In my last article, I went through a few frameworks and mentioned how there are plenty of Scrum Masters eager to prove themselves. They are a peculiar role in most companies, and many Scrum Masters struggle to answer the question, “What is it you do exactly?”
So, with a ton of newly certified Scrum Master’s every year who cannot answer that question, let’s instead answer the question, “Are they even worth it?”
Okay, I’m coming out here and saying most of the Scrum Master’s out there aren’t worth hiring. I’d recommend investing more in your front-line management’s training concerning facilitation and team dynamics.
Long ago, I heard an analogy about all the certifications out there. It went, “Think of it like getting a driver’s license. Sure, you have the license, but you’re pretty dangerous on the road.”
So here’s how to avoid the majority of Scrum Masters who have no business in your business. First, ask them, “What is it you do as a Scrum Master?” If they say they help the team, probe further. If you hear they do all the meetings, ask what they do that is so special in those meetings. Ask what they do with the time they aren’t in those meetings, and if there were to be some objective result they could point to as a result of their work, what would it be?
Of course, you can skip all that and ask them to describe Scrum, including its events, roles, and artifacts, in less than five minutes. If they can’t, they don’t even know the basics of the framework they’re supposed to bring to life.
Nine out of ten people you ask this will fail.
Now, let’s assume you meet someone who can get through those questions. The person in front of you will not just run a bunch of meetings, but these meetings will be full of feedback, insight, and adaptation. They will know the rules of Scrum, and those rules will feel meaningful, and that everyone is benefitting from them.
What will happen in your teams? They’ll improve. They’ll improve their ability to deliver working software every Sprint. They’ll deepen their knowledge and sense of responsibility for the product they work on. They will become an actual team instead of a group of folks all assigned to the same project. They’ll inspire those around them.
These same Scrum Masters will work with leadership at all levels to serve in the organization’s continued growth and pursuit of agility. That’s right. A good Scrum Master can sit down with leadership, and it can be more than complaints and preaching.
Who Makes Good Scrum Masters?
Well, this is a great debate for folks. My short answer is anyone. I’ve never cared what their history is or what their other responsibilities are. I think a really exceptional Scrum Master who takes their role seriously will have a lot of learning and growth ahead, so it won’t be a part-time thing for them.
Past that, I don’t care if they’re a manager, a developer, or someone who drops the mail off. If they want to bring themselves to learn the trade of building exceptional teams using Scrum, then great.
One of the interesting things about Scrum Masters is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, only where you want to go. If you want to be someone who is in control, it isn’t for you. If you want to live in the odd paradox of building something great while letting go, it could be for you.
As for me, when I’m asked what I bring to a company when I’m a Scrum Master, I can point to teams that say it’s the best experience of their career, dramatic performance improvements, and products that do better in the market. I think any Scrum Master who claims to be a professional should be able to say the same.