Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Scrum Master? [Scrum Master Series]

I recently met a Scrum Master friend who told me how he eventually figured out that the dip in performance of one of his Scrum team members was linked to a co-worker’s body odor!

Yes, a Scrum Master does everything and anything to help the team in doing what they are supposed to do – that is advancing the Sprint’s story towards completion! 

Let’s take a look at the definition of a Scrum Master. Scrum Master is a person who facilitates the Scrum team in performing their tasks. He helps resolve the team’s blockers. These blockers could be directly related to their work – such as the team struggling to decide the design approach to take to go forward, or indirectly impeding them – such as environment outages or even excessive noise coming from the neighboring team area.

In order to justify the role of a Scrum Master, the person needs to possess the following skills:


  1. Understanding of Agile and Scrum: This is the key hard skill as a Scrum Master. Having access to an Agile Coach can help gain this skill rather quickly, but if that’s not possible, observing an existing Scrum team will also help. Those are the most practical ways in my view but taking a certification such as PMI ACP or CSM is the next best thing that can help gain the required knowledge and confidence to perform the role. Joining forums where Scrum and Agile is discussed is also quite  beneficial to grasp the nuances of Scrum and Agile.


  1. Emotional Intelligence: A Scrum Master listens not only to what is being said but also to what is not said. He constantly works towards identifying the elephant in the room – team dynamics, personal constraints, process gaps – and then addressing them. He finds creative ways to change the status-quo, in creating healthy processes and achieving team collaboration.
  2. Resourcefulness: Scrum Master is not required to be a technical person. Neither is he required to be a functional domain expert. However, he should know who to approach to help address the impediments being faced by the team. He maintains a good relationships with the stakeholders and knows when and how should the topic be brought up for discussion.

Those were the general qualities of a Scrum Master. However, considering that most Scrum Masters have evolved from other roles, it is important to understand what must a person keep in mind when moving into Scrum Master shoes from a traditional PM, Tech lead, or QA Manager role.

In such a case, a mindset shift is required to not let their former experience come in the way of their new role. It requires a focus towards failing fast, creating a minimum viable product and increased team collaboration. Scrum Team can get into serious issues if this point is ignored while moving to a Scrum Master role. Some such real life examples include:

  • Scrum Master who was previously a Project Manager could push towards having and following a detailed project plan. To add to that, he may be too aggressive and demanding in his role. This will be disastrous since it is antithesis to Agile where Servant Leadership is the key.
  • Scrum Master who was earlier a Developer could take up responsibility to write the code himself. Team could get so used to him writing the code that they would ask him to fix production bugs. He would eventually get overwhelmed with work and rather than becoming a team enabler, he would end up becoming a bottleneck.
  • Scrum Master who was formerly a Test Lead could get closely involved in testing. In such a situation, the Scrum team would slowly start considering him as the quality gatekeeper and stop appreciating that the quality as a collective team responsibility.

Having said so, if you put your old wine (skills) in the new bottle (of Scrum Mastery), you can win in the role like no on else. Here are some examples of the benefits your previous experience can bring to your new role:

  • A Project Manager and a Scrum Master role have a lot in common. Whether it’s prioritization, planning, client demo, lesson learned – they are all present in SCRUM/Agile as well in the form of Backlog Grooming, Sprint Planning, Sprint Demo, and Sprint Retrospectives. Hence, your previous skills will come in handy in Scrum Master role!
  • Having a technical background will help you in the Scrum Master role to understand the language spoken by the team. You could also teach and coach the team on technical aspects such as how to design effectively, following coding standards and unit testing practices.
  • QA / testing experience can also be very favorable to you in the Scrum Master role. Test Leads or other such roles understand the end to end development process, are good at stakeholder management and causal analysis. They talk to Developers, Business, Business Analysts and traditional Production Support teams to determine and address the root causes of the issues. These are directly required in the Scrum Master role as well.


Do you agree with the above qualities as key to perform the Scrum Master role successfully. Would you like to add anything else to the list? 

On The Day Of Your PMI ACP Exam!

I am an ACP today. No, not Assistant Commissioner of Police, .. that’s for another time! For now, I am an Agile Certified Practitioner.

