Jeremy Jarrell

Agile Made Simple

Tag: scrum master

How Many Teams Can A Scrum Master Work With?

As someone who spends a majority of his time working with Scrum teams and Scrum Masters, one of the most common questions that I’m asked is “how many teams can…

As someone who spends a majority of his time working with Scrum teams and Scrum Masters, one of the most common questions that I'm asked is “how many teams can a Scrum Master work with?”.

However, despite how common this question is, there is no simple answer. The Scrum Guide, often our first stop in our journey for questions about the Scrum framework, is silent on this matter. And while a quick internet search will turn up plenty of opinions on the subject, those opinions are usually based on the commenter's unique experience in their specific situation rather than applicable to a wide range of situations.

The fact is that there is no universal answer to this question. The right answer for your organization is going to depend on many factors, such as the skill of your Scrum Master, whether or not that Scrum Master is focused on the Scrum Master role full-time, the maturity of the team that the Scrum Master is assigned to, and of course, the maturity of the overall organization.

However, despite the uniqueness of each situation, there are some rules of thumb that seem to apply in the majority of situations. We can use these rules as a starting point, and then adapt our approach based on what we discover about our specific environment.

Laying the Ground Rules

As a general rule, a skilled Scrum Master can work effectively with 2 to 3 teams. However, there are a few caveats with this generalization.

The first caveat is that I'm assuming that this individual is focused on the Scrum Master role full-time. This means that the individual is not splitting their attention between the Scrum Master role and another role on the Development Team, such as coding or testing. Individuals described by the latter statement can only work with one team at a time: their own.

The second caveat is that I'm assuming that the Scrum Master has a reasonable level of experience and has grown their skills while acquiring that experience. While I'm hesitant to recommend a specific amount of experience, 2 to 3 years of experience across various teams seems to give Scrum Masters the opportunity to grow the skills they need to be successful in a majority of situations. In any case, you should be wary of assigning more than one team to a first time Scrum Master.

The Dangers of the Extremes

Let's dive a bit deeper into the recommendation of 2 to 3 teams to understand better from where this idea comes. First, let's look at the extremes.

For a full-time Scrum Master who is reasonably skilled, working with only a single team is often not enough to keep that individual from becoming bored with their role.

In some cases, this will simply lead to the Scrum Master becoming disengaged and neglecting their responsibilities to the team and their organization. However, in other cases, the Scrum Master may try to invent responsibilities to fill their excess time, often creating low-value work for themselves and, by extension, their teams. The number of metrics that a Scrum Master has conceived of for their teams is often a good indicator of this situation. While some metrics can provide value to the overall planning and tuning of a Scrum team, metrics covering every square inch of available wall space are often a sign of a Scrum Master with too much time on their hands.

Now let's take a look at the other extreme. Generally speaking, when a Scrum Master is asked to work with more than 3 teams they often find themselves spread too thin to add value to any of those teams.

To be truly effective with their teams a Scrum Master must be embedded in those teams. This embedding not only gives the Scrum Master the opportunity to spot friction points or opportunities for improvement, but it also helps the Scrum Master build empathy for those teams by experiencing first-hand the trials and tribulations that the rest of the team experiences on a daily basis.

If a Scrum Master is spread between any more than 3 teams, then it's highly unlikely that they will spend enough time with those teams for those things will happen.

Finding the Sweet Spot

As a result, the sweet spot for Scrum Masters who work with multiple teams is usually between 2 and 3 teams.

Giving a Scrum Master the opportunity to work with multiple teams helps that Scrum Master grow in their craft more quickly, as they have the opportunity to deal with a wider range of challenges as well as see different perspectives on how each team implements the Scrum framework.

But there's also another, more subtle benefit. When a Scrum Master works with multiple teams, they're also more likely to shift their perspective from that of an individual team towards a more holistic view of their entire organization. As a result, the Scrum Master is better able to seek out opportunities to apply the Scrum framework in their broader organization, therefore improving the lives of more teams than simply their own.

Diving Deeper Into a 2 to 3 Team Scenario

Now that we have a better understanding of why 2 to 3 teams may be the sweet spot for a Scrum Master working with multiple teams let's unpack of the details of each of these scenarios to understand better how each may work.

More often than not, a Scrum Master working with 2 teams is the sweetest of the sweet spots. In this scenario, the Scrum Master can spend significant time with each team and truly immerse themselves into the challenges those teams are facing.

Ideally, in this scenario one of the teams will be more mature than the other, which allows the more mature team to operate with more independence giving the Scrum Master more time to focus on the team that's more likely to struggle. In addition, this also provides the Scrum Master the opportunity to consider the juxtaposition of the two teams which can inspire new lines of thought or experimentation.

Expanding on the concept of working with teams of different skill levels, in a 3 team scenario ideally one, if not two, of those teams, are already mature and relatively independent. This allows the Scrum Master to serve in more of a support role for the two maturing teams which frees them to focus on the immature team. However, as the move from 2 teams to 3 teams can be more challenging than you might originally expect, having a highly-skilled Scrum Master in the mix is even important in this scenario.

Note that in both the 2 and 3 team scenarios, the Scrum Master is intentionally electing to spend less time with their more mature teams. While at first, this might surprise you, remember that at all times a Scrum Master should be preparing their teams to operate more and more independently, therefore, lessening their dependence on their Scrum Master. Intentionally lessening their involvement with their teams, while still remaining available to provide support where necessary, is a great first step in this direction.

Finding Your Own Sweet Spot

Remember that above all, the scenarios that I've outlined above are nothing more than guidelines. Every organization is different, every team is different, and most importantly, every Scrum Master is different.

While I'm hopeful that this guidance may be of some help in your own planning for the Scrum Master role remember that, as with all things agile, the only sure path to success is through constant experimentation and learning. You'll need to experiment in your own organization to find the optimal arrangement for your teams as well as expect the most optimal arrangement to shift over time as your teams evolve.

The guidance above should be considered nothing more than a starting point. Only your teams can tell you which approach will work the best in your organization.

Are you new to the Scrum Master role and are just trying to find your way? Or, are you an experienced Scrum Master who has your feet wet but now you're ready to take your craft to the next level? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework from Pluralsight, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Scrum Master and help your team reach their highest potential.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

No Comments on How Many Teams Can A Scrum Master Work With?

Coaching Your Product Owner As A Scrum Master

Often when we talk about the responsibilities of the Scrum Master role one of the first topics that come to mind is coaching. But too many Scrum Masters believe that…

Often when we talk about the responsibilities of the Scrum Master role one of the first topics that come to mind is coaching. But too many Scrum Masters believe that their responsibility for coaching stops at the Development Team. While coaching of the Development team is important, Scrum Masters must not forget that they also have a responsibility to coach their Product Owners.

