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Creating A World-Class Scrum Master Chapter: 10 Key Learnings

In 2018 I was part of a huge transformation that accelerated our organisations focus towards becoming a tech-comms company. By the end of 2018, we had formed more than 50 scrum teams, and with this, I set out to form our very own in-house Scrum Master Chapter to lead the charge in driving the agile part of the transformation.

Here are my top ten learnings from our journey to create a world-class Scrum Master Chapter and Agile community:

1) Start with a purpose

To create a world-class Scrum Master Chapter. That was the purpose I was set when taking the role. Everything else, the charter, vision, and cadence for meeting was all co-created – but our purpose was something that people joining had to buy into. To me this purpose set a great benchmark and standard to strive for. Throughout the year, we found ourselves challenging each other, our commitments and our behaviours against this purpose.

2) Create a DNA

People are the most important part of any team. When looking for people to join the chapter, there were three pillars that were critical to any new person coming in:

  1. Courage and charisma
  2. Great stakeholder and interpersonal skills
  3. Know something about agile.

On reflection now, there would be one more key DNA trait I would add and that is a commitment to growth. Interestingly enough, the area I am most willing to sacrifice is ‘know something about agile’, as many of our internal hires from non-agile-specific roles have proven.

3) Invest in a community

In 2019, we invested more than 100 hours of face to face contact time as a full group. Not bad when you consider the team is based out of two offices that are 60 miles apart. When we meet, we focus on three areas and design an agenda that creates focus on these areas:

  • Our growth as scrum masters
  • The growth of the community
  • The growth of the organisation

When you get this right, it is a truly special thing and when the team left the last meet up of 2019 it was unanimous that this sense of community held a special place for them that was unique in their careers.

4) Build psychological safety, share and be vulnerable

The most incredible learning for me is this:

To really build a community you need to create trust, contact and relationships.

To achieve this you need a culture and an environment that creates psychological safety. In the very first meet up, we asked people whether they would be prepared to take a risk, be vulnerable and disclose about themselves at greater depth and then trust that through doing this we would all be stronger both individually and collectively. The exercise was so powerful and accelerated the bond in the community and thus the quality of sharing and psychological safety.

A learning as the year went on was the importance of making sure this event wasn’t a one-off.

5) Invest in capability and development

The commitment to growth I mentioned in the DNA is critical here, whether that be reading books or articles on the train into work or more formal classroom training.

In 2019, the team collected more than 30 certifications/qualifications. Some of these in the core field of agile e.g. Advanced Scrum Master Certification (A-CSM) whilst others were broader capability/awareness areas such as mental health and wellbeing courses.

We went through some of this training as a full group which was great for supporting the community, whilst other courses were open programmes which allowed us to meet new people with different ideas and experiences. All of these learnings were brought back and shared into the chapter.

6) Experiment, inspect and adapt

There is no manual for the steps to world-class. Like with our scrum teams, we experimented with how to grow. We ran retrospectives at the end of each meetup, created space for ‘check outs’ and used this insight to adapt.

We now have a formula for how a world-class agenda is pieced together, we know what type of environment is needed both psychically and psychologically.

But just as valuable, we have a culture that is OK with failing because we truly believe that we have the checks in place to provide feedback, learn and adapt for the future so that the failures help with our growth.

7) Remove any sense of hierarchy

At times I have felt a weight of failure to the team. Splitting time between my own scrum team and the Chapter lead role has been a challenge.

Whilst we have had a number of exceptional Agile coaches that have provided a great amount of support (to whom I am grateful) I would say more significantly, the way the team have self-organised and provided incredible support for one another has been most impacting.

A lovely example of this is two members of the Chapter who work in two different offices were heading their separate way after a team social when before saying their goodbyes, they agreed that they would have a weekly call on a Friday to check in on their weeks’ learnings. There are so many examples of this that actually, it has reduced my guilt for not being more available and instead I am more thankful and thrilled that the growth of the team comes through twelve voices and not one.

8) Have fun

It’s the final behaviour on our charter but it is so important.

We spend more time with our work colleagues than the family and friends we hold so close, so we must ensure we create a place that encourages and fosters fun.

9) Remember: the scrum teams and the organisation are the reason we’re here

In the past year, people in this chapter have mobilised, re-set and really powered our scrum teams; conducting more than 50 squad Agile offsite days across the organisation.

All eight previous steps would be worthless without remembering why we’re truly here:

We’re here to serve our scrum teams and the organisation.

Whilst there are times that the scrum master chapter will do this in pairs, groups, or as a chapter, the majority of our work is about individually developing our scrum teams so that we are delivering value for our customer.

Hence it is critical to not allow the chapter to impede, but serve and support their teams and the wider organisation.

10) Get some good ears

We, as scrum masters, are tuned in to a unique level of insight into the pulse of an organisation.

We also have a feel for what is working, and what can be adapted to optimise performance in a way no others in an organisation can access.

Having Executive level engagement to share this incredible insight is critical to driving continuous improvement. Experience tells me that sharing this insight to those at senior levels in the organisation is welcomed with open arms, despite what we often tell ourselves.

 

Alex Bluckert
Alex discovered agile in 2017, moving from a career in commercial teams to a Scrum Master role in a pilot agile squad. Alex quickly fell in love with the role and working in agile, and has since been at the forefront of scaling and rolling out of agile to more than fifty squads as well as being Chapter lead to a growing band of Scrum Masters. Alex combines a mix of humour with the odd awkward ice breaker, a focus on leading and facilitating growth through experiential learning whilst being tuned into the relationships between the needs of the business, customer and agile values and principles.

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