If you have ever taken an exam (which I am sure is the case) and if you’re like me (which I am not as sure), you know how it feels like on the D Day – Butterflies in stomach, a wish that you had managed more preparation time, what would others think if you BOMBED, sadistic thoughts to postpone the date – Kim Jong Un drops the nuclear bomb at the PMI Headquarters, a Tsunami strikes the Gurgaon Exam center, or ISIS takes the PMI’s CEO and it’s employees hostage – None of which will come true or even should. I haven’t grown much in this aspect from the lad I was in school. Back then, I would wish the worst things to happen to the teacher just to skip the test.

Finally, it dawns on you that nothing else will work and you have to face the exam. When that did for me, here’s what worked for me, and may be it’ll work for you too:

  1. Sleep in timeGiven how smart I am, I chose 8 AM on Monday as the exam time – so I could get the weekend to revise and could join office in case I was refused a leave. Neither of these things happened though. I mean I didn’t revise as much as I should have and my leave didn’t get refused. I was tempted to study all night like back in college days but I am glad that better sense prevailed and I slept at 10 PM. You should too.
  2. Start in timeGoogleMaps suggested it’d take an hour to reach the Exam Center. I started an extra half an hour earlier. I listened to the Audio CD of Slumdog Millionaire on the way to the exam center – something different to relax and energize me. I am glad I didn’t listen to any more of the Cornilius Fischner’s Agile PrepCast audios along the way. I had had enough of that in the last several preparation months.
  3. Mugging up won’t help: They didn’t have any question that expected me to remember the terms. Each question was a thought-provoking and interesting one. If you have worked on Agile projects and more importantly, if you have an Agile mindset, you don’t have much to worry.
  4. What to carry to Exam centerJust a Govt ID Proof with your photo on it. The lazy bum I am, I had not printed the Appointment confirmation email. I couldn’t expect any Xerox shops to be open around 8 AM (the time of my test). Thankfully, my wife reminded me that this was Digital age, and that I shouldn’t worry about the print out. I didn’t and neither should you.
  5. What they’ll let you in withThey’ll not let you take anything inside, well, except the bare essentials – You know what I mean – no jackets, not even handkerchiefs, pencils.. nothing! There’s heavy frisking including a metal detector scan, so be mentally prepared. They asked me to pull up the jeans and lower the socks in front of the camera. I was wondering if I’d be arrested should they find something during the search operation. They examined my glasses thoroughly to check if it was a Google glass or some E-equivalent. All they let you in with is a) Your Locker Key and b)Your ID proof (they didn’t let me carry the ID Proof holder also, so you know how serious this is!). Besides, expect them to give you a) 2 sharpened pencils b) Enough sheets of paper for rough work and you can ask for more (although I didn’t use even half of it. You are not allowed to write on the rough sheets until Test Start button is pressed. No room for vomiting what you mugged before the test starts!) c) A calculator d) Voice cancellation headset.
  6. During the Test, toolsFinally, I was in. I went through the instructions carefully. Three key things I loved and you should note to make use of: a) MARK questions for REVIEW b) STRIKE THROUGH answer choices to eliminate seemingly wrong answers and to focus on the seemingly correct ones c) HIGHLIGHTER to emphasize the important sections especially in longish questions (even answer choices. any text on the screen.) Best part is that all these three features are sticky which means they’ll remain selected as you move forward to other questions.
  7. Managing time during the testI completed all 120 questions in 2 hours and 10 minutes. That’s about a minute per question. That left me 50 minutes to revisit the questions MARKED FOR REVIEW. I think I had close to 40 questions marked which took me 47 minutes. I changed quite a few responses when I revisited the MARKED questions. I used the remaining few minutes to recheck few more questions. You must answer all the questions in the first pass though. There isn’t any negative marking and so leaving any answer blank is foolish.

When I submitted the test, it had few questions asking for a feedback of the examination and test content. After that, I pressed the ‘submit for evaluation‘ button, … It took a few seconds to process the results (which seemed much longer). I used this time to write HARI OM on the rough sheet that was given to me. It always does the trick! Soon after, I saw the following appear on the computer screen:


I couldn’t stop smiling and raised my hand to grab the attention of the Center staff (who constantly monitor the exam takers on CCTV cameras) to help me get out.

