first month of their role. But the truth is, there’s no one answer for the best way to start out. Being an agilist means respecting that each individual’s agile journey is going to be unique. No two teams, or organizations take the same path to agile mastery.
Being a new scrum master means you don’t yet know how things work, but you will get there soon if you trust your agile and scrum mastery. So when starting out as a scrum master and you’re not yet sure for how your team practices scrum and values agile, here are some ways you can begin getting acquainted:
Early on, your job is to establish yourself as a trusted member of the team now is not the time for you to make changes
When you first start with a new team, your number one rule should be to get to know them in their environment. Focus on the team of people’s behavior, not on the process. Don’t change anything right away. Be very cautious and respectful of what you learn as it will help you establish trust with your team when they realize that you care about them as individuals and not just their work product.
You may also want to check out this blog post by Damon Poole on why it’s important for scrum masters to develop “Multispectrum Awareness” when observing your team’s behaviors:
Use your first sprint to learn how the team works
As a Scrum Master, it is your job to learn as much about the team as you can. Your goal for your first sprint should be to get a sense for how the team works together, what their strengths are, and a sense as to what improvements they might be open to exploring. This will help you effectively support them in future iterations.
The best way to do this is through frequent conversations with individual team members (ideally all of them) about their tasks and responsibilities. Use these conversations as an opportunity to ask questions about how the person feels about his/her contribution on the project so far: What are they happy with? What would they like to improve? How does this compare with their experiences working on other projects? You’ll probably see some patterns emerge: some people may be happy with their work while others are frustrated or bored by it — this can be helpful information when planning future sprints!
Get to know what makes each team member tick and what drives them
- You need to get to know each person as individuals, not just as members of the team. Learn their strengths, opportunities and weaknesses. Find out what their chief concerns are and learn how you can help them grow.
- Get an understanding of their ideas for helping the team grow (even if it’s something that you would never consider).
- Learn what interests they have outside of work so that you can engage them in conversations about those topics (for example: sports or music). You’ll be surprised at how much more interesting a conversation can become when it includes something that is important to another person than if it remains focused on your own interests only!
- Ask yourself “What needs does this person have of me as a scrum master?”
Learn your teams existing process for working together
When you’re first getting started with a new team, it’s important to be respectful of their existing processes. It’s a good idea to find out what processes they have in place, and where they keep the backlog for things that need to get done. If the team uses agile tools like JIRA or Pivotal Tracker or Trello (or something else), learn how they use them.
This process is especially important if there are any current projects that need to be completed—so ask your manager or mentor if there are any pressing deadlines or milestones coming up. Remember the team is already in progress on their sprint. The last thing you need to do is to distract them by critiquing their agility.
Ask your team lots of questions and find out what’s working well for them
When you first start with a new team, it’s important that you take the time to ask them questions instead of just telling them what to do. The best way to learn about your team is by asking them what they like about the current process, where it could be improved and how they feel about how you work as a Scrum Master.
Ask specific questions such as:
- What do you like about the way we do things now?
- What do you think could be improved?
- What are some of your biggest challenges?
- How would you describe the way I should work as a scrum master?
Asking these questions will help get insight into what’s working well for them now, which can then inform future improvements in process or tooling choices made by both parties going forward!
Find out what the last scrum master did well, and not so well
If you’re backfilling for a previous scrum master, it’s important to know what they did so that you can best support your team. It’s also helpful even if you aren’t backfilling because it gives you insight into the job and allows you to best determine how to change things up if necessary.
Ask them what they liked about working with a previous scrum master and any suggestions they may have had on how they could have done better. This way, when someone comes to your asking for help or advice, you will be able to advise them on their specific situation from experience rather than speculation or gut feeling.
Examine how the team is working in comparison to the scrum guide
As a scrum master, you should always be looking for ways to improve the team and its performance. However, when you first start working with a team, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of telling them what they’re doing wrong. This can lead to people feeling attacked or discouraged and cause them to become defensive. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with your new team, try focusing on identifying everything they’re doing right while gradually helping them identify their weaknesses over time.
While it may be tempting to jump right in with suggestions and mentoring sessions on how to fix these weaknesses (and yes, this is absolutely appropriate in the future), there are some important factors that will help set up success for everyone involved in this process:
- Try not to convey any sense of judgement when answering questions about how the team functions at present or what their current issues might be; try not judging yourself either! The goal here is simply gaining clarity so that we can all move forward together toward making our scrum practices better.
- Don’t make changes without first getting consent from everyone involved; if there are things that seem like an obvious improvement but which haven’t been discussed beforehand then these should probably wait until after our next retrospective meeting before being implemented
- Better yet, don’t change a thing… just listen and observe!
Get to know the people outside of your scrum team
One of your major responsibilities as a scrum master is to help your team be effective and successful. One way you can do this is by learning about the people and the external forces that affect your team’s ability to succeed. You may already know who works on your team, but it’s important to learn who they interact with other teams on a regular basis, who their leaders are, which stakeholders they support, who often causes them distraction or loss of focus when getting work done, etc..
To get started learning about these things:
- Gather intelligence: Talk with each person on the team individually (one-on-one) after standups or whenever an opportunity presents itself outside of agile events.
- Ask them questions like “Who helps you guys out? Who do you need help from? Who do we rely upon for support? Who causes problems for us? How would our customers describe us? What makes our work difficult here at [company name]?
Find out where the landmines are hidden
While it is important to figure out who your allies, it is also important to find out where the landmines are that are hidden below the surface within EVERY organization.
- Who are the people who will be difficult to work with and may have some bias towards Agile and scrum?
- What are the areas of sensitivity to be aware of?
- What things should you not even touch with a ten foot pole?
- What are the hills that others have died valiantly upon and failed at scaling?
Gaining insight to these areas will help you to better navigate the landscape, and know where you’ll need to tread lightly.
If you just can’t resist any longer and have to do something agile..
If you just can’t resist any longer and have to do something agile, then limit yourself to establishing a team working agreement. This document is a living document that details the baseline rules of collaboration, styles of communication, and needs of each individual on your team. If you don’t have one already established in your organization, it’s time to create one! The most effective way I’ve found to create this document is by having everyone participate in small group brainstorming sessions where they write down their thoughts on sticky notes (or index cards). Then we put all of those ideas into one room and talk through them together as a larger group until every idea has been addressed or rejected. This process might be too much work for some teams but if you’re able to make it happen then it will help establish trust between yourself and the team because they’ll feel heard by you and see how much effort goes into making sure everyone gets what they need at work!
Being a scrum master is a lot of fun and can be very rewarding. You don’t need to prove that you’re a superstar though on day one. Don’t be a bull in a china shop, making a mess of the scrum. Don’t be an agile “pointdexter” waving around the scrum guide and telling your team they’re doing it all wrong. Be patient, go slow, and facilitate introspection. In the end, your role is to support the team and help them succeed. You don’t need to be an expert on anything, just a good listener and someone who cares about what they do.