Toolbox: Learn from peers with Scrum Master Pairing
“Become a Scrum Master in 3 days”: In fact, certification as a Scrum Master usually only requires a three-day workshop and passing the written final test. But does this certificate — regardless of whether it is a CSM (Scrum Alliance) or PSM (scrum.org) — already make a great Scrum Master? No, the certificate confirms that the necessary basic theoretical knowledge of the Scrum Guide is available. No more and no less. The certificate is not training and does not guarantee that the theory learned can be successfully put into practice.
Disappointment is inevitable when companies expect that the team will “run” immediately after acquiring the certificate. Becoming a good Scrum Master takes time, a willingness to learn and improve, and ideally support from experienced colleagues. In this blog article, I would like to introduce you to Scrum Master Pairing, a special form of collegial case advice that I have had good experiences with in Scrum Master practice.
For whom is Scrum Master Pairing useful?
Support in everyday life is essential, especially for new Scrum Masters, because many beginner mistakes are difficult to recognize without external feedback. The exchange with “old hands” helps to build up a set of solution approaches for typical problems faster and thus accelerates the learning curve enormously.
But even for experienced Scrum Masters, regular impulses from outside can improve the work — keyword continuous improvement. Scrum Master Pairing is ideal for short-term assistance in difficult situations, for example when personal conflicts arise between the Scrum Master and the team or with stakeholders, or when project and company blindness block further development.
What is Scrum Master Pairing exactly?
Scrum Master Pairing is an instrument that is based on collegial case advice: The aim is to develop solutions for specific practical questions in the sense of an agile support culture. Colleagues help each other by dealing openly with questions and uncertainties, sharing their knowledge, and learning from each other. This is not about door-to-door conversations, but the Scrum Master Pairing is systematic collegial coaching that lasts around 60 minutes.
How does a Scrum Master Pairing work?
It is important that the coach and coachee fit together and that the coachee makes a clear commitment to the coach — an important basis for a trusting and appreciative working relationship. The coachee must feel comfortable and be able to openly address difficulties. The Scrum Master Pairing takes place in a quiet room in private. The seating group should be chosen so that the coach and coachee can look at and talk to each other.
A Scrum Master pairing is supported by questioning techniques — we have had very good experiences with methods from systemic coaching: The solution is found by the coachee himself, but the coaching Scrum Master expands the solution space with suitable questions and visualization techniques. The focus is therefore not on the coach’s proposed solutions in the form of concrete advice or instructions (“You should finally…”, “Why haven’t you…?”), but on joint reflection and new perspectives and impulses.
After the concrete goal of the coaching session has been clarified, the coachee presents his case as briefly and comprehensibly as possible. The coach then asks questions, makes sure that he has understood the issue correctly and visualizes the discussion process, for example using moderation cards (in my Scrum Master Pairings I use a large table, a whiteboard or a correspondingly large floor area).
At the end of the coaching session, I recommend a brief reflection on the progress towards a solution (e.g. from 0 to 10 / 10 = very good) and the coachee selecting the top 3 ideas that he would like to implement.
Organization of a Scrum Master Pairing
There are different ways to use Scrum Master Pairing as part of organizational learning. For Junior Scrum Masters (experience < 2 years), regular support in the form of 1 hour per week makes sense, but experienced Scrum Masters should also have the opportunity to take advantage of a Scrum Master pairing at least once a month, for example in the form of case-related inquiries within the company’s “Agile Community”.
If Scrum Masters cannot fall back on colleagues in their own company for a Scrum Master pairing, external coaching makes sense — for example, if the necessary experience for specific questions is not available in the company or if conflicts among the Scrum Masters make respectful coaching difficult.
In short: The advantages of Scrum Master Pairing
- Scrum Master Pairing promotes initiative and group cohesion. Scrum Masters learn that they can solve many problems on their own by using the knowledge of the group.
- Views from outside help to question one’s own perspective, to better understand the problem, and to develop targeted solutions.
- Scrum Master Pairing leads to a continuous expansion of competence in the sense of a systematic “Inspect & Adapt” approach.
In addition to coaching, I recommend Scrum Masters, regardless of their level of experience, to continuously exchange ideas with other Scrum Masters, be it in communities of practice, at congresses, meet-ups, or Scrum tables.