However, despite the importance of this responsibility, many Scrum Masters find themselves uncomfortable with the idea of coaching their Product Owners. One reason for this is that the responsibilities of the Product Owner role focus on Product Management, which is an area with which few Scrum Masters have any practical experience.

But there's also another, more insidious reason. In many organizations, the Product Owner is likely to hold a senior title in the organization, such as Director or Vice President. In most cases, these titles are far more senior than the Scrum Master's own title. To make matters worse, while Scrum Masters often come from technical or project management backgrounds, Product Owners may hail from strange lands such as sales or marketing. These lands are likely to be foreign to not only the Scrum Master but to the rest of the Development Team, as well.

This seniority, combined with the unfamiliarity of the role, can put the Scrum Master in an awkward position when they're asked to coach their Product Owner. However, both the Scrum Master and the Product Owner must always remember that inside the walls of the Scrum team…everyone is equal.

Helping Your Product Owner Communicate Their Vision

The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for Scrum Masters to coach their Product Owners that are not dependent on seniority level or a deep knowledge of Product Management.

One such opportunity is helping the Product Owner understand how they can best communicate their intent to the Development Team. There are many techniques to accomplish this, such as product visioning, product roadmapping or release planning. However, one of the most powerful tools for helping your Product Owner get the details of their vision out of their head and in front of your Development Team is the product backlog.

Scrum Masters often tell their Product Owners that they are responsible for the management of their product backlog. However, those same Scrum Masters are often silent on exactly how to do this.

One area that's ripe for coaching is helping your Product Owner understand how they can better convey their intent through user stories. A Scrum Master can provide invaluable feedback on what the right level of detail is in those user stories to accurately communicate the Product Owner's intent without constricting the Development Team's implementation options. In addition, an adept Scrum Master can also provide advice as to how the right level of detail might change depending on where that item falls in the product backlog.

And speaking of backlog ordering, a Scrum Master can also help their Product Owner understand the different backlog prioritization strategies that are available to them and when it might make sense to choose one strategy over another.

Finding The Right Touch With Your Product Owner

Another common area of coaching is helping your Product Owner understand how they can make themselves more available to the Development Team and why this is important.

Striking a balance between building a strong rapport with the Development Team and micro-managing the team's every move is an act that requires finesse. This can be an excellent opportunity for a Scrum Master to add value as an astute observer who can provide feedback on the Product Owner's interactions with their team.

Being Your Product Owner's Conscience

And finally, an excellent but often-overlooked opportunity for coaching is for the Scrum Master to serve as the Product Owner's conscious. Earlier we mentioned the importance of helping the Product Owner develop a clear vision for the product that your team will deliver. However, even with a clear vision, it can still be easy to be led astray.

In the fast-paced world of product development, new opportunities arise quickly. Key customers may demand capabilities specific to their own business, sales teams may pressure teams for functionality necessary to close a large deal, and competitors may unveil more than enough new features to make any Product Owner jealous.

When these new opportunities arise, it's important for the Scrum Master to help the Product Owner stay true to their original product vision, even in the face of temptation.

One way for a Scrum Master to do this is to continually ask “The 3 W's”:

  • Who is this feature for?
  • What need will it accomplish for that person?
  • Why are we as an organization investing in filling that need?

But merely asking these questions isn't enough. A skilled Scrum Master must also help their Product Owner evaluate whether the answers to these questions match the stated vision for their product, and if they do not, determine whether it's time for that vision to change in response to a previously unforeseen opportunity.

Embracing Your Role As Coach

As a Scrum Master, it's your responsibility to coach your entire team, including your Product Owner.

While this coaching arrangement may at first feel uncomfortable, investing the effort to do so will help improve both the working relationship of your entire team as well as improve the chances that what your team delivers will ultimately provide value to your organization.

Do you want to learn more about how to grow your team through coaching? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework from Pluralsight, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Scrum Master and help your team reach their highest potential.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

No Comments on Coaching Your Product Owner As A Scrum Master

Should A Manager Be A Scrum Master?

In a recent post, I discussed whether the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles could be successfully combined. As you probably recall, the answer to that question was a resounding…

In a recent post, I discussed whether the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles could be successfully combined. As you probably recall, the answer to that question was a resounding “no”. In fact, the Scrum framework intentionally keeps these two roles separate in order to encourage a healthy tension between the needs of the development team and the ultimate needs of the organization.

However, when posing this same question in the context of the Scrum Master and the Development Manager, the answer becomes less clear. This is primarily because while the Scrum framework clearly describes the roles of Development Team, the Scrum Master, and the Product Owner, Scrum has no concept of the role of the Development Manager. This means that the Scrum framework offers no guidance to how this role should relate to the Scrum Master role.

Considering The Ideal Traits Of A Scrum Master

To better understand how these two roles might relate to one another, let’s take a moment to consider their responsibilities.

In addition to all of the responsibilities that are defined for Scrum Masters, one of the most important qualities of a Scrum Master is that they are viewed as a Servant Leader to their team. Servant leadership is a deep topic, but some of the qualities of a true servant leader are that they share power with their team, they put the needs of others first, and they put a strong emphasis on helping those with whom they work with grow both professionally and personally. In fact, one of the most telling traits of a servant leader is that rather than believing that their team is there to serve them, they instead flip the pyramid and believe that they exist to serve their team.

Comparing These Traits To A Development Manager

Let’s compare the approach of servant leadership to that of a traditional Development Manager. While there are managers who are exemplary servant leaders, the traditional definition of a manager is one who has functional authority over their team.

One aspect of this is that these managers often have hiring and termination authority over their team, which can significantly alter the dynamic that exists between the Scrum Master and their team.

In addition, many managers are also responsible for the day-to-day tasking of their team. While this may seem to be a simpler and more reliable approach for many organizations, it flies directly in the face of the principle of self-organization that a Scrum Master should be attempting to instill in their team.

Dreaming The Impossible Dream

With so many core differences between the Scrum Master role and the Development Manager role you might think that combining the two successfully is impossible. But this isn’t actually the case. While it can be incredibly rare, the right individual can find success in both roles.

To do this, that individual must be keenly aware of the responsibilities of each role and where they might conflict with one another. For example, such as how the expectation that a manager provide day-to-day tasking to their team conflicts with the very qualities of self-organization that they should be trying to grow in that team.

In addition, where these conflicts exist this individual must also make it clear to their team when they are wearing the hat of a manager, when they are wearing the hat of a Scrum Master, and when they are trading one hat for another. This explicitness in the role that they are currently serving can help provide the context that their team needs to best interpret the Scrum Master/Manager’s advice.

Making The Most Of A Bad Situation

While combining the Scrum Master and Manager roles can be challenging, it may not be without its perks.

