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.
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