As a Scrum Master I run lots of little experiments with my team to see if we can get better at something.  As an Agile Coach, I run lots of little experiments with other Scrum Masters to see if we can get better at something. Experimentation is at the heart of the Toyota Improvement Kata.  It should be at the heart of a solid agile team too, regardless of working approach.

I am evangelical about small, frequent experimentation, because it works.  Try something small and low risk to see if a hunch or wild idea you have might help solve a problem you have noticed.  If it does, great!  Let’s do more!  If it doesn’t work, great!  We’ve learned something important – let’s not do that again!

Over many years though, there are some tried and tested things I know work, over and over again, and in many different circumstances.  Learning from the results of someone else’s experiments is how you super-charge your own learning.

For example, if you are new to Scrum Mastery, here at the 5 things I think can help you most in the early days.  Here today, I’d like to tell you about a different 5 things (coincidence, rather than a superstitious love of the number 5!).

These are my top 5 things for becoming better at Scrum Mastery.

Each of these will only take you 5-ish minutes, and if you do them every day – a total of half an hour – you will see the results very quickly indeed.

1) ‘Sharpening the Saw’

[Tweet “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln”]

 Abraham Lincoln Quote

Spend just 5 minutes at the start of every morning looking over your day.  What meetings or ceremonies are you involved in today.  Are you prepared for them all?  Do you need to set some time aside to do more preparation?

What about tasks that need to be done, is there anything that has to be done today?  Is there anyone you particularly need to see today (perhaps they are due to go on leave soon for example).

Being ready, and clear on your priorities for the day, means you can recognise new opportunities.  The sooner you can recognise them when they present themselves, the sooner you can capitalise on them.

2)  Make Time for Maker Time


As a Scrum Master a lot of your time is spent ‘in the moment’ reacting to what is going on.  This is fine, but it is important to schedule in time to work uninterrupted. Anything from writing up retros, or writing up blog posts for example, or doing any of the things I mentioned in this post!

Paul Graham’s post about Manager Time versus Maker Time is great and describes it really.

[Tweet “Lots of Scrum Master time is spent ‘in the moment’ reacting to what’s going on. It’s important to schedule time to work uninterrupted too.”]

Schedule it to make sure it gets done…or you risk only doing urgent work.  This is almost always not the same as doing important work.  Keep the balance right.[Tweet “Schedule it to make sure it gets done or you risk only doing urgent work. Not the same as doing important work. Keep the balance right.”]

3) Presence in the Present

One of my pet annoyances is people attending a workshop or other session with me, then spending time on their laptop or phone.  Mostly this only happens early on when I join a company as I am very clear from the outset that this isn’t acceptable.

It’s not a sense of my own self-importance that drives this, and I do understand that it is not even about me.  We all get busy and it is only natural that we want to focus on the big scary thing looming on our personal horizon.

time vortexThis practice will barely take you 1 minute, never mind the full 5!  Yet, actively, consciously deciding to be present for each of your planned meetings today will start you building that into a habit.  Pretty soon (with practice) this becomes just what you do, its just how you behave.

There are 2 reasons I strongly recommend active mental presence.

Firstly, its about respect.

Respect of my time, and whatever it is we are doing together.

If it isn’t the most important thing for you to be doing right now, that’s fine, deal with your number 1 concern right now.  Come back to me when I make it to number 1.  If I don’t ever make it to your number 1 slot, that’s fine with me too!


In exactly the same way, I want to be respectful of other people’s time too.

[Tweet “By giving my undivided attention to you, I am clearly signalling to you (& everyone else) that what I am currently doing is important to me.”]

honesty trust respectThe other reason is to do with building trust.  Dealing with the ‘now’ builds trust from those around you.  They will naturally start to respect your time with others as you respect your time with them.

Interestingly, you are often perceived as more competent when you pay attention.  Bonus!

4)  Let’s Talk About It!

Find time to talk to at least one other fellow team member….but not about the work.  You might not get to talk to everyone everyday, but aim for a minimum of 1 person everyday.

Human relationships are built on trust, and trust means you will need to share.  Not everyone is comfortable with this, it’s essential if you want to build better relationships with team members.  You’ll need to know about them, not just the work they do.

Getting StartedChatting during the breaks

If you’re worried about coming off as a bit stalker-ish, good call!  Awareness is half that particular battle!  Start with small things.

If it’s a Thursday or a Friday “Are you doing anything nice this weekend?” is usually a safe question.

If its a Monday “Did you have a good weekend?” is the other half of that particular bookend.

In the UK the weather is always a good topic. (I realise this is baffling if you aren’t British.  Think of it as a deeply ingrained cultural tradition if it helps).

For those looking to level up here, try talking about something you recently read or watched which was surprising or interesting.  Careful not to slip back in to ‘work’ here though.

The Magic That Makes This Work

Here is the most important step though.  When they answer your question, actually listen.

Remember it.  Refer to it next time you talk.

[Tweet “Find time to talk to at least one other fellow team member….but not about the work. When they answer your question, actually listen.”]

Ok, I know I may have over done the simplicity here.  The point is very serious however, and I am often astounded by how little some people interact with their other team members.  Trust takes time and patience to build.

Remember the names of your fellow team member’s partners, their children, their dog.  Whatever is important to them.  Less than a dozen of these key pieces of information about each of your team members and suddenly, you find you know them a little better.cogs3

This is important, because we are all cogs in many systems.  We belong to families, communities of interest, hobby groups and many other things.  They are cogs in systems other than the team you both share.  If one of the other systems they are a member of has a problem, knowing that can make all the difference in the world.[Tweet “We are all cogs in many systems. We belong to families, communities of interest, hobby groups and many other things.”]

Of course, to be aware of this you need to have already put in the time.  It needs to already be something you talk with them about.

5) Personal Retrospection

Or, we could call this ‘Journalling’, or ‘end-of-day review’.

This is primarily about taking stock of the day, and capturing some key points.  You can use one of many methods.  I have tried lots of them, but some of the ones I had the most success with were:

Personal Retro:

What went well / What didn’t go as expected? / What was interesting today? Set whatever questions you like along this idea to suit you.  If, as I do, you sometimes suffer with too much ‘what could I have done better?’ you can adapt to: ‘List 3 things that went well today’.  I used this for months, and I swear its made me a better person.  (Self compassion: genius idea)Journalling

Keep a Journal:

For those of you who read 5 things for newbie scrum masters, you will recognise this!  It’s never too late to start journalling, and if you ever have, I’d lay good odds you regret having stopped.

Paper or digital doesn’t matter, but some way of capturing is all that’s needed.  It can be so brief it is nothing more than a couple of bullet points*.

Whichever of these you try, you are aiming to learn something.  If I do this practice, does it help be become better tomorrow than I was yesterday?  Whether the answer is yes or no, at least you have learned something.  By definition, you have become better than you were.  Even just a tiny bit 🙂

Let me know what you love or hate about these suggestions (either here in the comments or on twitter @HelenLisowski )


*I am currently experimenting with a variation of Bullet Journal.  Here’s the article I wrote about it.