Scrum Masters often encounter tough organizational impediments that can be challenging to resolve on their own. Such impediments might include responsibilities outside of the sprint that are distracting members of the Scrum team or an inability to secure key hardware or computing resources that are necessary for the completion of a key story.  But by leaning on their role authority as a manager in the organization, Scrum Master/Managers can often facilitate the removal of these impediments much easier than that of a non-manager Scrum Master.

In fact, a successful Scrum Master/Manager can even use their authority to grant greater latitude to their team which better empowers their team to take on more responsibility, moving them closer towards self-organization.

So while combining the Development Manager and Scrum Master roles is far from an ideal situation. An individual with a keen sense of the responsibilities of each role can still find success in this difficult situation. In fact, the right individual might even be able to use the unique combination of these roles to their advantage.

Want to learn more about how to make Scrum work in your unique environment? Check out my course, Agile in the Real World from Pluralsight, for tips and techniques to help your organization get the most out of their Scrum adoption.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

No Comments on Should A Manager Be A Scrum Master?

Plotting The Scrum Master’s Career Path

The growing demand for Scrum Masters has created an influx of new Scrum Masters into the role. And while most of those Scrum Masters have loved their new career, many…

The growing demand for Scrum Masters has created an influx of new Scrum Masters into the role. And while most of those Scrum Masters have loved their new career, many have found themselves wondering what’s next? Even if you’re happy in your role it’s normal to wonder what opportunities might exist beyond that role. In fact, you may find yourself wondering if there even is a Scrum Master's career path. If this sounds familiar then you’ll be happy to know that there is a career path for Scrum Masters…it just might not look quite like you expect.

Skilled Scrum Masters show an incredible amount of versatility, often adjusting their approach to meet the specific needs of their teams. This versatility makes the Scrum Master role an ideal jumping off point to a myriad of other career opportunities. But finding the right career path for you primarily depends on what facet of the Scrum Master role appeals to you most.

Becoming An Agile Coach

Often Scrum Masters are so pleased with the positive effect that an agile approach has had on their teams that they want to bring this approach to their entire organization. If this sounds like you and you’d like to be catalyst for changes inside of your broader organization than becoming an agile coach may be the right path for you.

To be successful, you’ll need to develop the ability to coach at higher levels in the organization than you do as a Scrum Master…often at the executive level. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with concepts such as business agility to better explain how an agile approach can benefit even the non-technical functions in your organization as well as become well-versed in change management strategies since introducing a significant change to a large organization is not for the faint of heart. Finally, it can also be beneficial to broaden your exposure to agile methodologies beyond Scrum so you have a wider variety of tools at your disposal in your agile toolbox.

Making The Move to Product Owner

Sometimes Scrum Masters find what really appeals to them about the Scrum framework is how it enables them to deliver better products to their users. If you find yourself most fascinated by the end product your team is creating as well as understanding whether that product is actually meeting your users’ needs then the Product Owner role may be the right move for you.

Product Owners who have a background as a Scrum Master can be incredibly empowering to their teams. This is due not only to their deep knowledge of the Scrum framework, but also to the perspective that they’ve gained during their role as a Scrum Master. This perspective can better equip Product Owners to understand exactly what their Scrum teams need from them. This insight can be incredibly valuable as you work to find the right balance between setting a clear direction for your team but also giving them the freedom to identify better solutions as they emerge.

However, remember that each of the 3 roles on a Scrum team are defined as peers. Therefore you should be careful not to consider a move to the Product Owner role as a promotion above the Scrum Master role. In healthy teams, a move between these two roles would simply be considered a lateral move with the benefit of adding another facet to one’s Scrum experience.

Becoming A Manager

Often when agilists think of managers we picture pointy-haired Dilbertesque bosses forcing mundane tasks on their employees without a care for the well-being of those employees. However, while there certainly are managers that fit this description, generalizing all managers in this way would be unfair.

There are many excellent managers who regularly demonstrate a high-degree of empathy for their employees, a well-refined sense of emotional intelligence, and a sincere desire to help their employees grow both personally and professionally.

If this sounds like a path that may appeal to you then many of these same skills that you developed as a Scrum Master will transfer well. Combine this with the team facilitation skills that you’ll also develop as a Scrum Master and you can be well on your way towards a fruitful career as a manager.

Furthering Your Investment In The Scrum Master Role

Finally, it’s important to understand the Scrum Master role doesn’t always have to be a stepping stone into a new career. Many Scrum Masters have found that they enjoy the role so much that they desire nothing more than to simply spend their career as a Scrum Master. In fact, many organizations are now changing how they think about this role to help enable these types of individuals.

For example, many organizations have introduced a Scrum Master career ladder often culminating in a Senior Scrum Master position. As Scrum Masters progress along this ladder they gain more and more responsibility by working with multiple teams, working with teams at different skills levels in their agile journey, acting as an agile advisor to their broader organization, or even serving as a mentor to more junior Scrum Masters.

In addition to this role, many organizations who have endeavored to scale Scrum also have created roles specifically to enable this scaling process. Sometimes referred to as a Chief Scrum Master, this role is often tasked with assuming responsibility for the entire scaled Scrum implementation as well as for identifying and addressing any scaling dysfunctions that may occur as the organization grows.

If you find that you simply really love the act of being a Scrum Master, then either of these opportunities may appeal to you.

Finding The Right Path For You

Becoming a Scrum Master can be the first step in a long and rewarding career that can offer many different career paths over time. Whatever path is right for you, you can be sure that the skills and relationships that you’ll develop as a Scrum Master will serve you well on that journey.

Want to learn more about building a great career as a Scrum Master? Check out my course Scrum Master Fundamentals – Growing Yourself and Your Team to learn more about the career options available to Scrum Masters and how you can plot the perfect career for you.

No Comments on Plotting The Scrum Master’s Career Path

Finding The Right Scrum Master Job

The surge in demand for Scrum Masters has led to a wealth of available job opportunities for motivated Scrum Masters. This means that if you’re a budding Scrum Master anxious…

The surge in demand for Scrum Masters has led to a wealth of available job opportunities for motivated Scrum Masters. This means that if you’re a budding Scrum Master anxious to break into this new career, or an experienced Scrum Master just looking for a new challenge, then this is a great time to be on the market. But with all of the Scrum Master jobs available, how do you know which job is right for you?

One of the best indicators of whether or not a Scrum Master job is right for you is how an organization’s view of the Scrum Master role aligns with your own view of the role. While the responsibilities of the Scrum Master role are clearly defined in the Scrum Guide, the lightweight and non-prescriptive nature of the Scrum framework often leads to many organizations taking wide latitude with how they interpret this role. And this interpretation may or may not align with your own interpretation.

