Scrum Master is a very popular and important role in agile software development. A lot of people are becoming or trying to become Scrum Masters, and a lot of firms are hiring Scrum Masters. If you are interested in Scrum, this article will give you my opinion on the matter of is Scrum Master a good job.
According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master is accountable for “maximizing the effectiveness of the Scrum Team”, and for “establishing Scrum as described in the Scrum Guide”. What does that mean in reality?
It means it is an unusual and tricky role. A Scrum Master is not a project manager, or really a manager at all. They are more of a servant leader. They are there to coach, guide, and improve the team. They are there to remove impediments, keep the team focused, and ensuring that all the Scrum events take place and are valuable.
How those things are done varies from context to context. It is a difficult role to sum up or provide a manual for.
However, I have tried to describe the key activities here.
The main responsibility of the Scrum Master is to coach the team, and eventually the organization, on Scrum. In the beginning of working with a team, a Scrum Master will mainly be focused on the team. This is especially the case if the team is also new, or the people in the team are new to Scrum, or both.
Over time, however, as the Scrum team increases in their effectiveness and their understanding of Scrum, a Scrum Master’s focus will start to move away from the team and more to the rest of the organization. This is especially the case when the team is facing impediments that are outside the team’s control and more part of the organization’s structure or culture (which is often the case).
So a good Scrum Master needs a good knowledge of Scrum, and how to apply it in the real world.
A Scrum Master should always be trying to remove impediments from the team. There is a balance here, however. Ideally, the team should over time become self-managing and empowered. And able to remove impediments themselves.
A Scrum Master should always be serving the team but not becoming a team “secretary” or “assistant”, who just runs around doing little odd jobs to clear things out of the way. They should be always challenging the team to identify their own impediments too.
A good Scrum Master should always be guiding the team and helping them move towards and focus on the real goal: creating valuable, quality product increments, every sprint. This is probably the hardest part of the job. It requires a good understanding of the product and its context, the team, and the technical and cultural landscape.
There are a lot of things I love about the job of Scrum Master.
Scrum Masters need a broad mix of skills. These include both “soft” or “people” skills, such as active listening, facilitation, and emotional intelligence, but also “hard” skills such as time management, technological understanding, and planning. This means you are always broadening your skills.
Scrum Masters are by definition operating in conditions of uncertainty: product development. Scrum is for product development (despite the Scrum Guide recently removing this term), and product development always involves hard problems. That is because every product is unique and new, and has to overcome various hurdles.
This is not a job if you just want to slack off and fall asleep in the corner! But for me, that is a big advantage, not a disadvantage.
Every day is different when you are a Scrum Master. Sometimes you are facilitating a retro, another day you are trying to keep everyone focused on sprint planning, another day you are trying to remove organizational impediments. And as always, you should be prepared to roll up your sleeves and help out with some testing or something!
The variety means you are always on your toes and always learning new things.
It might seem a bit limited, but Scrum Master has a pretty good career path. Many Scrum Masters go on to become agile coaches, which is what I did. And is a job I particularly love. Even more than Scrum Master.
Some also go on to become Lean-Kanban coaches, DevOps coaches, or eventually Enterprise Coaches (one of the most challenging and rewarding and rewarded jobs in IT).
There are also some hard things about being a Scrum Master. It would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.
As previously mentioned, this is quite a hard job. The variety of challenges and skills required means you are always on your toes, and this can be a heavy cognitive load. If you want a mindless job, this is not one for you.
Scrum Masters often encounter big barriers, usually in the form of organizational impediments. These can be political, cultural, or some combination of the two. These walls can be very frustrating, especially to passionate Scrum Masters who really want to achieve great things.
Learning how to navigate these barriers and influence people (rather than just yell at them) takes a lot of skill, patience, perseverance, and emotional intelligence.
A Scrum Master is not a project manager or a product manager. Although it is quite intense and busy, you are not directly in control of or responsible for a product or project. You are more like a director or stage manager, rather than an actor. Some people who really like to become emotionally invested in a product or project might struggle with that aspect of the job. And it is important to not slip into that mindset and remain a servant leader, rather than a manager.
Overall, I feel the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. Although I now work as an agile coach, I worked as a Scrum Master for many years, in many organizations. And I really liked it. Much more than previous work I did (as a technical business analyst).
I recommend Scrum Master to people and I feel if you are interested in it, it is definitely something you should check out and try.
Do you have any thoughts or questions on this matter? Let me know in the comments! I read and reply to every one.