Often you will get somebody join your team as a Scrum Master who has in a previous life been a Project Manager. It seems to be the natural transition, to move from a being Project Manager to being a Scrum Master.

In my experience they often make the worse Scrum Masters.

I often see a Project Manager joining the Agile Data team as a Scrum Master because they have “done standups” before. Unfortunately, lots of organisations seem to think that running standups is all you need to do to be Agile.

Scrum Ceremonies

If using the Scrum patterns as part of your Agile Data approach there are a number of ceremonies that need to happen in each sprint:

  • Daily standups;
  • Sprint planning;
  • Prove it session;
  • Retrospective;
  • Backlog grooming;

Like all roles to be a good Scrum Master you actually need experience in running all these ceremonies. Especially if you have a delivery team that is new to an Agile way of working. Taking the team successfully through these ceremonies for the first few times takes skill and experience.

Walk the Scrum Master talk

A novice Scrum Masters natural reaction is to introduce all the complexities of these ceremonies to the team in the first go. This approach tends to overwhelm the team, it is much better to gradually introduce the concepts of each ceremony as the Agile Data team participates in them, effectively allowing them to learn by doing.

Another key skill a Scrum Master needs to have is to be able to facilitate the Agile Data team so that they form and storm and become self organising. A Project Manager acting as a Scrum Master will either “talk at” the team, running through the list of tasks in play and maybe at the end doing a “round the table” to see if the team need to add anything. Or they will structure the standup so that the Agile Data team are “reporting” to the Scrum Master rather than talking to each other.

Classic Tells

A classic fail “tell” is when the standup goes from being less than 15 minutes to becoming a 1 hour talk fest.

A Project Manager is used to creating the plan themselves and assigning tasks to team members, rather than helping a team to become self organising. They are focussed on the success of the outcome not the success of the team. Helping an Agile Data team to become self organising is the primary goal of the Scrum Master. Once the Agile Data team is operating successfully, the outcomes pretty much take care of themselves.

Out of interest, in my experience I have found a Data or BI Analyst often makes the best Scrum Master, and as well as a Project Manager, a Business Analyst doesn’t.

If I can’t get an experienced Scrum Master for a new Agile Data team, then I would much rather identify a capable person who is a permanent of the organisation, with the right aptitude, and find a great Agile Coach to help them up-skill.