Luckily, there are four simple questions that you can ask to help determine if you and a new organization are a match made in heaven, or if you may be in for a nasty surprise your first day on the job.

Question 1: How Do You Measure A Scrum Master’s Success?

One of the most common surprises you might find with a new Scrum Master position is when the organization views the Scrum Master role simply as a rebranded project manager. In these instances, you may find that your goals for your new position don’t align with your organization’s goals.

One of the best ways to identify if such a discrepancy exists is by asking how the organization measures the success of their Scrum Masters. Organizations who are simply treating the Scrum Master role as a rebranded project manager will often cite criteria as to whether or not the Scrum Master’s team is delivering the work expected of them on-time and in-budget, how well the Scrum Master is pushing the team to meet previously agreed upon deadlines, and if the Scrum Master is increasing the team’s velocity sprint-after-sprint. While the organization may feel that they find value in each of those criteria, many of those criteria still carry the smell of a command and control approach to software delivery, not to mention that they also mistakenly equate a team’s busyness with the value that they produce.

In contrast, organizations who have a healthier perspective on the Scrum Master role might cite criteria that could indicate that the Scrum Master is enabling their team to improve as a unit. For example, is the Scrum Master actively working with the broader organization to help them understand how they can better support the team, is the team becoming more self-sufficient and self-managing, and is the team’s overall throughput improving and their velocity stabilizing. Each of these criteria can indicate a Scrum Master who is actively improving the way their team operates and laying the groundwork for sustainable improvements to how their team delivers value to their organization.

But to truly know how deeply the organization understands this difference, you should also pose this same question to the existing Scrum Masters in the organization. Most large organizations will already have several Scrum Masters on staff. And, if there are already Scrum Masters in the organization, then they should most certainly be part of the interview process.

This is a great opportunity to also ask those current Scrum Masters how their success is measured in the eyes of the organization. If the answers given by the Scrum Masters differ significantly from the answers given by the organization, then this could be an indication that the organization hasn’t made their expectations clear to the Scrum Masters and that they don’t truly understand how they are being measured.

Question 2: What Is Your Career Path For Scrum Masters?

Another indicator of whether or not an organization is the right fit for you can be how they view the career path of Scrum Masters. But to know this, you first have to understand what you ultimately want from the Scrum Master role.

The versatility of the Scrum Master role makes it uniquely well-suited to serving as a jumping off point to other longer term career aspirations. For example, if you desire to broaden agile adoption across your organization, then the deep agile knowledge and facilitation skills that you gain as a Scrum Master can serve as an excellent step towards becoming an agile coach. On the other hand, if you find that you are most interested in the outputs that your team produces and how those outputs ultimately provide value to your stakeholders, then a career in product management may be in your future. Or finally, if you discover that you simply enjoy working closely with development teams and enabling them to continuously push the envelope of what they’re capable of, then simply continuing to pursue a mastery of the Scrum Master’s craft may be your goal.

Regardless of your long-term career aspirations, you should confirm that the career ladder available at your new organization will enable those aspirations. Often this can be learned by simply asking what an organization’s career path is for Scrum Masters.

If you desire an eventual move into product management, then you might seek an organization who encourages Scrum Masters to move laterally into other parts of the organization, such as business analysis or product management. On the other hand, if your longer-term aspirations are to become an agile coach, then you might seek an organization whose career ladder gradually increases the responsibility of Scrum Masters into broader areas of the organization until those individuals are acting as executive level coaches. Or, if you’re one of the many Scrum Masters who simply loves the role of Scrum Master and wants to continually refine their craft, then you might seek an organization with multiple levels of the Scrum Master role. These Scrum Master career ladders, which often culminate in titles such as Lead Scrum Master or Senior Scrum Master, are designed to a grow a Scrum Master’s skills by gradually increasing their responsibility by giving them responsibility for more teams, teams who are new to or who are struggling with their agile adoption, or even responsibility for training and mentoring more junior Scrum Masters in their organization.

Whatever your long-term career aspirations are, you’ll want to be sure to find an organization that will enable and support those aspirations long into the future.

Question 3: What Is A Day In The Life Of A Scrum Master?

One of the best ways to understand how the organization views the Scrum Master role is simply to ask the organization’s other Scrum Masters.

Asking each Scrum Master to describe a typical day can give a lot of insight into the expectations of that organization’s Scrum Masters. For example, do the Scrum Masters speak mostly of removing impediments for their team or do they seem to be more focused on teaching their team to remove these impediments for themselves. Or, do the Scrum Masters speak of leading the various Scrum events for their team or do they position themselves as a facilitator who helps their team get the most from these events. Listening to not only what activities the Scrum Masters describe, but also for subtle cues in how they describe them can be very revealing of the Scrum Master’s true role in the organization.

And, as with previous questions, turning this question back on the organization can reveal how well the organization understands how the Scrum Master role functions in their organization. If you find that the organization’s description of the daily activities of a Scrum Master differ significantly from what the Scrum Masters describe, then this may be an indication that the organization doesn’t truly understand the challenges their Scrum Masters are facing each day.

Question 4: What Are You Looking For In Your Next Scrum Master?

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to meet other Scrum Masters in the organization during the interview process, then you can also use this opportunity to gain insight into how well those Scrum Masters are currently functioning as a team.

For any lasting change to take effect in an organization, there must be multiple Scrum Masters acting in concert to enact that change. This not only enables those Scrum Masters act as a chorus of guidance to the organization, rather than as a single lonely voice, but it also allows each of those Scrum Masters to reinforce that same guidance across multiple teams in the organization.

But in order for this to happen, it takes more than just multiple Scrum Masters in the same organization…those Scrum Masters must be acting in a coordinated effort. One of the best ways to understand how well-coordinated this effort is is to ask the other Scrum Masters what they are looking for in their next Scrum Master.

Asking this question helps you understand how introspective the current team of Scrum Masters are about their strengths and weaknesses. A mature team of Scrum Masters will be very introspective which will allow them to identify gaps in their skills across the team. For example, the team may understand that while they have a strong grasp of the Scrum framework, they lack significant experience with other agile methodologies like Kanban. Or while the members of the team may feel very comfortable coaching at the team level, they may lack the skills to coach effectively at the executive level.

A mature team of Scrum Masters will be introspective enough to identify opportunities for improvement and will be actively seeking to fulfill these opportunities gaps with the next addition to their team.

Making Your Next Move The Right Move

Considering any change in employment can be a stressful time. This is especially true when that change involves a role that can be as widely interpreted as the Scrum Master role. But by understanding what you truly desire from your next opportunity, as well as asking the right questions to help you learn whether or not your new organization will support those desires, you can greatly increase your chances of making your next change a successful one.