Please do share your thoughts and any questions you may have regarding the ACP Examination. I’ll respond as soon as I am back from celebrating this little win. Until next time, Adios!

Portfolio, Program and Project Management 101 For Husbands

You’ve made a new friend at work after years. Ravi. He’s intelligent, smart and ambitious. You rarely find that combo in your friends. Even if you do, you don’t want to admit it. Ego, I hate ya!

Ravi is looking for a match. That’s one of his goals for 2017. The day finally comes when he joins back work after a break and tells you that it’s a done deal! Ravi tells you that You have to come to his wedding. There is enough time to plan. It’s January and the wedding is in April. And with family. No excuses!

Of course. I will come, you say.  

The e-wedding invitation follows.

With God’s grace, and our parent’s blessings, the day has come

when Ursala & I are taking a step forward

to begin a wonderful life together!

You want to attend his wedding. However, you can’t really decide right away. You have to go home and talk to your wife about it. Like all decisions where the family is involved, this has to pass through a selection process where you guys will decide whether this will be added as another item to the existing set of things you are already doing i.e. your Portfolio. 

This idea is hence taken to your HMO (Home Management Office) where this selection / filtering of ideas happens. Just like your PMO (Project Management Office) at work.

Potential Portfolio –> Pipeline Portfolio –>Active Portfolio

(new idea) (approved ideas) (in-flight)

The good news though is that your wife also knows Ravi. Ravi has developed a good rapport with all your family members in a short time since you have known him. So, she’ll not say no (although she always practices the Art of Saying No with you).

Portfolio Management is the Centralized management of one or more portfolios to achieve strategic objectives. It aligns with the organizational strategies by selecting the right programs or projects, prioritizing the work, and providing the needed resources.

Wife reviews your request and after a brief discussion, she seems to be okay with the decision of attending the marriage with our two lovely kids. She doesn’t share why she decided so, but the PM in you thinks that one of the reasons has to do with the fact that friendship ranks high on your Family Values Chart (well, if something like that ever existed.)

You’re not wrong but your wife has done much more analysis and modeling than that.

Sample Project Selection Scoring Model

SCORING PARAMETER Low (1 point) Medium (5 points) High (10 points) Total Score
Strategic alignment – fits with your family values     10 10
Value (ROI) kids miss school but they learn by visiting a new place   5   5
Complexity – remote place, managing leaves   5   5
Synergy – Lavesh’s (another colleague’s) family also coming along     10 10
Total Score 30/40

You are enthused with this little win. However, you don’t realize until later that this would be a lot of work.

This is what you thought was your Project scope to Plan for: Family to attend Ravi’s wedding.

Project Scope is the work required to be done to deliver a product, service or result with the specified features and functions.

You had thought it was just attending the wedding but as time passes, and details become available you realize it’s actually a series of interrelated activities (i.e. it’s a Program though you initially you thought it was a Project!).

Program Management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a program to meet the program requirements and to obtain benefits and control not available by managing projects individually.

Over time, you realize that this is what you will need to get done. And this list too is growing:

  1. Manage leaves not only for yourself, but your wife and children too.
  2. The wedding is at Oracha in M.P. (This place didn’t exist for you until now!). Travel arrangements and hotel reservations to be planned.
  3. Explaining to your folks why on earth do you have to attend a friend’s wedding at Oracha!
  4. Create your official backup who will offer the first line of defence to keep your phone from ringing all the time while you’re in Oracha, and, thus, protecting you from your wife’s cuss words.
  5. Plan for catching up on your return – for yourself, and wife and kids.
  6. It’s hot at Oracha (I’m trying to get used to the name) and your kids are delicate darlings. You’re not Mukesh Ambani!
  7. ..
  8. ..

Progressive Elaboration is the iterative process of increasing the level of detail in project management plan as greater amounts of information and more accurate estimates become available.

All the above are small (you now think otherwise) projects in themselves. It’s just that you realized it later but these are all to be done in order for you to make your plan to attend Ravi’s wedding successful.

