Scrum Master

In this blog, I will be discussing the top 5 areas every scrum master/aspiring scrum master should explore and acquire knowledge. For ease of remembering I am using the acronym ‘5-CASE‘ (Concepts, Acronyms, Scenarios ,Events).Most of the interviewers will be convinced if you have fair knowledge in these areas.

5 Concepts

Scrum–> Empiricism –> Lean Thinking –> Artifacts –> Values

Concept Explanation with an Example
What is SCRUM?Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk. Scrum engages groups of people who collectively have all the skills and expertise to do the work and share or acquire such skills as needed. Scrum consists of:
3 Accountabilities– Scrum Master, Product Owner, Development team
5 Events – Scrum combines 4 formal events for inspection and adaptation within a containing event, the Sprint.
3 Empirical Scrum Pillars – Transparency, Inspection, Adaptation
5 Values – Focus, Openness, Respect, Courage, Commitment
3 Formal Artifacts – Sprint Backlog, Product Backlog, Increment
What is EMPIRICISM ?Scrum follows the principles of empiricism, which means that decisions are based on observations, experimentation, and evidence. In Scrum, this is achieved through the three pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation.
Example:
Transparency: The team starts with a clear Product Backlog. The Product Owner ensures transparency by sharing the backlog with the stakeholders and the team, making it visible to everyone involved.
Inspection: During the Sprint Planning, the team collaboratively decides which backlog items they will commit to delivering in the next Sprint. The team inspects the user stories and tasks during the planning meeting to ensure they understand the requirements. Throughout the Sprint, the team holds Daily Scrum meetings, where they inspect their progress daily. This daily inspection allows the team to adapt their plans and make necessary adjustments to reach the Sprint Goal.
Adaptation: At the end of the Sprint, the team holds a Sprint Review. They showcase the completed user stories. Stakeholders provide feedback, which is essential evidence for adaptation. Also during the Sprint Retrospective, the team reflects on the Sprint and the process they followed. The team decides on actionable improvements to implement in the next Sprint to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness further.
What is LEAN THINKING ? Scrum follows Lean thinking principles, which focus on maximizing value while minimizing waste. Lean thinking promotes efficiency, continuous improvement, and customer-centricity
Example:
1. Minimizing Waste: In Scrum, waste refers to any activity or process that does not add value to the customer. The team identifies several potential sources of waste and takes actions to minimize them:
Partially completed work – The team focuses on completing user stories within a Sprint to avoid carrying over unfinished work between Sprints, reducing the waste of incomplete features.
Unnecessary features: Through regular feedback and collaboration with stakeholders, the team prioritizes and delivers only the most valuable features, avoiding the development of unnecessary functionalities.
2. Empowering the Team: Lean encourages empowering teams to make decisions and take ownership of their work. In Scrum, the Development Team has the autonomy to self-organize and decide how to best deliver the Sprint Goal. The Product Owner provides the “what” (the goals), and the team decides the “how” (the implementation).
3. Customer-Centricity: Lean thinking prioritizes understanding and meeting customer needs. In Scrum, the Product Owner is responsible for representing the customer and stakeholders. They work closely with the team to define and prioritize the Product Backlog, ensuring that the most valuable features are delivered first.
What are the SCRUM ARTIFACTS ?Scrum’s artifacts represent work or value. They are designed to maximize transparency of key information. Each artifact contains a commitment to ensure it provides information that enhances transparency and focus against which progress can be measured:
1. Product Backlog: It is the single source of work undertaken by the Scrum Team. Its an emergent, ordered list of what is needed to improve the product.
Commitment : Product Goal (It is the long-term objective for the Scrum Team.)
Example: Set of all desired features, enhancements, and bug fixes for the product/application. It represents the work that needs to be done to create a fully functional and valuable product. (User Stories: “As a customer, I want to be able to browse products by category.”)
2. Sprint Backlog: The Sprint Backlog is composed of the Sprint Goal (why), the set of Product Backlog items selected for the Sprint (what), as well as an actionable plan for delivering the Increment (how).
Commitment: Sprint Goal ( Sprint Goal is the single objective for the Sprint.)
Example: The Sprint Backlog is a subset of the Product Backlog that contains the work the development team commits to completing within a Sprint. (User Story: “As a customer, I want to add products to my shopping cart.”)
3. Increment: It is a usable, functioning product slice that provides value to the users and stakeholders. Each Increment is a step closer to achieving the overall vision of the product, and additive to all prior Increments and thoroughly verified, ensuring that all Increments work together.
Commitment: Definition of Done (Its the set of preconditions for a Product Backlog to be converted as an increment)
Example: Increment is the outcome of the completed work at the end of a Sprint, leading to a valuable and usable product.The Increment might include features like the ability to browse products, add items to the cart, and initiate the checkout process. While the website may not be fully feature-complete, it is a functional and usable version that adds value to customers.
What are the SCRUM VALUES?COMMITMENT: The Scrum Team commits to achieving its goals and to supporting each other. (Team members should be committed to complete the accepted tasks)
FOCUS: Team’s primary focus is on the work of the Sprint to make the best possible progress toward the goals. (no dysfunctions or working in silos)
OPENNESS: The Scrum Team and its stakeholders are open about the work and the challenges (Team should address any impediments or challenges immediately, also stakeholders should inform the developers about any scope change ASAP)
RESPECT:  Team members respect each other to be capable, independent people.(Value every other person’s opinion and experience)
COURAGE: Team members should have the courage to do the right thing. (Team should be able to take quick decisions when required to, eg: impediment removal)

