Monday, May 13, 2013

Coaching Scrum Masters

In my coaching work, I find that any effort I put into coaching Scrum Masters pays itself back many times over. The Scrum Master is able to take their improved knowledge and apply it to their team which has a compounding effect. With the Scrum Masters fulfilling their role well the teams can hit their stride earlier and I can focus on key individuals and organisational issues.

Growth in people

In this blog post I explained my approach of providing direct feedback to Scrum Masters based on the Scrum Activity that they just facilitated. That approach has served me well; however it was not always been smooth sailing. I have learnt a few lessons along the way. From my successes and lessons I present to you a list of ‘Trys’.

The basic approach is to observe the Scrum Activities (Planning, Review, Retrospectives, Stand ups) and provide feedback directly to the Scrum Masters. Focusing on the Scrum Activities helps the Scrum Masters to quickly come to terms with the most visible aspects of Scrum. With these visible aspects under control, they can move on to learning about the more ‘behind the scenes’ aspects.

Prior to the activity

  • Try asking for permission from the Scrum Master to attend the activity. This serves several purposes; it helps to bring the Scrum Master onside ready to receive your feedback, it gives you a chance to ask the Scrum Master to explain your presence to the attendees at the start of the activity, and it allows you to book in a time to provide the feedback promptly after the activity.

During the activity

  • Try having the Scrum Master explain to the attendees as part of setting the scene for the activity; that your presence is to provide feedback to the Scrum Master and help them improve; it is not to grade the team. This goes a little way towards the attendees being more open in your presence.
  • Try taking plenty of notes during the activity. Making sure to record specific examples of the incident that relates to the feedback you want to provide. i.e. During a Retrospective ‘Need to drill into symptoms to find root cause’, would be better recorded as ‘John said the tests where taking too long; you should have asked why are they taking so long, before getting the team to come up with a Try.”

After the activity

  • Try to meet with the recipient promptly after the event. The same day is ideal, the next day is ok. With the event fresh in your minds you will both be better placed to discuss specific examples.
  • Try keeping your feedback to around five key points or less. Any more then that will be hard for the recipient to take in during the feedback meeting. I often look at my page of notes and mark a couple of good points and a couple of the areas for improvement, making sure to only mark five points or less.
  • Try meeting in private, this encourages the recipient to be more open and frank with you, especially when talking about their interactions with other people.
  • Try starting the feedback meeting by asking them what they thought of the event; their answer is often enlightening. Some times they may already have internalised the feedback that you intended to give them, they may have seen the activity completely different to you, they may have had some insight into why people did what they did, they may offer up some issues that gives you a great opportunity to drill into.
  • Try to discuss all criticisms in a constructive way. They should be presented as areas for improvement. E.g. ‘You did not stop the ongoing discussion about how to design the widget, that discussion was wasting the team’s time.’ would be better phrased as ‘The ongoing discussion about how to design the widget, could have been cut short and taken offline. This would have saved several minutes for the team. Perhaps next time a discussion is occurring that only involves a couple of people goes for over a minute of two, you could politely ask them to take it offline? Would you be comfortable doing that?’
  • Try using the Feedback Sandwich:  

  1. Start with positive feedback (Praise).     
  2. Discuss areas for improvement (Constructive Criticism)     
  3. Wrap up with more good stuff or general encouragement (Praise).

  • Try to discuss all praise and criticisms based on recent and specific examples. E.g. ‘It would be good to see you support the voice of the quiet people in the team’ would be better as ‘When Ronald started to talk about his issues with the documentation being out of date; it would have been a great opportunity to support a quiet voice in the team by agreeing with him and asking the team to discuss it further’.

Good luck giving out your feedback and seeing your Scrum Masters grow. Let me know if any of these try's worked for you. I am also keen to hear about any that backfire for you.

Photo by: Kris Anderson


  1. I have bookmarked this one so don't ever delete it!

    Personal interaction is so very important for coaching. I'm glad you have emphasized this.

  2. It is a keeper, I am glad that you like it and hope that you get great use out of it.