As a Scrum Master you have one of the toughest yet incredibly meaningful role to play in improving the product development environment in organizations. You don’t have any positional power and authority in the organization, as none of the development team members report in to you. Despite lack of authority and power, your role is highly dependent on enormous amount of influence to be able to educate and coach the development team, the product owner and the organization at large. High level of influence helps you become effective in delivering your responsibilities.
The lack of enough influence, could cause the Scrum Master to quickly succumb to an administrative assistant role without even realizing it.
To be effective you would need influence capital at the team level, with the product owner and at the organization level.
Like every Scrum Master you may wonder, how do I gain influence? Here are six ways to try:
Don’t get assigned or imposed on the team. If you are interviewing for a Scrum Master position with a team that already exists invite the team members to interview you as well. If you are being transferred within an organization from one team to another, it’s easier for you to setup time with the members of the new team. Use this opportunity to let them interview you. When the team members select you to be their Scrum Master, they are much more open to your insights and coaching interventions. They’ve brought you in so they are invested in your success. Though this practice is very common in smaller companies and smaller teams, many Scrum Masters I come across in larger organizations are assigned to the teams (read: top down). This strategy always exposes you to potentially getting rejected by the team and that’s a good thing. Would you rather join a team and get rejected by them four or eight weeks later? Hey, it saves you from bigger failure and allows you to explore other opportunities immediately.
Not yours. Not the manager’s. This may seem counter-intuitive to you. For the Scrum Team to perform well it needs to self-organize and self-manage itself. As a Scrum Master be the facilitator, so the team can craft it’s agenda and own it. The Product Owner ensures this agenda is in-line with the organization’s larger objectives and vision. The ownership and commitment increases many folds when the team has crafted the objectives, plans, improvement areas, quality standards and performance goals on it’s own. It increases the engagement and the team members hold each other accountable to high standards. When you commit to serve team’s agenda, not only the team trusts you more, they genuinely listen to you and collaborate with you.
- Listen Emphatically
Scrum exposes dysfunctions and that’s an uncomfortable position to be in for most teams. While the ideal and expected answer to such situation is to solve the dysfunctions, it’s easier said than done in most organizations. Change isn’t easy and it’s cousin resistance usually, accompanies change. As a Scrum Master open up your ears and empathetically listen to your team’s challenges, you would understand the context, dependencies, underlying assumptions, cultural biases and limitations better. When you actively and emphatically listen, you get to know the person well and build a relationship with them. The one who is talking could get better clarity about their situation and thoughts, allowing you to effectively offer your help to them.
- Ask questions.
How would asking questions increase my influence? you ask. Asking powerful questions and listing skills go hand in hand. Powerful questions could provoke deeper insights and challenge the person to think differently. As a Scrum Master when you genuinely ask open-ended powerful questions, without bias towards an answer, you empower the team members. It allows them to explore the options they may already have access to and find solutions for themselves. When someone identifies an approach they want to try to solve a challenge, you would not need to persuade them. Why? It’s their approach. You could simply ask them if they need your help keeping them on track. You could hold them accountable towards action and results through regular check-ins.
- Constantly Self Analyze.
Keep analyzing how your behavior and your service to the team, the product owner, and the organization. Seek feedback, experiment frequently, and share your learning with others. Be vulnerable, it’s ok. When you constantly self-analyze in the pursuit to improve your skills, your behavior, your own work, your team takes a note of it. The influence you gain through walking the talk would be a tremendous boost in getting team’s participation and buy-in. Guess what will be your team’s response when you invite them to analyze team’s communication, processes, behavior, and performance?
- Master Scrum.
Yes, it’s critical that you Master it. Learning Scrum, mastering to implement it and helping the team(s) implement it is an ongoing and cautious effort. Learning Scrum doesn’t have to stop after you attend 2 day Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) training or become a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) – this is where mediocre Scrum Masters stop. Don’t stop there. Equip yourself with skills you need to thrive in your context. Experiment new ideas, facilitation techniques, activities, and games, see what works. Your mastery of Scrum will directly impact the benefits your organization could realize from implementing Scrum and that could credit a lot of influence in your account.
PS: When I got my CSP credentials, I architectured it to be an opportunity to accelerate my learning and implementing Scrum with new fervor. It gave me access to lot more resources and boosted my confidence. When I was told – this is how we do it here, I didn’t let it be that way. When I was told – oh, we can’t do that here, I didn’t accept it. I kept exposing dysfunctions and challenging the status quo. It has helped the teams, it has helped the organizations I serve and that has helped me tremendously.
Hey Scrum Masters, would you like to self-assess your level of influence? Take a 2 minute assessment here.
I didn’t intend above list to be an exhaustive one. I’m curious, what has helped you gain influence in your practice? Would you share it with me?