5 Acronyms

KPI , DoR, DoD, MVP, CI/CD

AcronymDefinition With Example
What is
KPI (Key Performance Indicators)
KPIs are quantifiable metrics used to evaluate the success of a project or measure the performance of specific aspects within an organization. In Scrum, KPIs are often used to track team performance, product quality, and overall project progress.
Examples:
Cycle Time– Measures the time taken to complete a user story from the moment it enters the Sprint Backlog until it is considered done. By tracking Cycle Time, the team can identify bottlenecks and continuously improve their delivery speed.
Escaped production defects -Tracks the number of defects for a deployment that were identified after the release.
Reliability Index – What the team committed vs what the team delivered
Velocity – Velocity ,Burndown, Burnup charts are planning metrics to help both the Development Team and the Product Owner to plan future sprints.)
What is
DoR (Definition Of Ready)
The Definition of Ready is a set of criteria that a user story must meet before it can be selected for inclusion in a Sprint. It ensures that the team has all the necessary information and dependencies resolved to begin work on a user story.
Example:
1. The user story is clear, concise, and properly written.
2. Acceptance criteria are well-defined and agreed upon by the team and stakeholders.
3. All necessary design assets or mockups are available.
What is
DoD (Definition Of Done) ?
The DoD is a set of criteria that a user story must meet to be considered complete and potentially shippable. It ensures that the team delivers a high-quality product increment at the end of each Sprint.
Example:
1. Code is reviewed and meets the team’s coding standards.
2. Unit tests and integration tests are written and passing.
3. Documentation is updated, and end-user documentation is provided, if applicable.
What is MVP (Minimum Viable Product)It is the smallest set of features that delivers value to customers and allows for validation of the product’s viability
Example:
In an online shopping website project, the MVP might include core functionalities like product browsing, adding items to the cart, and basic checkout. The team releases the MVP to gather feedback from early users and then iteratively adds more features based on customer needs.
What is CI/CD (Continuous Integration/ Continuous DeploymentCI/CD is a set of practices that enable teams to deliver software changes frequently and reliably. Continuous Integration focuses on frequently merging code changes into a shared repository and validating them with automated tests. Continuous Deployment goes a step further and automatically releases these validated changes to production.
Example:
Code Commit–>Unit Test–>Code Merge–>Automated Test–>Deploy

5 Situations every scrum master should be prepared to handle

Conflicts, Mentoring, Process Improvements, Organizational Impediments, Team Building