Do you want to learn the skills that you'll need to ace your next Scrum Master interview? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Scrum Master and help your team reach their highest potential.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

No Comments on Finding The Right Scrum Master Job

Can The Scrum Master And Product Owner Roles Be Combined?

“Can’t we just combine the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles?” If you’ve been around new Scrum teams for any period of time then you’ve likely heard this question more…

“Can’t we just combine the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles?”

If you’ve been around new Scrum teams for any period of time then you’ve likely heard this question more than once. In fact, it might even sound as if it makes sense. After all, at first glance, the roles actually appear very similar. So similar, in fact, that one might believe that there may even be efficiencies to be gained by doing so.

But, if we look closer, many of these similarities only appear because these two roles are the only roles on a Scrum team which are not developer roles. In fact, that’s where the similarities end.

Creating a balance

While the roles may at first appear similar, in actuality they have very different focuses. The Product Owner is focused on the value that the team will produce and how to select the work that will ultimately enable that value. The Scrum Master, on the other hand, is focused on how to enable the team to deliver the work that the Product Owner chooses most effectively. This means that separating these roles between two individuals helps to strike a productive balance. This balance enables the team to produce value for their organization but to do so in such a way that ensures the long term creation of that value, such as working at a sustainable pace and keeping the level of technical debt in check.

On the other hand, when these roles are combined into a single individual often that individual will gravitate towards the role they are most comfortable with while starving the responsibilities of the other role. For example, if the individual is most comfortable in a technically-oriented role then they may gravitate towards those responsibilities of the Scrum Master that support and enable the Development team while ignoring the value maximizing responsibilities of the Product Owner.

Making the most of two roles

While ensuring that the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles are properly split across two individuals is a necessary ingredient to creating a high-performing Scrum team, there’s more to making the most of these roles than simply splitting them.

Often the tension created by attempting to balance the competing priorities of these roles leads to teams viewing the roles themselves as competitors. However, this simply isn’t true. While a healthy tension should exist between a skilled Scrum Master and Product Owner, these roles should complement each other rather than compete.

But, it’s also important to remember that the Scrum Master is not simply an assistant to the Product Owner, either. While the Scrum Master may help the Product Owner fulfill certain responsibilities, if both agree that doing so would be effective, this in no way implies that the Scrum Master should be subservient to the Product Owner. All members of a Scrum Team are considered to be equal which means that regardless of their roles in the organization, in the context of the Scrum team, the Scrum Master and the Product Owner are peers.

Resisting the temptation

While the temptation may exist to combine the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles, remember that these roles were intentionally designed as separate roles. Respecting this separation of responsibilities helps to ensure that your team will benefit from the the full value that each of these roles are designed to provide, which will bring them one step closer to becoming a high-performing Scrum team.

Want to learn more about how to overcome the most common problems faced by agile teams? Check out my course, Agile in the Real World, for tips and techniques for making agile really work with your team.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

No Comments on Can The Scrum Master And Product Owner Roles Be Combined?

Finding Your First Job As A Scrum Master

There’s no doubt that the Scrum Master role has been in the spotlight lately, even being named one of the top 10 most promising careers. This has garnered so much…

There’s no doubt that the Scrum Master role has been in the spotlight lately, even being named one of the top 10 most promising careers. This has garnered so much attention that the role has even begun to attract those from outside of the technology industry. In fact, several individuals have recently reached out to me expressing interest in breaking into the Scrum Master role without experience as part of an agile team or even in technology, in general. If you would love to break into the Scrum Master role but simply don’t have the experience, then don’t despair…finding your first job as a Scrum Master may be easier than you think.

Getting Certified

For better or worse, holding at least an entry level Scrum Master certification is a prerequisite for almost any Scrum Master position today. While the value that some certifications yield may be debatable, their requirement is omnipresent in almost every Scrum Master job posting.

Luckily, the surge in demand for these certifications has resulted in several different options for finding the certification path that’s right for you. The two most dominant options are the Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) certification offered by Scrum Alliance® and the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification offered by Scrum.org. Both certifications are based on the Scrum Guide, which is the standard reference point for learning the Scrum framework, and both certifications offer paths towards more advanced certifications beyond the entry level certification.

The major difference in these certifications is how they’re earned. To earn the Certified ScrumMaster certification you must attend a two-day in person training class offered by a Certified Scrum Trainer, who is licensed by Scrum Alliance. After completing this class you will be eligible to attempt a certification exam which will allow you to earn the Certified ScrumMaster® certification.

On the other hand, while similar two-day in person training classes are offered by Scrum.org licensed Professional Scrum Trainers, the attendance of such a class is not a mandatory prerequisite before attempting Scrum.org’s own Professional Scrum Master certification exam.

Preparing For The Exam

The option to purchase a Professional Scrum Master certification attempt directly from Scrum.org without the need to incur the cost of attending a live class makes this path a very attractive option for those who are seeking a more economical option to certification or for those who simply do not have access to live training in their local area. Be aware, however, that Scrum.org’s exams can be quite rigorous and are not for the faint of heart. The Scrum.org training courses are of very high value, so if you’re considering attempting the Professional Scrum Master exam without the benefit of attending one then you’ll want to take a few steps to prepare yourself.

As a first step, you’ll want to take some time to review the Scrum Guide in depth to make sure that you understand the rules of the Scrum framework. In addition, you’ll also want to familiarize yourself with what is actually part of the Scrum framework versus what complementary practices you may have simply attributed to the Scrum framework. For example, are Story Points part of the Scrum framework? If you think that they are then you may need to spend some time reviewing the Scrum Guide.

Next, you’ll want practice the Open Assessments that are available for free on Scrum.org’s website. While the assessment questions on the actual exam tend to be more difficult than those found on the Open Assessments, practicing the Open Assessments will help you familiarize yourself with the language and format of the questions that you’ll encounter on the actual exam. Note that Scrum.org makes several different Open Assessments available so you’ll want to consult the PSM I certification page to learn which Open Assessments will be the most helpful for preparing you for your certification.

Finally, you’ll want to take some time to understand how the rules of the Scrum framework play out in practice. A great place to start is Pluralsight’s Using the Scrum Framework Learning Path, which will introduce you to not only the mechanics of the Scrum framework, but also to how those mechanics can be applied inside of your team. Many budding Scrum Masters have used this path to successfully prepare for earning their PSM I certification and you’re likely to find value in it, as well.

Sharing Your Thoughts

Once you’ve learned the basics of the Scrum framework then it’s time to start sharing your thoughts on Scrum with the world. A great way to do this is with your own blog where you can share your evolving thoughts on the Scrum framework and how it can help teams be more effective. If you don’t yet have thoughts on how Scrum can help teams then don’t worry, simply using the blog to document your own learning process as you learn more about the Scrum framework can be a great first step.

