5 top skills to develop for a Scrum Master or Agile Coach

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5 top skills to develop for a Scrum Master or Agile Coach

| Xavier Quesada Allué

Are you looking to become a better Scrum Master or Agile Coach? Here’s where you need to focus on! We give you 5 essential skills for a Scrum Master or Agile Coach.

So, you already know Scrum. Ok, what’s next?

Before you start – Assess yourself honestly. Do you really know Scrum well?

This article assumes you have achieved a basic level of proficiency as a Scrum Master / Agile Coach. But have you, really? How do you assess yourself? Ideally, you are being mentored by someone more senior with proven credentials. But it takes years of experience and practice to reach the level of mastery required to mentor people professionally, and you might not have a suitable mentor within your reach. If you lack a mentor or have doubts about their experience, don’t go at it alone. Join an Advanced Certified Scrum Master coaching and mentoring program from Agilar and get professional, accredited validation of your skills from some of the world’s top agile experts.

1. Visual Management and the daily work

As a Scrum Master, your team looks up to you for advice on how to be effective at self-organization. The most important practice you can offer your team is good Visual Management techniques. Teach them to visualize their work in a way that works – for them and for you. Experiment with different taskboard or digital tool configurations – there is no one best way. How many columns do we want to visualize? What levels of granularity do we need to represent our work? (epics, stories, tasks, etc…). How do we visualize interruptions or other unplanned work? How do we see who is working on what? Your goal as a Scrum Master is to help your team use Visual Management effectively to be able to easily answer  questions such as “what are we working on” and “who is doing what”. As extras, add information radiators that answer questions such as “are we going fast enough” or “what is blocking our progress”.

2. Advanced meeting, workshop and training facilitation

As a Scrum Master, you have achieved a basic proficiency in workshop facilitation. Now it’s time to take it to the next level. Continue to practice and invest in your facilitation skills. Try new techniques, experiment, practice. A great facilitator will create experience and outcomes that delight workshop attendees and leave them wanting to come back. Have you ever heard of people who want the meeting to last longer? Because it is interesting, relevant and they are having fun? This is your goal. Great facilitators regularly obtain NPS scores of 50% or higher in their workshops and ROTI scores of 4 or higher in their meetings. Some good books to read on the topic: Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision makingGamestorming; and research Liberating Structures. To improve your training skills, develop your game with Sharon Bowman’s Training from the Back of the Room series.

3. Technical practices coaching

You might have heard “you don’t need to be a technical expert to be a good Scrum Master”, and it’s true. But it certainly helps. If you want to be a great Scrum Master, you need to build deep rapport with your team and if you understand the work they do, this will be a lot easier. Besides, there are a lot of ideas the team might be missing, and you might be able to contribute more than just coaching. Concrete advice on this topic depends on your area of specialization, but if you are working in the software development space you should definitively study XP (Extreme Programming) and Devops (read Continuous Delivery and The Phoenix Project) for inspiration.

4. Lean, Kanban and LeSS scaling

No Agile coaching practice is complete without a solid understanding of the fundamentals of Lean Thinking and the Toyota Production System. While adaptability to change and customer centricity get all the headlines, Agile is a direct descendant of Lean and you cannot coach a team to high performance if you are ignorant of the fundamentals of operational excellence, total quality management and continuous improvement frameworks. Invest in learning and practicing the basics of Lean to increase your game. There are a vast amount of resources you can explore, but we like to recommend the basics: Taiichi OhnoLean ThinkingThe Toyota Way. While kanban with small “k” is part of classic Lean, the Kanban method is a modern agile framework that is also a good entry point to this area of knowledge. A certified Kanban training offered by a reputable trainer is also an option. Finally, the LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) agile method relies heavily on Lean & Systems Thinking as its foundations so a LeSS training or book can also be a good entry point to Lean, besides teaching you one of the most important approaches to approaching large initiatives and large organizations.

5. Creating rapport with leadership and “the business”

Anybody who has introduced Agile practices within the IT department of a classic (large) organization has heard that one of the easiest, fastest wins is “increased collaboration between business and IT”. But there is a big difference between the initial quick wins you see in a sprint review and the transformational impact creating true rapport with leadership can bring. The next frontier of Agile is coaching the agile organization and creating agile leaders, and to achieve this ambitious goal we need stronger, more mature Agile Coaches. A modern coach needs to be not only a good coach, but also a good trainer and a great consultant. You need to master talking to any actor at any level and delivering clear, crisp explanations of what Agile really means (hint: it’s not a process, or a methodology, or a bag of tricks), what are the benefits, what are the risks, why this is urgent, and what we need to do to start our Agile transformation today. This is no easy task: leaders have little time and patience and “the business” (colleagues from different operational or functional areas of the company) are up to the brim with day to day “BAU” work, besides tending to think that this doesn’t really apply to them. It takes a really good Scrum Master to be the champion for change in such an environment. A good book you can slip into a leader’s briefcase to tempt their interest is Doing Agile Right by our friends at Bain & Co.

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