Situation Example Scenario How to Handle (As a Scrum Master)
ConflictTeam members not able to arrive at a consensus on story point estimation and it leads to a conflict situation.one of the team members suggests 5SP while the other suggests 2SP. Both the developers are experienced professionalsBy employing few strategies (mentioned below), I aim to create a safe and open environment where conflicts can be resolved constructively, leading to improved collaboration, better estimations, and a more cohesive Scrum team.
1.    Facilitate a Collaborative Discussion
2.    Teach Story Point Estimation
3.    Coach on Estimation Techniques
4.    Use Past Data
5.    Mentor the Team
6.    Facilitate a Re-Estimation
7.    Use Relative Sizing
8.    Encourage Compromise(go with avg)
9.    Keep the Focus on Collaboration
10.  Reflect in Retrospective
MentoringIn a Scrum team, there was a junior developer who recently joined. Despite being technically competent, the developer lacked confidence in contributing to discussions during Sprint Planning and Daily Scrums. The team noticed that the developer’s potential was not fully utilized, and they were hesitant to take on more challenging tasks.1.    Establishing Trust: Build a strong relationship with the junior developer, creating a safe and supportive environment.
2.    One-on-One Coaching: Schedule one-on-one coaching sessions with the developer outside of regular Scrum events. During these sessions, encourage open communication, actively listen to their concerns, and address any questions they have.
3.    Encouraging Participation: In Sprint Planning and Daily Scrums, proactively encourage the developer to share their thoughts and ideas. When they speak, make sure to acknowledge their input and validate their contributions, boosting their confidence in the team’s discussions.
4.    Providing Guidance: Share resources, such as relevant articles, books, and online tutorials, to support the developer’s learning and growth.
5.    Pair Programming and Peer Support: To foster skill development, encourage pair programming sessions, where the junior developer work closely with more experienced team members
6.    Recognizing Progress: Make sure to recognize their progress publicly during Sprint Reviews and team meetings. Positive reinforcement help build their self-assurance.
7.      Setting Stretch Goals: Together with the developer, set challenging yet achievable goals aligned with their career aspirations.
Process ImprovementsIn a software development project in the healthcare domain. The project involved developing a complex medical records management system for a hospital. During the initial sprints, we noticed that the team struggled with frequent disruptions due to unplanned meetings, ad-hoc requests from stakeholders, and unexpected changes in requirements. These interruptions negatively impacted the team’s productivity and ability to deliver a stable Increment at the end of each sprint.To address the challenges of frequent disruptions and improve the project’s success, you may propose the implementation of “Focused Sprints.” The idea behind Focused Sprints is to create a dedicated and uninterrupted period of time during which the team could focus solely on development and achieve maximum productivity.
How to implement:
1.    Clear Sprint Goal and Scope
2.    Stakeholder Engagement
3.    Protected Time
4.    Backlog Refinement
5.      Sprint Review and Feedback
Organizational ImpedimentsIn a software development team working on a critical project for a financial institution. The team had adopted Agile practices and was successfully delivering Increments during each Sprint. However, a significant organizational impediment arose when the project sponsor requested an urgent change in the project scope that required the team to work overtime to meet the new deadline.1.    Emphasizing Agile Principles: Remind the project sponsor of the Agile principle “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.”
2.    Facilitating a Dialogue: Facilitate a meeting between the project sponsor, product owner, and development team to openly discuss the impact of the urgent change. Evaluating Trade-offs: As a team, discuss the trade-offs of implementing the urgent change
3.    Data-Driven Decision Making: Provide data on the team’s historical velocity, average cycle time, and the impact of previous unplanned scope changes.
4.    Agile Negotiation: Negotiate with the project sponsor to find a compromise that balance their urgent needs with the team’s capacity and well-being
5.    Educating on Sustainable Pace: Educate the project sponsor about the importance of maintaining a sustainable pace of work to ensure long-term success and avoid burnout.
Team BuildingA distributed scrum team of 12+ members facing challenges due to poor communication and lack of enthusiasmTo build a stronger team spirit, improve communication, and increase motivation, follow some of these team building activities without affecting the sprint goal and events.
1.    Team-building Games
2.    Storytelling Sessions
3.    Collaboration Challenges
4.    Pair Programming Sessions
5.    Cross-team Meetings
6.    Recognition and Appreciation
7.    Skill-sharing Sessions
 

5 Events

Product Backlog Refinement (not a formal Event as per Scrum Guide), Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective

EventWhat Happens ? (Sample Scenario) Role of a Scrum Master
The SprintThey are fixed length events of one month or less to create consistency. A new Sprint starts immediately after the conclusion of the previous Sprint.
All the work necessary to achieve the Product Goal, including Sprint Planning, Daily Scrums, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective, happen within Sprints.
Understand and ensure that all development team members are aligned and working towards the same goal. Ensure that during the Sprint:
1. No changes are made that would endanger the Sprint Goal;
2. Quality does not decrease;
3. The Product Backlog is refined as needed;
4. Scope may be clarified and renegotiated with the Product Owner as more is learned.(facilitate this if reqd)
Sprint PlanningAddresses
Why is this Sprint valuable?
The Product Owner proposes how the product could increase its value and utility in the current Sprint.
What can be Done this Sprint?
Through discussion with the Product Owner, the Developers select items from the Product Backlog to include in the current Sprint. The Scrum Team may refine these items during this process, which increases understanding and confidence..
How will the chosen work get done?
For each selected Product Backlog item, the Developers plan the work necessary to create an Increment that meets the Definition of Done. ue.
Sprint Planning is timeboxed to a maximum of eight hours for a one-month Sprint. For shorter Sprints, the event is usually shorter.
1.    Prepare in Advance: Before the Sprint Planning meeting, ensure that the Product Backlog is well-groomed (INVEST criteria) and contains well-defined user stories with clear acceptance criteria.
2.    Set the Stage: Begin the Sprint Planning meeting by clearly explaining the meeting’s purpose, agenda, and timebox.
3.    Focus on Sprint Goal: Keep the team focused on the Sprint Goal during the meeting.
4.    Collaborative Approach: Encourage open and collaborative discussions among the Development Team members and the Product Owner
5.    Timeboxing: Timebox each part of the Sprint Planning meeting to ensure that it stays within the allocated time
6.    Break User Stories into Tasks: Once the Development Team selects user stories for the Sprint, facilitate the breakdown of each user story into specific tasks.
7.    Use Relative Sizing: Help the team with relative sizing techniques, such as Planning Poker, to estimate the effort required for each task.
8.    Address Dependencies: Identify and discuss any potential dependencies between user stories or tasks.
9.    Confirm Commitment: At the end of Sprint Planning, have the team confirm their commitment to the selected user stories and tasks.
10. Follow up on Action Items: After the meeting, follow up on any action items or dependencies that need resolution before the Sprint starts
11. Keep It Agile: Remember that Sprint Planning is an iterative and adaptive process. Encourage the team to embrace change and adapt their plans as they gain more insights and feedback during the Sprint.
 
