What’s in a Skill: The Periodic Table of Scrum Master Competencies

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Going through my personal Agile journey as a Scrum Master led me to some conclusions that this role (accountability according to the new Scrum Guide) is a combination of soft and technical skills. Some of them you can learn and develop from the courses and books, and some are very hard to acquire and it might take ages to master them. I would like to share my findings in the form of Periodical Table. Similarly to Mendeleev, it came to me in my night dreams and those competencies started popping up and taking their respective places.  

A competency or a skill is a very far-reaching concept. Does It mean technical or soft skills? Is it something inherent or can it be developed over time and with effort? And what about personality traits? Where do they fall in the equation? 

When it comes to Scrum Master competencies, you can distinguish them by placing the skills and traits into three categories, i.e. Behavioral, Contextual, Technical. A good set of well-developed competencies will have the Scrum Master right in place in a team. Depending on specifics of your company or team, your list of competencies may vary and you may have a different focus for your particular needs. However, a rule of thumb would be to strive to be a well-rounded personality with a good grasp on each of the categories. Find your balance and figure out what works for you and your team. 

You can see a general overview of the core competencies for a Scrum Master in the “periodic table” of Scrum Master Competence Elements. 

scrum master skills and competencies

Let’s take a closer look at these competencies and what they constitute, which ones you may be lacking and what you can do to further develop your skills to become successful in your role as a Scrum Master. 

Behavioural 

Any Scrum Master’s job largely revolves around communication and resolving issues that come up in the working process. In this regard, it helps to have a strong set of personal traits and values that help the Scrum Master become the beacon of reason in the team. The trusty leader that looks out for the team’s best interest. Someone who is trusted and can be relied on. Behavioural competencies mostly result from your personality – a combination of nature and nurture. However, you can strengthen these skills with self-reflection and personal development. 

  1. Leadership skills are a requirement that comes with Scrum Master responsibilities. Although they are not in the position of a project manager, the team still strongly depends on efficient leadership from the Scrum Master in following the Agile practices and managing workload or any conflicting situations that may arise no matter the nature. 
  2. Trust building. Since the Scrum Master acts as a mediator between the team, the Product Owner, and the stakeholders, it’s important for him to be able to build and maintain trust. This will build up to other skills required to manage a Scrum team. Essentially, any efficient communication and collaboration should start with trust. 
  3. Motivation is good to have when you want to get your work done. Even more so, if you want to get other people to do their work. 
  4. Assertiveness constitutes how you express your confidence remaining respectful, yet not being a pushover. This is an important trait in a professional setting, especially for navigating stressful situations. 
  5. Openness is an essential trait for a good leader. It means that you acknowledge different opinions and experiences and don’t restrict yourself to only what you know to be fact. It is crucial when it comes to introducing change and innovation. 
  6. Creativity is a tricky skill to have. Is it innate or something that you can learn? Hone your creative mind, use it for problem-solving and to inspire others. 
  7. Efficiency is valued in any team member. A Scrum Master that knows how to accomplish their tasks efficiently, will know how to require the same from their team. 
  8. Growth mindset in an Agile setting is the force that drives positive change and helps take any difficulty as an opportunity to learn. This is what a Scrum Master would want to transmit to their team by their own example. 
  9. Ethics in business appropriate the practices and behaviors to confront any possibly controversial subjects. Scrum Master exhibiting strong business ethics sets the standard for the whole team. 
  10. Values make up a person. Having strong personal values helps you earn people’s trust and respect and become a good leader for the team. 
  11. Body language can say a lot about a person. It can be a strong and expressive tool for non-verbal communication expressed with posture, facial expressions, hand gestures. As a Scrum Master, you should be aware of what signals you are sending with your body language, just as well as be able to read the room and pick up on these signals coming from your team members. 
  12. Empathy and Emotional Intelligence help you build personal connections with people and it can be learned by observing people, initiating conversations, being an active and attentive listener, recognizing their emotional needs. 
  13. Courage can be expressed in your ability to introduce change that some may find risky, make judgement calls and take responsibility whatever the outcome. 
  14. Respect is the backbone of all teamwork that goes both ways. A Scrum Master needs the team’s respect, and just as well should show respect for any individual team member.  

Contextual 

A Scrum Master is only as good as their team is. It’s important for them to establish good relationships within the team, encourage open communication and facilitate their work. Contextual competencies focus on the role of the Scrum Master as the leader and facilitator. 

