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The role of the scrum master has become very popular with the introduction of Agile practices. People in this role are always looking for ways to improve themselves. Often, it’s a completely new role for them, very different from what they were doing before. To make things even more challenging, organizations are finding it difficult to figure out how to integrate scrum masters with traditional roles.

Be an Honest Broker

Have you ever had a manager who favored a certain group? It’s disheartening, especially when you’re not in the favored group. This is why being an honest broker is crucial to being a great scrum master.

An honest broker is someone accepted by everyone, maintaining neutrality to develop solutions without favoring any party involved. Let’s explore three characteristics of an honest broker.

Balanced Attention

An honest broker provides balanced attention. As a scrum master, you spend your time where it’s needed to help the team achieve the best results each sprint. This means giving equal attention to both developers and product owners. The focus should be on where attention is needed based on the circumstances, all while aiming for product success.

Encouraging Idea Evolution

A great scrum master encourages ideas to evolve toward a solution. In the world of improv, this is called the “art of the possible.” Each player adopts a “yes and” approach rather than a “yes but.” As a scrum master, you can keep the brainstorming process flowing by asking, “What else can we add to the idea?”

Driving Towards the Best Idea

An honest broker is neutral yet supportive of the ideas presented. Your input should focus on building the best team. For instance, when refining the product backlog during a sprint, consider the following questions:

  • Does the product owner’s voice get heard?
  • Are her priorities being expressed to the team?
  • Does the team have an opportunity to weigh in on those priorities?
  • Are you effectively bringing those voices together?

A skill that underpins these characteristics is competent facilitation. It is your secret weapon to navigate crucial conversations as an honest broker. As you reflect on these characteristics, ask yourself, are you an honest broker?

Revealing Root Causes

Retrospectives are often criticized and underutilized. They frequently devolve into complaint sessions and fail to address the root causes of issues. As a result, actionable experiments are not developed, and everyone feels like they’ve wasted time. If this sounds familiar to your team, let’s explore some ways great scrum masters help teams reveal root causes.

Developing a Shared Pool of Knowledge

First, a great scrum master helps the team develop a shared pool of knowledge. To do this, ensure everyone on the team is contributing to the conversation. Encourage team members to discuss what went right and what went wrong. Listen to every voice and make sure it is heard by all, so you have the best information to identify root causes.

Identifying Patterns

Second, a great scrum master identifies patterns that deepen the understanding of the problem and foster common agreement. For example, if several team members mention missing the daily scrum or some being notoriously late, you might suggest the pattern of inconsistent attendance. One effective practice is to physically group the ideas together on a board so they are visible and apparent.

Facilitating Insights

Third, a great scrum master facilitates the exposure of insights. Building on the example of inconsistent daily scrum attendance, there is likely a reason for this. If the team focuses only on the facts and doesn’t delve into the underlying reasons, they may not arrive at the proper resolution. Using thoughtful, analytical questions that inspire deeper thought beyond symptoms is a valuable tool.

To go beyond symptoms and uncover root causes, consider these powerful questions:

  • What have we learned from the patterns we’ve uncovered?
  • What seems obvious as a root cause?
  • What’s important here?
  • How can we get more clarity?

Revealing root causes is crucial for ensuring continuous improvement, a key principle within Agile. So, when another issue plaguing the team arises, how will you help reveal the root cause?

Passionately Coach Scrum

There’s a saying in the Scrum community: “Scrum is simple, but hard to apply.” While there are very few rules, their application can be as complex as the problems Scrum aims to solve. This is why the role of the Scrum master is to act as a coach, continuously learning the framework and how to apply it.

Great Scrum masters take three key actions when it comes to coaching:

Deep Understanding of Scrum and Agile Frameworks

First, gain a deep understanding of Scrum and other Agile frameworks. The team will look to you for answers when questions arise. For example, they might ask if it’s acceptable to extend the sprint by a few days. A knowledgeable Scrum master will know the answer is no. The team will depend on you for these resolutions.

