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  • Volodymyr Kis

First steps for a Scrum Master joining a new team

Experienced Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches are quite comfortable with joining a new team. They're confident and they know what to do to get started. Those, however, who don't have that much experience starting from scratch will probably be very unstructured in their approaches and risk running into difficulties in the future. Joining a team that has already some history of working together or maybe a completely new team where everyone is unacquainted with each other requires a Scrum Master lay a proper foundation for future success. Hence it's crucial to be conscious of this and put extra efforts and time at the very beginning.


In this article, I'm happy to suggest some guidelines for you as a Scrum Master to get started: what to do during the first days or weeks of working with an agile team. This is coming from my own experience joining dozens of existing or completely new teams.








  1. Start with conducting one-on-ones with your team

  2. Conduct one-on-one with your Product Owner

  3. Make a presentation on Agile (Scrum)

  4. Establish definition of done

  5. Discuss sprint logistics

  6. Discuss your shared values / team norms

  7. Help your team get to know each other


01. Start with conducting one-on-ones with your team


Meeting each team member individually will not only help you get to know them better, but also connect on a personal level - a first step towards creating productive coaching relationships (see scrum master as a coach). During these initial one-on-ones you also might ask what kind of past experience each person has with Agile and Scrum. That will define their agile ''maturity'' level so that you better understand what kind of help each team member would require in their agile journey and how resistant they might be to changes (see scrum master as a change agent) you're going to introduce into the way of working.


Possible agenda for one-on-one meeting:

  1. Tell the person who you're and what role you have (e.g. ''My name is Volodymyr. I'm a scrum master / agile coach and I'll be helping our team adopt agile ways of working so that we're more efficient and effective in achieving our goals and delivering more value.'' You can elaborate more here if you like)

  2. Can you tell more about yourself? (ask about person's experience, background, current role etc)

  3. How long are you working here? (in organisation or team, if relevant)

  4. How familiar / comfortable are you with agile? What experience do you have with it? (just from listening to the person, you'll almost immediately get the understanding what level of agile knowledge this person has and also if they are going to be resistant to your process suggestions)

  5. Have you worked with Scrum Master or Agile Coach before? (this will give you some understanding if the person has some experience working with Scrum Masters or not)

  6. What team / delivery process do you currently follow? (if you're joining an existing team)

  7. What's our biggest problem at the moment? (if you're joining an existing team)

I suggest to put together the meeting notes you'd gather from these one-on-ones into some basic team / stakeholders register and update it regularly (in case new people are joining your team)


02. Conduct one-on-one with your Product Owner


Even though I've put this step separately, you can use similar questions with your Product Owner as with any other team member (see above). Remember: you'll also be helping your Product Owner with their agile journey the same way you're helping your team.

However, here're some additional questions you might want to consider during a a one-on-one meeting with the Product Owner:

  1. What can I help you with as a Scrum Master / Agile Coach?

  2. How's the team doing in your opinion?

  3. What's our biggest problem?

  4. How would you rate the current process, meetings? what works? what is lacking?

  5. Have you been acting as a Product Owner before? How did you find it?

Other than that, use this one-on-one to discuss your role and area of work and the role of a Product Owner. You need to be aligned with your Product Owner on who is responsible for what. The more both of you are on the same page, the better chances you have to help your team deliver value and reach product success.


03. Make a presentation on Agile (Scrum)


When you conducted one-on-ones with your team and Product Owner, when you got the general idea of each person's experience and agile ''maturity'', go ahead and schedule a presentation of your suggested agile / scrum process. It can take a shape of a simple online call with sharing your screen if you work remotely or a short whiteboard talk explaining the key concepts. Don't miss this step. Even if your team is experienced enough, it's not uncommon when people have wrong understanding about agile or scrum due to many reasons. It's your job to get aligned and convey your ''version'' of agile and how to do it well. So practice your presentation and be ready to convey the meaning of agile software development, concepts of sprint, product increment, scrum ceremonies, scrum roles etc.


04. Establish definition of done


Establishing definition of done with your team has to be among your top to-do list items. That can be a separate session with your team. Definition of done describes the criteria that have to be satisfied before we can call something done. This ''checklist'' helps the team understand how much work is remaining and also helps Product Owner to accept or reject work during the sprint demo. Definition of done usually includes such activities as writing unit tests or conducting manual testing, code review, meeting the acceptance criteria of a product backlog item, being approved by a Product Owner etc. We need this checklist to understand when we can say that some task is really done, i.e. after all the activities from our list is completed.


05. Discuss sprint logistics


Meet with your team to choose your sprint length, sprint start and end dates, timing for your regular scrum ceremonies or other meetings. Of course it's relevant only if you're starting the project from scratch and you're not joining the existing team, otherwise that will be already determined.


06. Discuss your team shared values / norms


Normally teams need some social contract or some rules of working together. It's useful to arrange a separate conversation with your team to discuss this. Here's a list with examples for your inspiration and to know where to start:

  • Don't struggle for more than 1 hour before asking for help from your teammate

  • Be proactive in solving any potential blockers

  • Preserve open communication, even when not comfortable

  • Be present in the team discussions (participate actively)

  • Be on time for the meetings

  • Keep it simple

  • No devices during the meeting

This is an evolving list meaning that whenever you see or feel something new has appeared, update the list. Creating the list of your shared values / team norms sooner rather than later will help your team reach desired behaviour. Brainstorming this is a team activity and is up to the team to decide what they value or what rules they want to create for themselves.


07. Help your team get to know each other


Plan time for letting your team get to know each other better. Only when everyone feels connected with the rest of the team on a personal level, you're able to build a highly productive team that values trust and support and excludes any competition between individuals. Even though this process might take time, as a Scrum Master you can speed it up. One of the activities I particularly like which is also very simple is to gather your team together and ask them to share answers to the following 3 questions:

  1. What were you doing on your previous project?

  2. What is your professional success?

  3. What is your personal success?

By facilitating this activity with dozens of teams now, I can confidently say that it was a useful time investment and was the first step for the team to get connected with each other on a deeper level.


Conclusion


Starting as Scrum Master in the new team might be intimidating. Though it shouldn't be so. Knowing what to do during the first days joining the new team will make you feel more confident. To recap, we've gone though the following steps:

  1. Start with conducting one-on-ones with your team

  2. Conduct one-on-one with your Product Owner

  3. Make a presentation on Agile (Scrum)

  4. Establish definition of done

  5. Discuss sprint logistics

  6. Discuss your team shared values / norms

  7. Help your team get to know each other

By no means the list provided above is exhaustive - you can add your steps into it if you find something useful. Hopefully these guidelines will help you get started and lay the solid foundation for your Scrum Master work.

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P.S. Looking for additional guidance on Scrum framework as a whole? I’ve created Agile Scrum Master training course for beginners with everything from A to Z needed for you to succeed with Agile.


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