3 Mistakes Scrum Masters Make

The role of the Scrum Master is demanding.  When you are the Scrum Master, you are the source of Agile practice, yet you can't act as if you are the directive leader.  When it comes to being a great Scrum Master, how do you avoid common mistakes?  Let us dig into some of the most common mistakes a Scrum Master makes and discuss ways to prevent them.

  1. Allowing a sprint to be wishy washy

 Mistakes Scrum Masters Make

The process of Agile and Scrum has an establishment of expectations explicitly.  One of those expectations is that, during Sprint Planning and working the Sprint Backlog, the team commits to a set of work the Development Team can complete within the Sprint.  

The Scrum Master has the role of facilitating the sprint planning process, as well as working with the Development Team to determine if what they work on is appropriate and in the spirit of completing the sprint work, at all times.

One common mistake a Scrum Master makes is to stand by while user stories or items committed to that sprint are spilling over into a subsequent sprint. One way to avoid that mistake is to coach the team in ways to avoid that common pitfall.

Part of this pitfall occurs when the Scrum Master doesn’t properly advise the team to stick with the current sprint as originally planned. The Scrum Master should facilitate negotiation between the team and the Product Owner to add work into the current sprint.

Mistakes will happen on occasion, but a Scrum Master works to help the team plan accordingly and resist sprint changes mid-stream.  Teams should only commit and execute on work achievable in that defined sprint timebox.

2. Acting as the Leader, Project Manager, and/or SECRETARY

The Scrum Master should not be the leader of the Scrum Events. The idea of being in control, assigning out tasks and dictating what individuals should do goes entirely against the Scrum framework.  The goal for the Agile team is self-organization.  The Scrum Master is the servant leader.  He or she has the goal of guiding and coaching, when necessary, to help the team apply the Scrum framework, principals and practices.

One common mistake here is the Scrum Master trying to lead and manage, versus sitting back and jumping in where necessary.  In specific scenarios, it makes sense for the Scrum Master to allow the Development Team to make mistakes so they can learn from them. The Scrum Master should help coach and guide, versus drive the team. 

Another common mistake is the Scrum Master acts as the team’s scribe and secretary. Some examples of this would be the Scrum Master writing down user stories and retrospective items, taking notes during meetings, being the only one to update the Kanban board, etc. A good Scrum Master should be guiding the team to perform these actions themselves.

3. Burning Out the Development Team

Another common mistake made by the Scrum Master is not shielding the team from burnout.  The Scrum framework involves working the Sprint Backlog and operating within a sprint.  The term sprint, on its own, makes it sound like you go fast, blinders on.  There is a systematic approach to handling a Sprint. The intention is not for the Development Team to work 80 hours per week within that sprint period.

Burnout need to be avoided, and the Scrum Master has the role of pointing out when it is happening or when it is about to happen.  A Product Owner wants results, and he or she may push hard to get them.  The Scrum Master must protect the Development Team by pushing back when the ask is too much.

The Scrum Master should be the tracking the team’s velocity and helping them plan to it. If the team doesn’t know their velocity they may commit to an unreasonable amount of work.

Ideas to help avoid common Scrum Master mistakes:

  1. Know the Scrum Guide

  2. Be aware of potential issues, and learn from others mistakes rather than your own!

  3. Track and inform the team of their velocity every sprint

  4. Capacity plan and make sure the team doesn’t over commit during sprint planning

  5. Be aware of team members that may be working overtime and address it

    Knowledge is power in the Scrum Master role and the more awareness you have over the common mistakes, the easier they are to avoid.