Reviewing Decisions and Practices

Second, build a habit of reviewing decisions and practices, as well as their impacts. For instance, during the retrospective at the end of each sprint, it’s helpful for the Scrum master to share observations that may not be apparent to the team, since they are focused on meeting the sprint goal. These observations can cover team dynamics, engineering deficiencies, and everything in between.

Supporting the Application of Scrum

Third, support the application of the Scrum framework. Knowing the framework and using it effectively can be vastly different. Most teams will go through many iterations to form properly, build the right skills, change organizational norms, and remove countless impediments just to consistently build potentially shippable increments each sprint.

Continuous Learning as a Coach

Being a great coach can be a lifelong endeavor, continuously building your knowledge along with learning new techniques and strategies.

Doggedly Remove Obstacles

If your team keeps citing the same impediments during daily scrums and retrospectives, it’s time to address these issues so they don’t keep holding the team back. Here are some effective ways to remove these impediments for good:

Listen for the Obvious

First, listen for the obvious signs. If a team member explicitly says, “I have an impediment,” that’s a clear indication. You would hope that team members always express their impediments clearly.

Decipher Signal from Noise

Second, learn to distinguish between the signal and the noise. Impediments may be mentioned among other information. Developing the skill to identify these impediments amidst other important, yet different, information is crucial.

Removing Impediments

Empower the Team

Next, identify who can best remove the impediment. Empowering the team to remove the obstacle can be the most effective and sustainable solution. However, sometimes only someone outside the team can remove the impediment. In such cases, ensure that this person is accessible, empowered, and willing to help.

Develop a Strategy

If necessary, help the impediment-remover develop a strategy to eliminate the obstacle. Here are some techniques:

  • Understand the Context: Help the remover understand the context of the impediment, its impact, and who it affects. This investment in understanding will lead to a more effective solution.
  • Create a SMART Solution: Guide the remover to develop a solution that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART).
  • Ensure Acceptance: The solution should be accepted by those impacted by the impediment. There’s no point in implementing a solution that doesn’t align with the needs of those who identified the issue.

Execute the Solution

Finally, start executing the solution to remove the impediment. Removing obstacles can be painstaking, but it is a critical component of helping the team and organization succeed. Take this task seriously.

Ensure Safety

Studies consistently show that safety is crucial for employee happiness, which in turn leads to a more productive and successful workforce. Safety is a basic human need, and without it, our ability to innovate, contribute, and succeed is compromised, negatively impacting both the team and the organization. Unfortunately, many organizations still lack the safety needed for high performance.


In this context, safety refers to an environment where curiosity, risk-taking, challenging norms, and sharing opinions are encouraged and respected.

The Scrum Master’s Role in Ensuring Safety

A Scrum master plays a pivotal role in promoting safety. Each aspect of safety should be demonstrated through the Scrum master’s personality and interactions with team members. Let’s look at some examples.

Encouraging Curiosity

Building a diverse team is challenging, especially when it comes to understanding each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and humanity. One effective approach is fostering curiosity. Great Scrum masters often suggest replacing judgment with curiosity when exchanging ideas and opinions.

Promoting Risk-Taking

Risk-taking is essential for innovation and problem-solving. The team needs to feel that they can try and fail without being labeled as failures. Great Scrum masters remind the team and organization of this by asking, “What’s a radical idea?”

Challenging Norms

Teams can become stuck in a rut, relying on conventional wisdom or typical practices. While there is comfort in the familiar, it can also be limiting. Encouraging unconventional thinking is important for safety. A great Scrum master might shake things up by asking, “Does that practice still apply to us now?”

Encouraging Opinions

The ability to share opinions and ideas within the team is essential for safety. As a Scrum master, it’s crucial to notice what is and isn’t being shared. Don’t miss opportunities to provide an opening for quieter voices in the room.

Scrum masters model safety through these techniques, encouraging everyone else to follow suit. Safety becomes a behavior practiced by everyone, making it part of the culture. How will you start modeling the behavior of safety today?