You can even use this as a platform to share your thoughts on any agile-related books that you’ve read or to work through open questions that you may still have about the Scrum framework. Whatever the content is, you’ll be amazed at how simply taking the time to write and formulate your thoughts will help you better crystalize your own understanding of Scrum. In fact, simply documenting your own experience earning one of the certifications mentioned above can be a great starting point.

There are a lot of options available for starting a blog so don’t let a lack of experience with blogging stop you from doing so. While you may think of a blogging as hosting and managing your own blog at your own domain, third party publishing sites such as LinkedIn and Medium can making the process of starting your own blog nearly instantaneous. These third party platforms can also remove the headaches that inevitably come with having to manage your own platform and will even give you immediate access to an interested audience rather than having to build a following from the ground up.

But speaking of audience, remember that the size of your audience isn’t important. Your blog is an opportunity for you to showcase your thoughts and passion regarding the Scrum framework and the Scrum Master role. Organizations that are hiring Scrum Masters will be most impressed with your passion for your craft and your initiative to share that passion with the world, not by the size of your audience.

Meeting People

More than anything else, the Scrum Master role is about interacting with people, and there’s no better way to do that then to find like-minded individuals who share your passion for Scrum. Sometimes, simply knowing the right individual at an organization is all it takes for you to get your chance at your first Scrum Master position. But where do you find these individuals?

Start with where they tend to gather. A great starting point is attending the agile related sessions at small regional conferences. Many agile conference sessions are interactive so they can be a great opportunity to meet others in the Scrum Master role. In addition, most major cities offer agile meetups where agile practitioners can meet regularly to discuss advancements in their field. Make it a point to become a regular attendee of your local meetup and you’ll inevitably start to meet others who can help you get your big break.

But there’s actually a way to take this a step further. Many agile companies are proud of their new way of working and are happy to open their doors to others who might benefit from it. Find out which companies are the agile thought leaders in your area and reach out to those companies. Ask if they would be open to you shadowing one of their Scrum teams for a few days to learn how Scrum works in practice, similar to an unpaid internship. You’ll be surprised at how many companies are open to these types of arrangements and are more than happy to allow you to sit in on a few of their Scrum events to see their team in action.

Doing this will not only give you first-hand experience as to how the Scrum framework is often implemented in practice which you can speak to during your next interview, but the connections and friendships that you form during that time might very well lead to your first Scrum Master opportunity.

Taking That First Step

While the steps I’ve discussed above are best followed in the order that they’re presented they can be taken in whatever order makes the most sense for you. For example, if you have the opportunity to spend time with a high-performing Scrum team before you’ve earned your certification then certainly don’t let the lack of a certification stop you from doing so.

What’s important is that you take the first step that’s right for you and helps you come one step closer to fulfilling your dreams of becoming a great Scrum Master.

Do you want to learn more about launching your career as a Scrum Master? Or, are you an experienced Scrum Master who is ready to take your craft to the next level? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Scrum Master and help your team reach their highest potential.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

No Comments on Finding Your First Job As A Scrum Master

3 Simple Things Scrum Masters Can Do To Improve Their Craft

Getting started as a Scrum Master can be pretty easy. Take some time to read the Scrum Guide to learn the mechanics of the framework, watch a few videos to…

Getting started as a Scrum Master can be pretty easy. Take some time to read the Scrum Guide to learn the mechanics of the framework, watch a few videos to go deeper into the role, and then perhaps attend a certification course to learn how to apply these principles in practice.

But even though getting started as a Scrum Master can be relatively easy, the next steps in your journey to becoming a great Scrum Master often aren’t so clear. How do you learn to handle the tough situations that will inevitably arise day-to-day? Or how do you learn to step out of your daily responsibilities and see the bigger picture of how your team is evolving? And finally, how do you ensure that you are growing as a Scrum Master so that you’re continually improving in your quest to help your team become more effective?

Achieving these more advanced goals often isn’t as easy as getting started, but lucky there are some simple practices that can help you take those next steps.

Find Your Tribe

One of single the most effective things you can do to become a more effective Scrum Master is simply to interact with other Scrum Masters. Spending time with other Scrum Masters can reveal a wealth of information, practices, and resources that you may not have been aware of. You’ll be exposed to new perspectives on how to handle common problems faced by Scrum teams and you might even gain insights into how your own practices and behaviors are perceived.

But how do you do this? The easiest way is to simply invite other Scrum Masters in your organization to a regular session in which everyone can meet and share their experiences with their own Scrum teams. A morning coffee chat or even a Friday afternoon session to unwind at the end of the week once per month both work well for this. The only rule is to make it a regular occurrence at a time when everyone can attend without feeling rushed.

Once your group is together, take the opportunity to share recent experiences and developments that have affected your team as well as how you handled them. Then ask if anyone in attendance has encountered similar situations and, if so, how they handled them. You might learn some new approaches to handling the situation should you encounter it again. In addition, if there are others in attendance who haven’t encountered the same situation then they will not only be better prepared to recognize the same situation but they will also have a few tools in their toolbox to handle it when it occurs.

But what if you’re the only Scrum Master in your organization? Maybe you work for a small organization or maybe your organization has just begun its Scrum journey and yours is the first Scrum team on the ground. What do you do then?

In that case, try to find other Scrum Masters in your local area with which you can establish the same standing meeting. Perhaps this is a coffee chat early one morning or lunch at a convenient location one day per month.

While it’s true that Scrum Masters from outside of your organization may not have the same insights into your organization’s unique culture and dynamics, you may find that these same Scrum Masters bring a fresh perspective to your problems simply because of different approaches that they've tried in their own organizations. Simply becoming aware of the challenges and experiences of Scrum teams in another organization can open your mind to perspectives and practices that you may not have even considered.

Start a Scrum Master’s Journal

The next practice is even simpler. Go to your favorite bookstore and buy a nice journal and pen. Then every day, at the end of the day, take 10 minutes to write down the day's experiences.

A great model for this is the Sprint Retrospective that you’re already engaging in with your own team, but from the perspective of your own daily interactions.

Record what you did in your role that day that seemed to have a positive effect on your team and what that effect was. Then record anything that occurred that didn’t go as well as you would have liked. And finally, consider whether there is anything that you’d like to try differently tomorrow.

I would also suggest that you make a note of any major events that occurred during that day, such as key developments that occurred with your team or important events that occurred within your organization. This will help you better understand the context of your notes as well as any external dynamics that may have been affecting your team when you revisit your notes in the future.

Taking a mere 10 minutes at the end of each day to perform a bit of introspection can be incredibly powerful. Not only will this help improve your awareness of your own actions and what effects they have on your team, but it will also help you start to better identify patterns that seem to be affecting your team and better equip you to intervene when you spot those patterns occurring.