Daily ScrumThe purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work.
The Daily Scrum is a 15-minute event for the Developers of the Scrum Team. To reduce complexity, it is held at the same time and place every working day of the Sprint. If the Product Owner or Scrum Master are actively working on items in the Sprint Backlog, they participate as Developers.
The daily scrum is a time for synchronization, transparency, and quick updates. By following these steps and maintaining a consistent structure, you can ensure an effective daily scrum that keeps the team focused and maximizes productivity within the time constraint.
1.    Set the time and place: Determine a consistent time and location for the daily scrum, ensuring it is convenient for all team members.
2.    Start on time: Emphasize the importance of punctuality and start the meeting promptly.
3.    Gather the team: Ensure all relevant team members are present, including the Scrum Team (Developers) and any other stakeholders or observers
4.    Follow the three questions format: During the daily scrum, each team member should answer three specific questions: a. What did I accomplish since the last daily scrum? b. What am I planning to accomplish before the next daily scrum? c. Are there any obstacles or impediments blocking my progress?
5.    Facilitate time management: Encourage brevity and keep the meeting on track by reminding participants to stick to their allocated time slots. Each team member should aim to spend no more than 1-2 minutes sharing their updates.
6.    Foster collaboration, not problem-solving: Encourage team members to take any deeper discussions or issue resolutions offline after the meeting.
7.    Identify impediments: If a team member highlights any obstacles or impediments during their update, make a note of them and help remove these impediments or facilitate their resolution outside of the daily scrum.
8.    Avoid micromanagement: As a Scrum Master, avoid taking control of the meeting or providing updates on behalf of team members.
9.    Monitor time: Keep an eye on the clock and make sure the meeting stays within the 15-minute timebox
10.  Recap and conclude: Once all team members have provided their updates, summarize the key points discussed, including any identified impediments.
Sprint Review The purpose of the Sprint Review is to inspect the outcome of the Sprint and determine future adaptations. The Scrum Team presents the results of their work to key stakeholders and progress toward the Product Goal is discussed.
During the event, the Scrum Team and stakeholders review what was accomplished in the Sprint and what has changed in their environment. Based on this information, attendees collaborate on what to do next. The Product Backlog may also be adjusted to meet new opportunities. T
1.    Set the Stage: At the beginning of the Sprint Review, reiterate the session’s purpose and agenda.
2.    Provide Context: Before the demonstration, provide a brief overview of the Sprint’s objectives and the user stories completed.
3.    Demonstration: The development team should demonstrate the completed Increment, showcasing the new features and enhancements.
4.    Encourage Open Feedback: After the demo, encourage stakeholders to provide feedback openly. To overcome vague feedback, ask specific questions like, “What specific aspects of the new checkout process do you like?” or “Are there any improvements you would suggest for the product search functionality?”
5.    Prioritize Feedback: If stakeholders have differing perspectives or conflicting feedback, work together to prioritize the most critical feedback and align it with the product vision and business goals.
6.    Address Incomplete Work: Be transparent about any user stories that were not completed in the Sprint. Explain the reasons for the incomplete work and discuss how the team plans to address them in future Sprints.
7.    Seek Clarity: If technical jargon is used during the demonstration, ensure the team translates it into simpler terms to help stakeholders understand the progress better.
8.    Capture Action Items: Record all actionable feedback and action items raised during the session.
9.    End on a Positive Note: Conclude the Sprint Review on a positive note, expressing appreciation for stakeholders’ involvement and feedback.
10. Schedule Follow-up: If certain feedback requires further analysis or clarification, schedule follow-up meetings with relevant stakeholders and the development team to address those points.
By facilitating the Sprint Review session in this manner, you can create a collaborative and open environment, gather valuable feedback, and ensure that the Increment aligns with stakeholders’ expectations and the overall project vision.
 
Sprint RetrospectiveThe purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.
The Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done. Inspected elements often vary with the domain of work. Assumptions that led them astray are identified and their origins explored. The Scrum Team discusses what went well during the Sprint, what problems it encountered, and how those problems were (or were not) solved.
Remember to rotate activities and keep the retrospective sessions varied and engaging. Always ensure that the team members feel safe and empowered to share their thoughts and ideas during the retrospective. The key is to create a constructive and supportive environment that fosters continuous improvement and team growth. Few Retrospective techniques are following:
1.    Start-Stop-Continue: Ask team members to reflect on the previous Sprint and identify what they should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing in the next Sprint. This activity encourages self-reflection and helps the team focus on actionable improvements.
2.    Mad, Sad, Glad: Create a space for team members to share their emotions and experiences from the Sprint by identifying what made them mad, sad, or glad. This activity helps address concerns and celebrate successes.
3.    4Ls – Liked, Learned, Lacked, Longed For: Divide a whiteboard or flip chart into four quadrants: Liked, Learned, Lacked, and Longed For. Have team members write sticky notes for each category, sharing what they liked about the Sprint, what they learned, what was lacking, and what they longed for in the future.
4.    Sailboat Retrospective: Draw a sailboat on a whiteboard or use a sailboat template. Ask team members to identify the “anchors” (things holding the team back) and “winds” (things propelling the team forward). Discuss action items to address the anchors and enhance the winds.
5.    Speedboat Retrospective: Similar to the Sailboat Retrospective, the Speedboat activity focuses on identifying “anchors” (obstacles) holding the team back and “motors” (positive forces) driving the team forward. Team members collaborate to find ways to remove the anchors and strengthen the motors.
6.    Appreciations: Allocate time for team members to express appreciation for their colleagues’ efforts and contributions during the Sprint. This fosters a positive team culture and boosts morale.