We’ve published several posts about agile methodology– most recently, we walked through the role of a Product Owner in an interview. Continuing with our Scrum series, the following contains highlights from our conversation with Stylers Group Scrum Masters, Krisztián, Bence, and Viktor, about their roles and tasks.

What is the role of the Scrum Master within the Scrum Team?

Bence: During previous conversations, we covered the role of the Product Owner and Scrum Master. Using a shepherd, herd, and German shepherd analogy, we discussed how the Product Owner takes on the role of a shepherd, giving the team a common vision. The Scrum Master, however, takes on the role of the German shepherd, leading and protecting the herd, and helping the herd stay in the correct direction. What might have been left out of that article is that the Scrum Master does not only pay attention to the whole herd, but also to the occasionally roaming individual sheep that has to be guided back toward the others. In the case of a Scrum Team, this “roaming” manifests in the loss of ground or direction, which can be intensified by today’s remote work environment. In such cases, it is the Scrum Master’s task to bring them back in a way that allows the individual to reconnect with the team and common goal. In other words, the Scrum Master plays a crucial role in rebuilding team cohesion and dissolving frictions.

Viktor: Bence’s analogy is really great because it truly reflects German shepherd features which are necessary for a Scrum Master: loyalty, humbleness, people skills that complement those of the herd, plus, the considerate attention which reaches all team members and does not let anyone be lost.

Krisztián: The role of the Scrum Master is quite fascinating, as he is committed to the team but also takes into account what the Product Owner says. It is a bit as if he was in crossfire and formed a shield around the team; at the same time, he is an essential link between the team and Product Owner, as well as the team and the client. His task is to maintain team dynamics, and promote progress, which sometimes requires sacrifice.

What tools are used by Scrum Masters? How can Scrum Masters understand their team even more?

Viktor: Being humble is just as important here as dedicating time and energy toward cultivating good relationships with team members. It is indispensable for him to keep observing both people and processes at all times – of course, under today’s current circumstances, this means in a contactless and unbiased way. In addition to possessing a common mission, all Scrum Masters have different experience, knowledge and social skills Thus Scrum Masters’ tools might differ, however, the intention and the direction are all the same.

Bence: What I can add to the ideas above is that the emphasis is put on relationships and connections. At this point, it should be highlighted that in ideal cases one does not simply “become” a Scrum Master. Unfortunately, it could happen that a Project Manager is requested to assume Scrum Master or Product Owner roles, but these differ from that of an official Scrum Master. Of course, a Project Manager is still expected to have similar sensitivity and openness to building relationships, yet, the attitude and mindset needed to assume a Scrum Master position is completely different. All the same, there is no hierarchy in this role, a Scrum Master has no boss or a leader but he works jointly with others in order to reach a goal, and his goal is to enable the most efficient operations possible. In order to create the connections that Viktor mentioned, the one-to-one talks are excellent tools, during which one can concentrate on the individual’s needs. Respectively, if a Scrum Master has a new team, it may be good practice just to observe in the beginning as they get familiar with the team and understand the way the team operates collectively and individually.

Krisztián: There is a wide range of tools available beyond the ones mentioned so far and these can be useful if the Scrum Master himself is new at the company and does not know the co-workers at all. At Stylers, every new team member completes two personality tests (see our previous blogposts on this topic). One of these tests classifies them into the DISC model personality types, while the second investigates the inner drives. Recently, we have been watching these with growing awareness and, in my opinion, this endeavour has paid off. Because these tests serve as starting points for getting to know team members, you can safely predict personality traits and attitudes instead of working from scratch. If a Scrum Master is aware of these results, he knows how to handle someone appropriately, in light of his introverted or extroverted personality type. It is not easy to get close to everyone, so it is not something that can be forced; however, if a Scrum Master has proper people skills and experience, he is likely to be aware of good timing.

How can a Scrum Master help company staff, such as HR associates?

Krisztián: In general, an excellent relationship will form between HR and the Scrum Master since both pay attention to people. We are that lucky that our HR head, Judit, used to be a Scrum Master and also takes part in common meetings – recently, she was involved in Spotify Health Check. During these occasions, information that is useful for HR is made known, thus it is a huge advantage to have her on board.

Bence: A Scrum Master often gets into confidential situations during a one-to-one discussion, which is exclusively the Scrum Master’s business. Under no circumstances can the Scrum Master “snitch” on employees; however, if something serious happens to a team member, he should inform HR about it, as an HR leader can offer solutions to these problems more easily.

What makes someone become a really good Scrum Master? What kinds of mistakes might a Scrum Master make?

Viktor: It is highly advantageous if a Scrum Master is proactive, solution-oriented, and shares some relevant life experience that can be implemented during his daily work. In my view, what we can consider as a mistake is the role loss, i.e., if he assumes an excessive management attitude. The Scrum Master position is not that of a Mega Boss – instead, it is much closer to servant leadership combined with sophisticated and intelligent tools.

Krisztián: Moreover, in the case of a Scrum Master it is of utmost benefit if he possesses some basic IT knowledge – this way, it is easier for him to make himself understood with the team. It is just as important to be well aware of various methodologies and best practices, which can be used consistently. Role loss is a nice thought, in my opinion – the only way to avoid it is by setting limits to all internal positions, which are clear to all. These Scrum-related roles were invented to be respected – no matter if I have some professional insight into a project, it is not my place to judge what solutions should be adopted during development.

Bence: Referring to Viktor’s comments, I would highlight servant leadership and role loss, too, as potential pitfalls. It does not matter if minimal IT competence is missing in the beginning, what counts, however, is openness and the continuous effort by the Scrum Master to understand the developers’ problems beyond wanting to solve them.