BeanStalk

How can a Scrum Master help an organization or a team improve? This might sound like a straightforward question, but it’s really not. And having an understanding of that is critical for individuals looking to improve as a Scrum Master (or organizations looking to improve the maturity of their Scrum Masters).

Our Scrum Master maturity model helps these people in two ways:

  • Provides an overview of the different ways a Scrum Master makes an impact
  • Indicates an individual’s maturity in each of those impact areas

So let’s take a look at the Scrum Master Maturity Model in more detail, to understand how it works.

Scrum Master Impact

At a high-level, there are two ways in which a Scrum Master will positively impact a team/organization:

  • Self-organization: when Agile talks about “self-organization”, it’s much more than putting cross-functional people together in a team. It’s about simplifying the organization and its bureaucracy, reviewing how we reward and support our people, figuring out what is the organizational design we need to maximize flow and customer centricity, and understanding how you will govern all the different ongoing activities. One of the key benefits a Scrum Master will provide an organization is to improve their ability to self-organize and adapt to the challenges and priorities at hand.
  • Continuous Improvement: the other key impact a Scrum Master will provide for a team/organization is continuous improvement. Through a variety of different practices, skills, and techniques, a Scrum Master will help to develop a culture of continuous improvement which will provide the organization with all sorts of benefits over time.

We then broke down each of those impact areas and two main activities describing how the Scrum Master makes an impact on those areas.

In the case of self-organization, the two main activities for a Scrum Master are:

  • Leadership: a Scrum Master is a leader within the team/organization. This leadership takes on different facets. It involves setting the cultural tone, changing processes, structure, and metrics, and also facilitating collaboration to improve value delivery.
  • Insights: a Scrum Master’s perspective, experience, and observations are invaluable to help generate insights for teams and their leaders. What is the best way to tackle this next challenge? Is there a better way to design our organization to improve value delivery? How do we maintain a governance of what is going on without blocking self-organization? A Scrum Master can help teams and organizations generate insights on how to address these types of challenges.

In the case of continuous improvement, the two main activities for a Scrum master are:

  • Change: a Scrum Master is a change agent within the organization, always experimenting with possibilities to improve collaboration and value delivery. This means taking an active role on topics such as knowledge sharing, team composition, HR (people) practices, product management, organizational design, governance, budgeting, and leadership development.
  • Improve: while the “change” activity (above) focuses on larger scale changes to practices, mindset, and system design, the Scrum Master also impacts a team/organization by helping them improve the good things they are already doing. And this requires the growth of a continuous improvement culture and the practices to support that.

So this part of the maturity model helps to understand the different ways in which a Scrum Master can positively impact a team/organization. The next part of the model focuses on the skills a Scrum Master needs to be able to impact these different areas.

Now, before going into the eight (8) different skill areas, it is important to understand the two basic postures a Scrum Master can take. Regardless of what the Scrum Master is active with, they can always take one of two postures:

Guiding – when a Scrum Master is taking a “guiding” posture (bottom part of the maturity model), they are not actively doing the work, but rather supporting other people in getting their work done. This can include helping an individual decide what to do next via some coaching sessions, facilitating a group discussion and helping them arrive at a decision, or creating a portfolio board to help visualize all the ongoing work and their status. Skills in this area are therefore linked to helping people get their work done and improve.

Doing – when a Scrum master is taking a “doing” posture (top part of the maturity model), they are actively taking action and moving a topic forward. This can take many different forms such as providing advice on how an organization should structure their teams, to removing impediments blocking the delivery of value, and even taking the lead on certain topics (e.g. clarifying roles & responsibilities).

So for each activity area (leadership, insight, change, and improve) there is a skill set related to guiding that activity within a team/organization, and a skill set related to doing the work for that activity. This is relevant for a Scrum Master looking to make an impact in their organization because they can look to improve first on the type of skill most needed for their context. In some organizations, the Scrum Master is expected to take the lead on various topics, while in other organizations they are expected to be more of a guide helping others get their work done. A Scrum Master profile suitable for one context, might not be suitable for the other.

Scrum Master Skills

Now let’s take a look at the different skill sets needed to make an impact on each of the four activity areas.

Leadership

One of the skill sets a Scrum Master needs to make an impact in a team/organization is related to ROLE MODELLING. These are skills connected to the Scrum Masters ability to actually take the lead on certain topics. Are they able to show a Product Owner how to lead a Sprint Review? Can they take the lead on an internal project (prioritization, stakeholder management, …)? Can they serve as an example of what is expected from leaders in an Agile environment? These skills are connected to the Scrum Master doing the work of a leader.