Find a Mentor

Interacting with other Scrum Masters will expose you to new perspectives that you may not have previously considered. And starting a regular habit of journaling will help improve your self-awareness of your own behaviors and how those behaviors may be affecting your team. But what about the truly tough problems that you’ll face as a Scrum Master? What about those challenges that are not only facing your team, but also your own growth as a Scrum Master? For that, you’ll need the one-on-one interaction of a mentor.

A great mentor can help illuminate the path on your journey to self-development, act as a sounding board as you work through some of your toughest challenges, and even help you spot possible pitfalls that may lie in wait on the path ahead.

Many Scrum Masters have found that regularly participating in a structured mentoring session on a weekly or monthly basis has been one of the most impactful experiences of their career. But where do you find someone to fill the mentorship role for you?

Many senior Scrum Masters are often willing to serve as a mentor to those who are more junior not only because it can be so personally rewarding, but also because serving as mentor can often be an incredibly illuminating experience, as well.

However, if a more senior Scrum Master is not available then many agile coaches are often more than happy to serve this role. Or, if you’ve taken part in a formal Scrum Master training course then consider reaching out to your Scrum trainer as many trainers are happy to continue their relationships with their students beyond the classroom in this same capacity.

But, barring that, many coaches and Scrum Masters are also happy to engage in virtual mentoring arrangements. In these arrangements, a mentor will regularly engage with you in a virtual setting, often working through a very structured and productive mentoring relationship using video conferencing and other collaboration software.

Putting This Into Practice

Regardless of how you start, regularly interacting with other Scrum Masters and engaging in a broader practice of introspection and increased self-awareness will pay tremendous dividends for your growth as a Scrum Master.

You owe it to not only yourself but also your team to begin investing in improving your craft as a Scrum Master by putting these ideas into practice today.

Are you new to the Scrum Master role and are just trying to find your way? Or, are you an experienced Scrum Master who has your feet wet but now you're ready to take your craft to the next level? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Scrum Master and help your team reach their highest potential.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

No Comments on 3 Simple Things Scrum Masters Can Do To Improve Their Craft

The Best Books to Help Scrum Masters Sharpen Their Skills

So you’ve found yourself in the Scrum Master role with your first team and are wondering where to start. Or, maybe you have a certification or two under your belt,…

So you’ve found yourself in the Scrum Master role with your first team and are wondering where to start. Or, maybe you have a certification or two under your belt, have already worked with a few teams, but are looking for ways to sharpen your skills even further.

Luckily for you, there have been some great books written for Scrum Masters over the past few years. Nearly all of these books are good, but there have been a few that will really help you take your skills to the next level. These books are listed in a specific order that tracks the milestones most Scrum Masters progress through on their journey to becoming a great Scrum Master. To get the most out of these books, I suggest that you work through them in this same order.

Let’s get started…

The Scrum Guide

Surprised? Many people are often taken aback when I recommend such a basic reference book. However, I’m often caught off guard at how many practicing Scrum Masters haven’t actually read the Scrum Guide.

The Scrum Guide is the main touchstone for the rules of the Scrum Framework which you, as the Scrum Master, are responsible for ensuring your team is following. At only 17 pages long, the Scrum Guide can easily be read in an evening, but fully internalizing its content may take much longer.

However, the brief and succinct format of the Scrum Guide can be quite helpful. The Scrum Framework is often accompanied by many complementary practices, such as user stories or planning poker. However, while helpful, did you know that these practices are not actually part of the Scrum Framework?

This is because the creators of Scrum so erred on the side of a lightweight and non-prescriptive framework that many of the practices at are now synonymous with Scrum were explicitly omitted from the Scrum Framework. Reading the Scrum Guide will help you better understand what is part of the Scrum Framework and what isn’t so you can help your team cut through the noise to what actually matters.

Scrum Mastery by Geoff Watts

Once you’ve reacquainted yourself with the rules and values of the Scrum Framework you’ll be better equipped to understand how those values can play out in your organization.

This is where Scrum Mastery comes in. Scrum Mastery uses a scenario-driven format to illustrate specific approaches that a Scrum Master can use to be more effective in their role. It also demonstrates many of the most common challenges a Scrum Master may encounter in their role and then shows possible solutions to work through those challenges in the most productive way.

If you’ve built a good understanding of the basics of the Scrum Framework and your role within it, then Scrum Mastery will help you put those skills into practice.

The Great Scrum Master: #ScrumMasterWay by Zuzana Sochova

Once you’re ready to add some more advanced tools to your Scrum Master toolbox, The Great Scrum Master is a great place to start.

This book is full of practical advice and practices that can help any Scrum Master become more effective in their day-to-day role. Whether you need help getting to the root cause of a pesky problem that continues to afflict your team, understand why certain group dynamics seem to be emerging in your team time and time again, or just start to identify what types of tools might be appropriate for the problem at hand, The Great Scrum Master is full of a wealth of concrete practices that you can start putting to work with your team immediately.

Becoming a Catalyst: Scrum Master Edition: Using Everyday Interactions to Accelerate Cultural Change by Len Lagestee

We’ve talked a lot about the fundamentals of the Scrum Framework as well as what practices you can use as a Scrum Master to help your team. But, we haven’t talked about how to think about your daily interactions as a Scrum Master. This is where Becoming a Catalyst comes in.

This books gives you the tools to make the most of each of your day-to-day interactions both with your team and your broader organization. It provides guidance on how you can build support for your goals for your team, strengthen your relationships with your co-workers, or even gain insights into where trouble may be brewing ahead.

We frequently talk about the “softer side” of becoming a Scrum Master and how useful strong communication skills can be, but there’s often a gap of resources specifically designed to help grow those skills. Becoming a Catalyst fills that gap.

Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins

The inclusion of a book so obviously focused on agile coaching may surprise you. But, effective Scrum Masters know that one of the most important ingredients to their team’s success is their own coaching skills. Whether you’re helping your team better understand the practices and values of the Scrum Framework, improve in a specific area of delivery, or even just work together more effectively great Scrum Masters are also great coaches.

But what’s that you say, you’ve never been trained as a coach? Don’t worry Coaching Agile Teams will give you the tools you need to help you coach more effectively both at the team level as well as within your broader organization. If you’re ready to take the next step in your Scrum Master journey and begin actively coaching your team, then this book will help show you the path.

Putting These Books to Use

While these are my favorites, they’re just a taste of the wealth of information available today for Scrum Masters. But getting value out of these books takes more than simply reading them and moving on. To truly get value out of this material you need to carefully read these books, identify and internalize the practices they espouse, and then look for opportunities to put these practices to work with your team. This is because only by actively applying what you’ve learned can you move your team, and yourself, forward.

