What Do Great Scrum Masters Do?

What Do Great Scrum Masters Do?

Geoff Watts is one of the leading Scrum thinkers in the world, and one of the few to hold both the Certified Scrum Trainer and Certified Scrum Coach designation. He's also an instructor at Front Row Agile with a newly released online course, "Scrum Mastery: From Good To Great Servant-Leadership," based on his book of the same name. 

Geoff shares patterns that he has seen the good and the great servant-leaders (such as Scrum Masters) display in his time working with many Scrum teams. Here, we'll talk with Geoff about some of his concepts behind becoming a great Scrum Master. 

Tell us a little more about why you wanted to teach Scrum Masters how to be great. 

Geoff: There are loads of Scrum Masters out there, and still precious little actual guidance for how to do what is a really tough and largely undefined job. So I wanted to share some practical tips that people can use straight away to help become more effective. 

What about those people who have read your book already -- how can they learn from your online course?

Geoff: I’m very aware that people learn in different ways and I have been asked many times about the possibility of turning my book into an e-book or online video. So this is another way of learning for those that prefer a more visual and/or audio method. 

Having said that, some of the more pleasing and surprising comments have been from those who have read the book and taken the course. Many of them have said that it brings the book to life and helps explain points in a different way. 

Describe the training a Scrum Master can receive to push him or herself to greatness.

Geoff: In my course, I cover the main characteristics and skill sets that I have found in the truly great Scrum Masters; the ones who have inspired great agile teams to build great products. 

In fact, these characteristics have formed a useful acronym that the course has been built around. I’ve found that the best Scrum Masters tend to be RETRAINED:


There is a section in my course with videos dedicated to each of these characteristics.

If you had to pick one skill above all others that is most important for a Scrum Master, what would it be?

Geoff: That's a tough one, but I’m pretty sure the most important skill for a Scrum Master is listening. And, more specifically, to listen empathically; that is, to be able to listen without judgement or personal agenda and with the ability to understand that person’s point of view. 

Great Scrum Masters listen with a genuine curiosity and desire to understand and help. Even more than that, they listen with the intent of helping those talking to understand themselves. 

They listen to what is being said, what is being implied and what is not being said. This helps build a connection and rapport, and also helps them in one of their primary jobs: removing impediments to productivity.

You use the term “servant-leader.” What does that mean to you?

Geoff: Well a servant-leader is someone whose primary objective is to ensure that others are able to do their jobs. They exist first and foremost to help the progress and development of others. 

Scrum Masters fit this bill because they don’t really have a huge amount of personal responsibility. Product owners are responsible for ensuring that we are building the right product and the right features within that product. And the development team is responsible for ensuring that the product is being built correctly. 

The Scrum Master is there to ensure that both the product owner and the development team are able to do their jobs effectively. Part of that will be achieved in the short term by helping them use Scrum, but over time, the Scrum Master may actually guide the team past the need for a framework like Scrum.

And that is often the greatest test of a servant-leader: getting the team to the point where it is totally self-sufficient.

Will you do more online courses in the future?

Geoff: Absolutely. I’m convinced that this is a big part of the future. I’ve had to travel a lot in my job and I’m humbled that people regularly travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to come to my classes. But, there’s no real reason why that should have to be the case. 

This kind of medium allows me to potentially reach anyone who is interested without them having to travel or take days out of the office. I already have a couple more courses in the pipeline: one on retrospectives and one on coaching skills that I’m really excited about, so stay tuned. 

For more info from Geoff, check out free chapters of his online course on Front Row Agile, here


About Mike Cohn of Mountain Goat Software

Mike Cohn is one of the world’s most sought-after and well-respected certified Scrum trainers, currently the founder of Mountain Goat Software. In addition to being an in-demand speaker and consultant around the globe, he’s also the author of three books: User Stories Applied for Agile Software Development, Agile Estimating and Planning and Succeeding with Agile.

As an agile development thought leader and expert practitioner, Mike’s approach to software development and project management is efficient and effective. There’s a reason why so many top companies seek out Mike to train their employees.

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