  1. Servant Leadership. Lead by example, be leveled with your team, and they will follow. Ask yourself what you can do for your team right now and do it. 
  2. Leading Change may come as a tricky endeavor. Not everyone wants to leave their comfort zone and risk failing. As a Scrum Master, you should be able to deal with that and introduce change to your team as an exciting opportunity. 
  3. Impediments removal required the Scrum Master to handle the team’s dependencies and blockers. They should be able to address these issues in a team and help rearrange workload or handle any communication with the people involved to find a solution. 
  4. Mentoring means becoming a good role model and encouraging your team to overcome any hardships, either by offering sound advice, sharing your own experience, or providing support. 
  5. Coaching in the context of Scrum Master’s duties constitutes prompting the team to discover their potential, improve collaboration, develop their skills and knowledge, and learn how to be self-sufficient. 
  6. Teaching means that you can put aside your personal experience and opinion and share the knowledge remaining objective and unbiased. 
  7. Team Building is something that a good Scrum Master will encourage and facilitate to establish interpersonal relationships in the team, teach them trust and improve teamwork. 
  8. Facilitation is probably one of the most important responsibilities of a Scrum Master. Your top priority should always be to create the right kind of environment for sharing ideas and finding solutions to problems. 
  9. Communication should always be efficient and timely. It’s a competency that is crucial for a Scrum Master as they not only need to approach their own team members, but act as a bridge for them and stakeholders or teams they are dependable on. 
  10. Active listening is one of the essential traits of a good leader that helps create good communication. However, don’t use that as just a trick, lest it may backfire on you. Engage in the conversation without judgement or offering unsolicited advice. Not just listen, but hear what the other person is saying. 
  11. Conflict resolution comes with the job description. Whenever the team starts to get entangled in drama, Scrum Master has to sense the conflict before it starts to escalate or sometimes initiate one when avoiding conflict gets the team stuck in a rut.

Technical

In this regard, you can distinguish between competencies that have to do directly with practicing Agile and those related to software development. Generally, the Scrum Master isn’t required to have a background in software development but if they do, it only works to the benefit of the team and their own. Thus, the Scrum Master should be proficient in the following: 

  1. Agile values and principles defined in the Agile Manifesto, are the foundation of the Agile philosophy that sets up the standard for teams who want to practice Agile. 
  2. Lean thinking provides a purposeful way of thinking regarding the team activity in terms of value streams and flows, aimed at achieving sustainable growth, elimination of waste, and client satisfaction.  
  3. Scrum accountabilities. Each Agile team member carries accountability within their role. For the Scrum Master this would be the team’s good understanding and efficient application of Scrum principles and practices. 
  4. Scrum ceremonies are the events that help the team plan their workload, review the job done, and act as checkpoints in between. The Scrum Master’s job is to ensure that this time is used efficiently and with purpose. 
  5. Scrum artifacts are the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Product Increment. Scrum Master assists Product Owner with the Product backlog and helps the team manage the workload through applying Scrum principles. 
  6. Kanban is a popular framework that encourages transparent communication and uses visual aids for streamlining work processes. Kanban elements are widely used in Agile teams to better manage backlog and work in progress.
  7. XP or extreme programming is a type of Agile software development that advocates for short development cycles with frequent releases. There are many XP practices and SM has to know the best cases for their successful implementation. 
  8. Scaling Agile comes into picture when the organisation is growing exponentially and thus requires an altered approach and new process dynamics for Agile to remain efficient large-scale. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is used for large enterprises. This introduces new levels of collaboration for the Scrum Master, e.g. Scrum of Scrums. 
  9. SDLC or Software Development Lifecycle is the process used for software development that typically encompasses planning, design, development, testing, and deployment with further maintenance. Different SDLC models should be distinguished (Waterfall, Agile, RAD, etc.). 
  10. Estimation gives the team an idea of the scope of work to be done. A Scrum Master looks to it that task estimation is realistic and the workload manageable. 
  11. Stakeholder relation is of utmost importance when the team relies on their input or feedback to efficiently complete their tasks. Although, mostly the communication with stakeholders goes through Product Owner, the Scrum Master plays an important supporting role. 
  12. Metrics, such as velocity, throughput, sprint burndown, code coverage, etc., are collected and analyzed in order to identify the team’s weak spots and improve the processes. 
  13. Reporting is necessary for keeping track of the work processes and results, it promotes continuous improvement. Scrum Master is responsible for reporting within the scope of the team’s efficient application of Agile practices. 
  14. Tooling. There is a broad selection of tools to support the Agile way of working. Scrum Master makes sure that the team has the right Agile tools and uses them with sufficient benefit to their work process and staying true to Agile principles. 
  15. Business domain knowledge for Scrum Master assists in better understanding of the business processes, how it should translate to the team’s commitments and interactions with stakeholders. 
  16. Customer centricity is important on any level of an organization. See to it that your team remembers that the end goal of any project is ultimately to achieve customer satisfaction. 
  17. Design Thinking is an approach to problem solving that has distinct user-centric practices in its heart. Design Thinking and Scrum show great potential when used in tandem.

Conclusion 

Whether you are only contemplating how to become a Scrum Master or already have some experience in the role, you should know your strong sides and what could use some improvement. The skills and competencies that make up a Scrum Master, offer up a broad range of possibilities for personal and professional development. It takes a strong personality and proficiency in both technical and soft skills, great communicational skills and the ability to analyze and see your own faults, being self-critical enough to know where and how to make a change.

If you’ve really got what it takes, your opportunities are beyond comprehensible. You can get a nice boost through passing professional training or obtaining Scrum Master certification, and it only gets more exciting from there on out. The world is changing. Industries and markets are changing. And so are companies and people. The role of a Scrum Master perfectly encompasses what it means to be the driving lever in this change and facilitate and accommodate teams to succeed.

Andriy Romanukha
About the Author

Andriy Romanukha

Agile Coach, Scrum Master at Symphony Solutions
Certified SAFe Scrum Master and SAFe Agilist. Loves sharing knowledge and experience as an Agile evangelist, energetic business trainer and Agile coach.
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