Global SCRUM GATHERING® New Orleans 2014 - The Scrum Master

This is the final article about some important points I took away from the Scrum Alliance Global Scrum Gathering in New Orleans. This was an excellent conference and I learned many new things. Also, practices that I use regularly were expanded and important details were added to my knowledge base.

My first article pertained to The Team while the second focused on The Product. This article will discuss the Scrum Master.

The Scrum Master

It was very interesting to see a large number of people who are experienced Scrum Masters. Each of these people brought their experience to the sessions I attended.

A common theme was to show respect whenever you are talking to the team or individuals and be wary of your body language as you interact. It is very easy in the heat of the moment to become emotional.

It is important to remember that the Scrum Master has no decision making authority. This is actually a powerful position because it focuses decisions on the team who after all are the experts.

A scrum master should become the Master of the Question and facilitate Fact Based Discussions. It is also critical to remember to ask the team as issues and decisions need to be made. 

I attended a session that focused on listening. Some important points we discussed were:

  • Maintain eye contact as you talk to a person. Watch their body language as you interact with them.
  • The person you are talking to is the most important person in the world at that time. 
  • Pocket the phone when you talk. Do not check emails or answer a call unless it is an emergency.  If you must take a call excuse yourself with a statement like “I am sorry, this is my daughter, it may be an emergency”.
  • Re-state what the person said so you can validate your understanding of the conversation.
  • Write down the person’s name if you are new to a team, it will help you remember them in the future.

A number of people mentioned that they use a Scrum Master Checklist as a way to stay on track. This checklist asks questions about the backlog, user stories, and other important points that help keep a project on track. I have created a checklist in Excel that I plan to use from now on. If you want to check it out, it is available here.

One of the more creative sessions was titled Coaching Like Columbo by Dr. Patrick McConnell of CSC. The premise of this session was to:

  • Ask a very simple, non-confrontational question focused on outcomes or daily experience.
  • Shut up, for a while.
  • Start connecting the dots backward to choices.

We used the diagram below ask questions and broke off into teams.

Columbo Questions.png

How did your last release go?
For the Un Healthy answer we Came up with:
The release was late, someone died and our company’s stock price went down.
For the healthy answer we came up with:
We released more than planned on time, the product won an award and we became rich because of our stock options.
We then worked on the conditions for each of our answers. This light hearted approach was fun and a method to uncover creative answers. I plan to use this on some of my future projects.
I was very happy with the outcome of the conference. I would recommend it to every agile practitioner.

Learn More 

Vendor / Content

  • Visual AGILExicon – This was developed by Ken Rubin who wrote a very popular book and has trained thousands of people. This AGILExicon Visual Agile Lexicon  is a set of re-useable graphically rich diagrams that cover the concepts of Scrum. It is available to all for free to use.
  • Axosoft - Axosoft is a vendor who sells a suite of agile tools. The bug tracker tool is available for $1 per year for teams of any size.
  • Cisco Products - This is a set of high end tele-presence products for geographically separate teams.
  • Sococo Products - virtual office software for geographically separate teams. Virtual offices, chat and meeting rooms keep teams together.

Books / Articles

Conference Slides and Keynotes  

These links provide access to the session slides and keynote presentations. You have to be a member of the Scrum Alliance but after that, the content is free. I highly recommend The Business Value of Joy, Richard Sheridan. It got a standing ovation and is excellent!