Scaled Agile (SAFe) comprehensively describes the SAFe Scrum Master’s role and responsibilities. I will expand on this explanation and incorporate my observations while adhering to the overall framework established by Scaled Agile for the SAFe Scrum Master / Team Coach role. This blog post follows the guidelines outlined in the official material.
The SAFe Scrum Master and Team Coach (SM/TC) is a pivotal figure who supports Agile teams by offering guidance and coaching to help them reach their highest potential. They play an essential role in helping teams self-organize and manage themselves independently, thereby increasing the efficacy of SAFe implementation across the organization. The SAFe SM/TC facilitates team events and processes, ensuring that both teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs) receive valuable outcomes. Their unique expertise aids in the adoption of SAFe Scrum, ensuring no major gaps and facilitating effective planning, execution, evaluation, and reflection by the team. Additionally, SAFe SM/TCs actively coach SAFe Team Kanban teams, making certain that every Agile team attains Team Flow.
Facilitating PI Planning
The Release Train Engineer (RTE) usually spearheads the PI Planning meeting, collaborating with Scrum Masters / Team Coaches. These Scrum Masters/Team Coaches are critical in ensuring productive discussions, identifying dependencies and risks, and developing a feasible PI Plan and PI Objectives. Effective collaboration between them is crucial for properly planning dependencies and aligning the Agile Release Train (ART) to deliver business value. In addition, they work closely with the RTE and other stakeholders to execute a successful PI Planning event and provide the team with a clear understanding of objectives and priorities for the upcoming PI. The PI Planning event’s success depends on everyone’s collaborative efforts, with Scrum Masters/Team Coaches ensuring alignment, engagement, and commitment to delivering high-quality solutions.
- Preparing for Planning:
- Ensure the team has a solid understanding of upcoming features
- Verify that the team has well-estimated and understood capacity and velocity for the upcoming PI
- Ensure that the team has reflected on past PI performance to prepare for a predictable PI Plan
- Make sure the team is aware of coding and quality guidelines for Planning to Build Quality In
- Confirm that the team has completed initial user story exploration and estimation during the Innovation and Planning Iteration
- Facilitate Breakout Sessions, ensuring proper discussions and adherence to timeboxes
- Draft PI Plans, guiding the team to plan user stories according to business priorities set by the Product Owner and identify risks and dependencies
- Coordinate with other teams, communicate dependencies and proactively reach agreements on dependencies
- Assist the team and Product Owner in creating PI Objectives in business language
- Facilitate the identification of Business Value for PI Objectives with Product Owners, Business Owners, and teams
- Support the integration of the final plan at the ART level by resolving dependencies
- Aid Risk ROAMing by consolidating risks with the ART level
- Help review the final plan
- Support Confidence Votes at both Team and ART levels.
Supporting Iteration Execution
A significant portion of the Scrum Master/Team Coach’s time is dedicated to supporting Iteration Execution. They are expected to facilitate various team events as needed while also teaching event facilitation to the team to prevent bottlenecks. In addition, the Scrum Master should ensure that the team environment supports achieving the Iteration goal.
- Facilitate Team Events:
- Iteration Planning: Ensure the team has a common understanding of work and the Iteration goal by engaging everyone and keeping quality goals in mind. Use facilitation techniques to promote engagement, resulting in a well-defined Iteration Goal and Iteration Backlog.
- Team Sync: Monitor team progress towards the Iteration goal, maintain Transparency, and identify and resolve impediments early. Train the team to facilitate their own sync and demonstrate effective facilitation.
- Iteration Review: Assist the Product Owner in identifying and inviting the right stakeholders, ensuring discussions focus on the built increment, and gathering actionable feedback. Keep stakeholders informed about progress towards PI Objectives.
- Iteration Retrospective: Utilize different facilitation techniques for fact-based reflection on the last Iteration’s work and processes. Share metrics and analysis to promote visibility, and encourage team engagement and self-organization.
- Team Backlog Refinement: Support the Product Owner in conducting effective refinement sessions, ensuring stories are appropriately sized and prioritized. Teach the Product Owner backlog refinement techniques, such as vertical splitting of User Stories, and help with value-based prioritization and tradeoff balancing.
- Align with the ART’s Cadence: Ensure Agile teams plan and execute work in sync with other teams, maintaining a synchronized cadence.
