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30.10.2010 Bag of Treats

Consider the responsibilities of a Scrum Master. The narrow definition is that the master is supposed to facilitate a few important meetings and that’s all. That is a common way of working when you expect the Scrum Master to be working on the user stories with the team as a full-fledged member of the team. When coaching a team to a better overall level of success, there is little time to work with them on the short term goals. I work on the long term.

The job is reactive. Protecting the team does not happen without a reasonable reserve, impediments arrive from the bushes and there is no luxury of meeting a daily plan every day. The time I am not using for reacting I am preparing for the reaction: I learn new ways of facilitating the retrospective, prepare for the next off-site, work on new approaches to old problems. There is a lot of slack. It is important to know that the slack is to self-organize. While the team is working and there are no external fires to fight, there is an abundance of it. This is when I gather my bag of treats.

The reason I am not calling it a bag of tricks because the methods I am studying have no smoke or mirrors involved. The focus is on solid ways of making things visible and removing impediments. I group the treats into five groups: Team, time, task, technique and touché. The first four are the aspects of autonomy from Daniel H. Pink in his book Drive. They are a part of my vocabulary but as a coach I need the fifth T: myself.


When looking for a team treat I am looking at the team as a group of people with a common goal. The treats I pick for this aspect, are ones that work on the individuals to work together. Many of the books I have read under this category discuss psychology, team dynamics and motivation.


In a corporate project, there is always the question of estimations and schedule. Planning, reaching the plan and estimated the amount of work left are problems that Scrum teams meet in every organization. A Scrum Master needs to study ways to manage time and help the team members to find ways to make better use of the time they spend working.


In a self-organizing team, the team should always be able to decide the priorities of the low level tasks. They should also have ways to design the work they are going to be doing in the next iteration. The contents should not be of a large interest to a Scrum Master. The way the work is split into different smaller items, how it comes to the team and what are the actions of getting it done are important.


Working practices and their improvement are my cup of tea in the team. Again, the day to day low-level activities and technical details are not what I am looking for. The overall quality of everything and effective execution are yet again aligned with the long term. I am looking for good things that I can recommend to my team to try out.


The most important category of treats I am looking for, are the things I can do to improve my own performance. Whatever I want the team to excel in, I need to consider for myself. I do not need to be the best programmer or a good tester to be able to do my work. I need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of my team, to be able to communicate with peers and stakeholders, be able to coach practically anyone on any practice with or without specific domain knowledge. I simply need to be the best me.

The team is a good input for ideas on improving yourself.

The bag

I need to be learning constantly. The depth of my knowledge about my learnings should vary based on how acute the need is. If I have a retrospective scheduled for next week, I need one specific idea I can execute. If there is an impediment to the team, I need to have good memory retrieval practices to find that good idea that might just work and refine it a bit. Then there are the basics of being a coach, being a good servant leader and relating to people.

What’s in your bag of treats?