Are you new to the Scrum Master role and are just trying to find your way? Or, are you an experienced Scrum Master who has your feet wet but now you're ready to take your craft to the next level? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Scrum Master and help your team reach their highest potential.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

No Comments on The Best Books to Help Scrum Masters Sharpen Their Skills

Becoming A Non-technical Scrum Master

If you work in the tech industry then you’ve no doubt noticed the recent explosion in demand for qualified Scrum Masters. But, what’s more interesting is the surge in interest…

If you work in the tech industry then you’ve no doubt noticed the recent explosion in demand for qualified Scrum Masters. But, what’s more interesting is the surge in interest from individuals hoping to fill these positions who are coming from outside of the tech industry. In fact, in the last month alone I’ve received several questions from individuals without a technical background who are interested in becoming a Scrum Master. While the background of each individual is different, all of the emails end with a common question: “Can someone who doesn’t have a technical background find success as a non-technical Scrum Master?”. While opinions on this may certainly differ, I’m thrilled to say that in my experience the answer to this question has been a resounding “Yes!”.

Learning The Skills To Be A Great Scrum Master

While there’s no question that having a strong technical background can be advantageous to becoming a successful Scrum Master, it’s in no way a requirement. In fact, some of the best Scrum Masters that I’ve ever worked with have come from completely non-technical backgrounds.

So, if a technical background isn’t a requirement for becoming an effective Scrum Master, then what is?

The Scrum Master role is all about fostering collaboration across your team. And to do this effectively you need to be able to build connections with others and communicate with them in a way that makes sense to them. Therefore, great Scrum Masters need to be great communicators and understand how to adapt their communication style to a variety of situations and individual preferences.

Teams who are new to the Scrum framework are often skeptical of the number of ceremonies and artifacts that are required to adhere to the rules of the framework. It’s your responsibility as a Scrum Master to communicate the value of each of these ceremonies and artifacts in a way that resonates with each member of your team so that everyone is on board with fully participating in the framework.

In addition, great Scrum Master have a knack for setting short-term goals with their teams and then visualizing the steps necessary to reach those goals. In this way, the Scrum Master helps their team understand the value of each of their sprint goals and helps them build a plan to reach those goals.

But What About Technical Skills?

Both of the skills mentioned above are non-technical in nature, meaning that anyone from any background could be capable of employing these skills successfully. But, does this mean that there are no technical skills required for becoming a great Scrum Master?

Not exactly.

Truly effective Scrum Masters also possess a deep understanding of how their organization delivers software. However, this is not the same thing as being a skilled software developer. Great Scrum Masters have a clear mental picture of all of the steps their organization takes to deliver an increment of product to market and how each of those steps fit together. This doesn’t mean that the Scrum Master understands every line of code used to bring a product to life, or the specific nuances of each step of the product’s deployment pipeline, but they do understand how each step of that process fits together and how changes to one step can affect other steps.

In addition, while they may have a deep understanding of their organization’s software development process, they also understand that their organization’s process is almost guaranteed to differ from another organization’s process…and that this difference is ok.

The goal of understanding their process is to better position them to spot impediments that could be affecting their team, especially those impediments that their team may not even see themselves. And another goal is to help them to spot opportunities to improve and optimize that process so their team can deliver software more effectively.

So while some level of technical understanding is necessary, the good news is that this level of understanding can be learned on the job by anyone willing to invest the effort to do so.

Finding Success As A Non-Technical Scrum Master

But despite the skills above, a large part of your success as a non-technical Scrum Master will depend on how willing your team is to accept a Scrum Master from a non-technical background.

For some teams, this won’t be an issue. They’ll be happy to have the aide of a great Scrum Master and won’t care about your level of technical chops…or lack thereof. For others, however, this may be more of an issue.

For some teams, a Scrum Master from a non-technical background may need to work a little harder to gain their team’s trust. This can be particularly true for teams who are new to the Scrum framework and are already a bit skeptical of the Scrum Master’s role to begin with. But don’t despair, if you find yourself in this situation all hope is not lost.

When working with a team whose trust you may have to work harder than usual to earn, your first order of business should be to invest in building strong relationships with each individual on the team. This can pay huge dividends since people whom you have strong relationships with will be more likely to support and follow you as you begin to drive change in your role. Or, even if they don’t always agree with you, they’ll at least be less likely to publicly detract from you when they disagree.

But beyond this, you must also work to really learn the skills and responsibilities that are expected of a Scrum Master. And then, make a visible effort to put these same skills to work bettering the lives of your team.

As mentioned above, it’s not unusual for teams are who are new to the Scrum framework to also be skeptical of the Scrum Master role in general. Often this skepticism is rooted in a general lack of understanding of purpose of the Scrum Master role as well as the value that this role can bring to their team.

But, by working to truly develop the skills of an effective Scrum Master you’ll not only start to show your team how you can add value to their work but you’ll also demonstrate that the Scrum Master role is a craft of it’s own that requires a commitment to mastery comparable to their own roles and therefore worthy of their respect.

Beginning Your Journey To Becoming A Great Scrum Master

So, you’re confident that you can become a truly effective Scrum Master even without a technical background but you don’t know where to start? Luckily, getting started is easier than you think.

First, there are a wealth of books and online courses available to help you deepen your knowledge of your craft and to teach you the specific skills you’ll need to be successful. Becoming an effective Scrum Master is a career-long pursuit and there’s always more to learn, but luckily you’ll never be at a loss for inspiration.

Second, finding an experienced Scrum Master who can serve as a mentor can be an incredibly effective way to accelerate your own growth as a Scrum Master. A great mentor can give guidance as to what materials or learning would be most appropriate for where you are in your journey, provide insight and advice to problems that you may be facing based on their own experience with similar problems in the past, or just act as a sounding board and listen encouragingly as you reason out the best approach for yourself. If you’re looking for a mentor, a great place to start are the more experienced Scrum Masters in your own organization, Scrum Masters from outside organizations that you may encounter at local user groups or conferences, or even those Scrum Masters who can provide coaching and mentoring remotely via the internet.

And finally, jumping into your role with both feet is the most effective way to quickly find success as a Scrum Master. Truly effective Scrum Masters are great communicators and great facilitators, but above all, truly effective Scrum Masters are great problem solvers. This is because every situation you’ll face will be different and therefore the problems you’ll face with one team will differ from the problems you’ll face with another team. Great Scrum Masters don’t have all the answers, but they excel at putting their problem solving skills to work to find those answers. And there’s no better way to do this, then to dive headfirst into your first team and start solving these problems for yourself.

Are you ready to take the first step in your Scrum Master career? Or, are you an experienced Scrum Master whose ready to take your craft to the next level? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Scrum Master and help your team reach their highest potential.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

No Comments on Becoming A Non-technical Scrum Master

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search