Project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

You start the planning. You apply for 4 days leave 4 months in advance. It will not be approved until one week before your travel. It keeps you anxious and brings you to a point where you say you’ll quit your job if the leave is now not approved.

Meanwhile, Lavesh, the other colleague who is also attending Ravi’s wedding tells you that now that you’re going there, there are other places we all can go and visit too. Khajuraho, Gwalior, Agra, Jhansi aren’t too far.

You get tempted. You don’t think it’s a bad idea at all.

You haven’t appointed a formal project manager to manage the plan but thankfully you have your wife. The de facto manager is such situations. You have to review this with your wife.

She shows you what you were missing. I thought we were going to attend Ravi’s wedding. Your four day leave is still not approved and now we’ll add another day to show the erotic temples of Khajuraho to our kids!?! You can’t be serious!

You apologize and she stands proudly after having won this argument easily. You feel small and plan to kill Lavesh. His idea had came disguised as the project work itself, and hence you couldn’t tell it apart. Wife easily did. They have 6th sense.

Scope Creep: The uncontrolled expansion to product or project scope without adjustments to time, cost and resources.

Congratulations! Today, we have understood the following concepts of Project Management:

  • Difference and relationship among Portfolios, Programs and Projects
  • PMO and it’s corelation with Portfolio Management
  • Scope definition
  • Progressive elaboration and how is it different from Scope creep
  • Project Selection Scoring Model

All highlighted definitions are taken from PMI PMBOK Fifth Edition. Sample Project Selection Scoring model derived from

By now, you know you are all Portfolio Managers. You do much more than you think you do. Better plan for it instead of just letting it all happen. I will look forward to hearing from your thoughts and questions on the topics. 

Until next time, Adios!

Risk Management 101 for Husbands

You are a middle manager. You have been married for ten years and have a beautiful wife and two wonderful kids.

All is going well. Well, except one thing- You are bored. Life is monotonous. That routine is killing you. You want to do something of your own but like most employed people, your dreams are bought over by the monthly salary. They are paying you more than you can ever think you can make on your own, after all!

It’s like any other day today. You are driving back from work, feeling drowsy and tired. No excitement whatsoever. Suddenly, the phone rings. It is a UK number. You have little energy left but you manage to answer the call.

“Hi ya!” says the voice on the phone. It’s a sweet voice that of a girl.

You feel better and reply. “Hi! Who is that?”

“You have to guess, Mister!”, comes the reply.

It sounds familiar now. “Is that Tina?”

Of course it is. Tina, an old flame back from the gone college days.

You feel even better. You are speaking with her after over a decade.

There is so much to catch up. She’s married. She moved to U.K. She has three girls. Her husband is eccentric from what she tells you. 

She too is perhaps bored you think.

You start to get interested – in her life and your own too. Life is not as boring as it was before she called. You’re both the shoulder you needed to cry on that your spouses didn’t become. Conversation doesn’t end until you reach home. You drove slower to get more time. The traffic today seemed less than usual. The watch tells a different story though. It’s been an hour and a half that you’ve been talking. Your wife has called thrice during that time and her calls have gone unanswered.

You feel a bit guilty but decide not to tell your wife. Not everything has to be told to her, after all!

Tina inquires about your schedule. She calls you the next day. Same long conversations and you’re loving it. You’re loving life too. Wife’s calls are going unanswered and she is of course taking a note of the ‘engaged’ tone.

Your worry now is “What if she finds out?”

You recall how Tina had proposed to you in college. You had turned down the proposal politely because she would be a fantastic girlfriend but not a good wife, you had decided.  She’ll be too hot to handle at home.

You think that you’re not romancing with Tina, so may be you shouldn’t be so worried. But then, who knows what you’re talking about? Your wife certainly doesn’t. She can easily find out that you’ve been in touch with who she knows is your ex-girlfriend. You had told her that in good times. 

Risk Identification is the process of determining which risks may affect the project and documenting their characteristics

You think this could be a risk to your so called happily married life (project).

A Project risk is an uncertain event or condition that if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more Project objectives such as scope, cost, and quality. A risk may have one or more causes and if it occurs, it may have one or more impacts.