The second set of skills relate to the Scrum Masters ability to show leadership capabilities by being a great FACILITATOR, and helping the team/organization deliver and improve. This means understanding team dynamics, experience with facilitation techniques, and the ability to distinguish between moments to challenge and moments to support. These skills are connected to the Scrum Master guiding others to improve and deliver value.

Insights

A Scrum Master’s experience in helping different organizations change towards an Agile mindset and Agile ways of working enables them to make an impact by helping an team/organization generate insights about the root causes of their problems and changes they can make to address them. When taking on a doing posture, this means the Scrum Master is using their experience and knowledge about Agile practices, principles, and techniques to offer ADVICE on potential changes that should be considered. Skills in this area include applying different scaling patterns, understanding how change happens in an organization, and analyzing situations and systems.

When a Scrum Master takes a guiding posture in relation to insight generation, they are not offering advice, but rather using their COACHING skills to help teams and leaders work through problems and define concrete improvement actions. This requires skills such as activity listening, understanding a coaching relationship, and asking the right questions.

Change

As an agent of change, the Scrum Master is involved in the improvement of the organization. When taking a doing posture, this means being active or taking the lead in topics such as changing processes, adapting organizational design, implementing new tools & standards, and kicking off new teams or tribes. We call this skill set TRANSFORMING, as the Scrum Master is involved in creating change.

When taking a guiding posture, the Scrum Master will be actively TEACHING the organization. This means they are not the one creating change, but rather the expert teaching the change agents the knowledge, skills, or practices needed to address the challenge at hand. Examples of skills required to be successful here are deep understanding of Agile theory and practices, ability to run engaging training sessions, and experience in identifying the specific skills / knowledge gap necessary to address a specific challenge.

Improve

The last main activity area for a Scrum Master is “improve”. When taking a doing perspective, the Scrum Master is mainly focusing on removing impediments blocking or slowing down the delivery of value – they are UNBLOCKING the delivery of value. This could mean activities such as removing impediments slowing down a team, improving collaboration with other areas of the organization, or upgrading tools a team is using to manage their work.

When taking on a guiding perspective on “improve”, the Scrum Master is mainly focused on helping teams and organizations in VISUALIZING their current situation. This increased transparency will then guide the teams and leaders to define improvement actions. Examples of needed skills for this include visualizing the value stream and the status of work, techniques for managing risk and organizational design, understanding of models to assess team and tribe maturity, and knowledge of relevant metrics to highlight organizational maturity across different key areas.

Maturity model in practice

This model enables individuals and organizations to be more strategic about their staffing. Two teams might ask an organization for the same thing – “we need a Scrum Master to help our teams improve.” Perfectly valid request. However, these two teams might have very different needs.

In one case, they might need a Scrum Master who is comfortable in the doing posture because they are just getting started with Agile in their environment, the stakeholders are open to the idea but still unsure, and the person assigned to be Product Owner has the time and power to do the job, but they have never worked with an Agile team before. In this case, placing a Scrum Master who is more comfortable in the guiding posture might generate friction, since their strengths don’t match the need of the team.

By using this maturity model, organizations can be more strategic about::

  • Learning & development – what capabilities do we need from our Scrum Masters right now? Do they have it? How do we close that gap? By understanding the maturity model and their context, organizations can craft custom learning programs focused on impact.
    Staffing – what capabilities do our Scrum Masters have right now? Where can we place them to maximize their chances of having a positive impact? What skills should the Scrum Masters we’re hiring have?
    Knowledge sharing – it is easier to build learning communities if there is clarity on who is strong in what skill set. Who can mentor these new Scrum Masters on these practices? Who has unique skills that could benefit other Scrum Masters?

Likewise with individuals, by using the BeanStalk assessment to understand how their skills map in the Scrum Master maturity model, they will be better able to:

  • Personal development plan – by understanding where you stand today, what impact you’re able to create, and what your current context requires from you, you can create your custom learning program.
    Career planning – when considering your next assignment, ensuring you are picking an environment that needs the capabilities you have.


Here is an example of a Scrum Master profile that would be a good fit in a smaller organization, busy scaling a successful product. The context requires people who take ownership of topics, have informed opinions, and are able to lead a team.

On the other hand, a large, established organization, who has been experimenting with Agile ways of working and needs help in slowly and steadily improving collaboration, simplifying the processes, and changing the culture. In this context, decisions are not taken with great speed and change moves slowly. A successful Scrum Master is able to guide the ongoing initiative.