- Guide Kanban teams to plan cadences for system demos and achieving overall PI Objectives at the ART level.
- Teach Collaboration to Product Owners: Mentor and coach them to explore requirements incrementally, discover User Stories, write Acceptance Criteria, and learn Design Thinking Tools.
- Resolve Impediments: As a Servant Leader, the Scrum Master/Team Coach should take a leading role in resolving impediments, working with stakeholders and other Team Coaches to address dependencies and impediments. If needed, escalate issues to the Release Train Engineer (RTE).
- Ensure Transparency and open, fast communication within the team.
SAFe is a flow-based system that emphasizes frequent value delivery. Scrum Masters/Team Coaches (SM/TCs) play a crucial role in establishing systems that support value flow. They should coach teams and stakeholders to create small batch sizes, promote technical practices that enable economically viable small batches, visualize flow, and implement measurements.
- Set up the Team’s Kanban System: Identify various stages, WIP Limits, and Policies.
- Measure and Optimize Flow: Regularly assess flow metrics, educate stakeholders and teams on interpreting these metrics, and utilize retrospectives and Inspect & Adapt events to improve flow.
- Identify and Address Bottlenecks: Assist the team in pinpointing bottlenecks and implementing improvements
- Encourage Cross-Skill Development: Promote the growth of T-shaped professionals to reduce handoffs.
- Create a Supportive Team Environment: Increase In-Zone time by minimizing multitasking and interruptions during work.
Building High-Performing Teams
Servant Leadership emphasizes developing people and teams to enable them to plan and manage their own work. Scrum Masters should foster a culture of trust, transparency, and collaboration within the team.
- Organize team-building activities to build trust.
- Establish a transparent and open system that cultivates trust.
- Encourage open communication using Kanban Boards and Daily Syncs for frequent interactions.
- Teach Agile teams conflict management strategies.
- Instruct teams on providing and receiving feedback.
- Exhibit emotional intelligence in communication and develop the emotional intelligence of Agile teams.
- Implement systems for decentralized decision-making.
- Educate teams on facilitation techniques.
- Guide teams with powerful questions.
- Ensure the team has working agreements or a Team Charter to support collaboration and decision-making.
Improving ART Performance
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) focuses on scaling Agile beyond small teams, with Scrum Masters/Team Coaches playing a vital role in aligning multiple Agile teams to achieve overall Agile Release Train (ART) goals and objectives. Scrum Masters and Release Train Engineers should foster collaboration among multiple Agile teams.
- Encourage cross-team collaboration by promoting frequent interactions between Agile teams.
- Foster transparency about each team’s work and processes.
- Advocate for teams to establish working agreements with other teams and adhere to them.
- Build trust with other Agile teams and stakeholders through transparent and open interactions.
- Coach Innovation and Planning (IP) Iteration activities, ensuring teams develop a culture of innovation.
- Support collaborative Inspect and Adapt sessions with other Agile teams.
- Facilitate Problem-Solving Workshops using system thinking tools.
In conclusion, the SAFe Scrum Master/Team Coach plays a pivotal role in the successful implementation and execution of the Scaled Agile Framework, ensuring that Agile teams can work together effectively and deliver value to the organization. By focusing on building high-performing teams, facilitating PI planning, supporting iteration execution, improving flow, and enhancing ART performance, the SAFe Scrum Master/Team Coach contributes significantly to the overall success of Agile teams and organizations.
To build a strong SAFe Scrum Master profile, we recommend the following steps:
- Acquire in-depth knowledge of the Scaled Agile Framework and Agile principles.
- Obtain relevant certifications, such as the SAFe Scrum Master (SSM) or SAFe Advanced Scrum Master (SASM) certification.
- Gain hands-on experience in Agile environments, working closely with Agile teams and other Scrum Masters/Team Coaches.
- Develop strong facilitation, coaching, and mentoring skills to guide teams effectively.
- Continuously improve your understanding of Agile practices, tools, and techniques by staying up-to-date with industry trends and participating in Agile communities and forums.
By following these recommendations and consistently demonstrating the skills and knowledge required of a SAFe Scrum Master, you can successfully build your profile in the Agile community and make a meaningful impact on the organizations you work with.