In the first article, I provided a brief introduction to the Scrum Master (ScM) role and the typical areas of responsibility associated with it. Then, I delved into more concrete tasks for a ScM and how to optimize the different ceremonies for maximum effectiveness. In this article, I will further explore how you, as a ScM, can handle risks and obstacles as they arise.
Recognize early warnings
As a ScM, you are constantly present and involved in the team's work, making you one of the individuals most likely to detect risks and obstacles. In addition to staying attentive and observant, you can also hold regular meetings with the entire team and have individual meetings where everyone gets a chance to present their thoughts. This allows you to quickly identify signs of potential issues or concerns among team members.
Another early sign that something is wrong is when team members become uneasy or evasive when you inquire about whether we will complete a particular story or enabler within the current sprint, as planned.
It's important for you, as the ScM, to convey a sense of calm and reassure the team that it's okay to fail. It's not the end of the world if we don't finish a story as promised. However, it's crucial to raise the flag on this issue as soon as possible.
Address obstacles and risks
Identifying obstacles and risks alone is not enough. As a ScM, you are expected to manage and address them. The earlier you detect signs that something is wrong, the easier it becomes to handle. A classic mistake is when team members conceal issues they have encountered and outwardly project that verything is on track and looking good.
The closer we get to a deadline, such as the end of a sprint, the more challenging it becomes to handle the problem. If you, as the ScM, had been aware of the issue at an early stage, you could have easily gathered your PO and other stakeholders, made them aware of the situation, and perhaps received some feedback on how to address it.
One way to tackle the problem is through escalation. If you are dependent on another team to progress with a task and they suddenly state that they don't have time to assist, you can seek help from management to reprioritize items in the other team's backlog via their PO.
As a ScM, you work closely with your PO within the same team, and it's important that you both are aligned on how to handle issues, including risks and obstacles. Before any escalation occurs, it's beneficial for the two of you to agree on how to present the problem to other stakeholders.
As the ScM, you should also ensure that your actions are anchored within the team so that it's always clear what needs to be done and why.
Trust and confidence from your team members are crucial for both the ScM and PO, as you serve as the channels through which everything is channeled, including both challenges and successes.
Openness, transparency, communication, collaboration
As I previously discussed in my article series on creating effective IT development teams, one of the fundamental building blocks that must be in place is the creation of a psychologically safe climate and an open work atmosphere where everyone feels they can express their opinions, question things, and bring up topics for discussion within the group.
For a more detailed description of this area, along with numerous tips and advice, I recommend checking out the article series available on the same website. I specifically refer to the article that focuses on communication and collaboration.
Offer support and resources
As a ScM, you need to be an accessible resource for your team, not only to teach everyone about Scrum but also to remove obstacles and address risks, as I mentioned earlier. However, it's equally important that the ScM constantly coaches and supports team members when they need assistance, both in major issues and smaller simpler problem-solving scenarios.
The ScM can also easily identify when resources need to be reallocated within the team or when temporary reinforcement is required from external sources.
As mentioned before, the ScM often acts as a mentor to various team members and should be a person from whom anyone can seek advice and support regarding Scrum methodology, collaboration, communication, obstacles, risks, and much more. In certain situations, one can almost view the ScM as the team's counselor and psychologist, but it's preferable for the ScM to handle a broader range of responsibilities rather than being too narrowly focused.
There are several agile methods the ScM can employ to find solutions to problems, such as retrospectives, which allow for structured feedback gathering.
Depending on your personality and your professional and life experiences, you can adapt the ScM role to suit you effectively and ensure the team benefits as much as possible from your strengths. For example, if you have significant experience in handling HR-related issues, it makes sense to leverage that expertise within the team and get involved in recruitment, further training, and designing individual development plans, among other tasks.
Conversely, if you have a technical background as a Java programmer, you may assist developers in their work, such as participating in code reviews. So, don't get fixated on how the ScM role is officially described; instead, adapt the recommendations to suit both the team and your individual qualities.
Work on continuous improvement and document your work
One thing that sets humans apart from many other mammals is our incredible ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances and our proficiency in documenting the things we test and learning from those experiments along with the accompanying documentation, so that we don't repeat the same mistakes.
Of course, there are exceptions to this, as some individuals don't learn from history and continue to make the same mistakes repeatedly. However, on the whole, this is one of the characteristics that distinguishes the human race.
Unlike those individuals who fail to learn from history, as a ScM, you should go in the opposite direction by genuinely learning from mistakes and ensuring that you document as much as possible, both significant and minor details.
Additionally, try to categorize your notes, as it will greatly assist you in easily retrieving past information about various situations, how you and the team chose to act, and the outcomes.
Now that you have valuable insights on how to handle obstacles and risks, my next article will focus on how you can develop into a natural leader for your team.