In Scrum Dynamics episode 23, supported by
 Mapltyics by Inogic, Neil Benson is joined by co-host Dermot Ryan to discussing when Microsoft Dynamics customers should consider hiring a scrum master or agile coach to their project.

What is an agile coach and how is this role different from a scrum master?

A scrum master is a coach for the development team, the product owner and the organisation. Dermot reckons a scrum master can coach up to three teams.

An agile coach focuses on coaching the organisation. The growth and agile mindset of the leadership team and the organisation’s digital transformation. An agile coach is familiar with many agile frameworks and tools in addition to Scrum. Some agile coaches also coach scrum masters as well as leadership teams. Dermot’s coaching both!

Should Microsoft customers hire an independent scrum master or rely on their Microsoft partner to provide a scrum master for their Dynamics 365 project?

Dermot’s advice is that smaller customers embarking on a single project should engage a Microsoft partner with a good scrum master, but if the Dynamics project is partner of a broader digital transformation programme than an independent agile coach is a good investment.

Should Microsoft customers hire an independent product owner?

After a little consideration, Neil agrees with Dermot that an independent product owner can when the person is trusted by the client, knows the organisation well, and is given some time to ‘bed in’ to the project.

Can Microsoft partners send their project managers to a Scrum training course and ask them to become a scrum master on their next project?

It’s a loaded question for Dermot! It’s tough for project managers to become a scrum master on their first Scrum project. The project manager won’t have a mentor to help them adopt Scrum. This will leave the project manager, the scrum team and the client short-changed.

Neil partnered with another Microsoft partner organisation, CIBER UK, on his first Scrum project and they provided an experienced scrum master, Paul Fox, to coach Neil and his team through their first scrum project. Investing in outside help through your first scrum project was a worthwhile idea.

Having the get-up-and-go to just try Scrum without any coaching is risky but it can work. Nick Doelman is an example of a Dynamics 365 expert whose teams adopted Scrum without hiring an experienced scrum master to coach them through their first Scrum projects.

What are the characteristics you should look for when hiring an agile coach or scrum master?

Dermot asks scrum masters situational questions about examples of how to handle difficult team members, when they’ve displayed servant leadership, how they’ve helped product owners prioritise their epics, what metrics they track and what they do with those metrics.

He’d ask agile coaches what’s the difference between an agile coach and scrum master. What examples do they have of leading digital transformation programmes, how they have uplifted the capabilities of agile teams, and what agile frameworks they are familiar with and how they’ve leveraged them. And what other coaches do they follow and how do they keep their own experience up-to-date?

Neil has seen scrum master candidates asked to facilitate a retrospective without ever having met the team before, and one interviewer who asks scrum masters what they think the most important scrum event is.

Are certifications important in candidate scrum masters and agile coaches?

Some candidates have a long list of certifications but very little practical experience. A few certifications balanced with practical experience is what Neil and Dermot both prefer to see in a candidate. It’s more important that a scrum master can apply the Scrum framework than having certifications about it.

Dermot also likes to see agile coaches and scrum masters involved with the community, who get involved in local meetups and conferences. But it’s not the be-all-and-end-all either.

Technical skills in software development and Dynamics 365 can help. Dermot has relied on his software development background to understand the challenges facing his Dynamics 365 teams.

This episode is a production of Dynamic Podcasts LLC.