The PM in you makes a note of this risk in the risk register:

“Risk Register is where the results of risk analysis and risk response planning are recorded”

Risk Description: My wife could come to know of my daily long conversations with Tina.

You don’t want to let your wife to come to know of this secret. At the same time, you don’t want to stop talking to Tina. She’s fun to talk with after all and breaks the monotony of your life. You have fallen in love with life again. You are looking happier than usual. You should have anticipated that looking happier could very well be a hint for your wife. How could you be happier?

“Risk Mitigation is a risk response strategy whereby the project team acts to reduce the probability of occurrence or impact of a risk.”

You chose the following risk mitigation steps:

  • Never take  Tina’s calls in front of your wife
  • Delete the call history in case your wife checks
  • Delete the Whatsapp messages exchanged with Tina
  • Have an excuse handy in case your wife asks why didn’t you answer her calls. (Office conference call)

You feel relieved after having planned for all this.

You follow your risk management plan to a tee.

Days pass. You get used to talking with Tina. Life has a new meaning. Unlike your wife, Tina is full of life and conversations are keeping you glued. She’s nudging you to do your own thing too!

Meanwhile, your guilt is growing bigger. Is what I’m doing wrong?

But that’s not a strong enough reason for you to stop. You soothe yourself by saying – of course it’s alright. It’s alright to talk to a friend. It’s alright to feel good. It’s alright!

But following the risk mitigation steps is becoming mundane. Everyday you have to remember to delete call history and messages. You can’t remember if it was yesterday that you deleted it or today. You know you are forgetting to do it regularly. One day you forget. You reach home, leave your phone on the dining table and head to the washroom.

Inside the loo, you realize that you haven’t deleted the messages and call details. You come out after a while and do that as first thing.

Later that night, your wife confronts you.

Have you been in touch with Tina? Says she with her eyes telling more than you expected.

“Yeah”, you say “She called this week. I thought I told you.”

How long did you speak with her?

What do you mean?

I mean how long. 10 minutes. 1 hour. How long?

I can’t remember but she called after ages and there was a lot to catch up.

And messages. Did you exchange any messages with her?

If it smells like a rat feels like rat and looks like a rat. It is a rat.

You have to admit it. Yes.

When was the last time you exchange messages with her and spoke with her?

Has been a couple of days.

Sure? Will you mind if I check your phone now?

Yes. Feel free to check. But only if you don’t trust me!

She doesn’t  check the phone. But clearly, she knows. Not sure what she had read. You had been exchanging messages that you think are nothing more than harmless flirtations. “You look even more hotter now!”. But your wife is not cool enough to get it!

That night your wife doesn’t speak with you. Next day too. Your marriage is under threat.

You are now worried. You take the courage to ask her, “What is wrong?”

She doesn’t budge. She’s giving you a cold shoulder. You insist. She finally tells you she knows. She knows that you’ve been talking to Tina.  You didn’t plan for what you would do if she finds out.

“A contingency plan is a course of action designed to help respond effectively to a significant future event or situation that may or may not happen. A contingency plan is sometimes referred to as “Plan B”.

You fumble for words. You try to explain. I was just talking.

But the harm is done.

The risk has become an issue.

“The key difference is that an “issue” already has occurred and a “risk” is a potential issue that may or may not happen. 

You realize that you should have created a contingency plan in advance, which you didn’t.

Contingent Response Strategy: Response provided which may be used in the event that a specific trigger occurs.

Actually the problem is more than that. You have a major conflict with your wife. What’s a conflict? Well, that’s the topic for another time, when I share a personal story (not mine, but some person’s) to explain the concept of Conflict Management.

Good news! After reading this story, you have learnt something new about Project Management. You should now be able to confidently answer the following questions:

  • What is Risk register?
  • What is a Risk Management Plan?
  • What is Risk Mitigation and how is it different from Risk Contingency?
  • What is meant by impact of a risk?
  • How are risks different from issues?

All highlighted definitions are taken from PMI PMBOK Fifth Edition.

What are some of your personal examples of Risk Planning in your life? I am sure husbands will not want to spill the beans and increase the risk (probability) of getting caught. But then you can always share your friend’s stories ;).