In 2009, our organisation adopted the Scrum framework, but no one understood the role of the Scrum Master. Our CEO was surprised when I opted to take on the Scrum Master position over the Product Owner one after we had completed our training. He was aware of the responsibilities of a Product Owner, but not the duties of a Scrum Master in a professional setting. This left both of us uncertain as to how he would measure my success and how I would measure my development within this role.
In spite of the consistent growth in demand for Scrum masters, many businesses still find it difficult to accurately evaluate the performance of this role. According to data from 2020, there were approximately 66,000 job postings for Scrum masters, and this number is projected to increase by 37.9% over the coming decade.
As Scrum Masters, we are expected to embody the roles of facilitator, coach, mentor, trainer, and leader. However, our paths of mastery in each of these roles are highly varied, depending on the background and experience of the individual. For instance, a Scrum Master that is accustomed to a top-down approach to management might find it challenging to adapt to the non-hierarchical structure of a Scrum Team. On the other hand, someone with a professional coaching background may find it easier to transition into the role of a servant-leader, but may require additional time to fully comprehend Agile methods, something that would likely come more naturally for someone with technical expertise. To conclude, it is unrealistic to expect a Scrum Master to possess all the necessary skills from the outset or to quickly acquire those that are lacking.
No matter your level of experience, it is likely that you share the same curiosity as my former Chief Executive Officer: what specific abilities should a Scrum Master strive to acquire and refine throughout their professional journey?
The Scrum master development path that follows will answer that question and help you toward becoming a real transformation expert.
The Fundamentals: The Beginning
At the start of your career, you should focus on the basics of the Scrum methodology: understanding the Scrum framework, educating your team in the philosophy and practice of Scrum, and working with the product owner on Scrum-related documents, particularly on the product backlog. As a new Scrum master, you will be developing your abilities in the standard roles and procedures that shape the Scrum team’s workflow.
AgilityHealth’s Scrum master evaluation is based on five core competencies: foundation, planning, execution, leadership, and coaching. As Scrum masters progress in their careers, they should aim to improve in all of these areas. However, those new to the role should prioritise establishing a solid foundation in the fundamentals of Scrum. To do this, they may find it helpful to consult Scrum.org’s professional Scrum competencies, as well as to follow the Scrum Guide’s role and process training. This training can help a rookie Scrum master to develop an understanding of the Agile principles that underpin team duties, structure, norms, working agreements, practices, and workflows.
A robust product backlog can be a critical asset to developers, product owners, and the team as a whole. It can help developers understand their tasks, their deadlines, and the rationale behind them, while allowing the product owner to reduce potential obstacles like unnecessary questions, requests, and dependencies. Moreover, it can help the team stay on track and maintain a transparent and efficient workflow, while also indicating progress towards the practitioner level.
Continuous Refinement: The Practitioner
Once theory is translated into practice, it is likely that working with the team to make daily changes will lead to resistance, imaginary obstacles, and conflict. To address these issues and move forward, it is important to consider two related challenges: first, find a way to gain team agreement, as outlined in the Tuckman model; and second, develop the skills to effectively plan and execute.
With a strong understanding of the core principles of Scrum, you can begin creating processes and procedures for your team that are based on the Scrum framework. Work with the team to apply Agile principles to real-world scenarios and evaluate each sprint and any new initiatives in comparison to these values. When planning a retrospective after a significant upgrade, consider preparing a list of pertinent questions for the team to answer.
- Was it necessary to include this capability at this point?
- How did this change benefit our consumers or increase the quality of our products?
- What would have occurred if we hadn’t put these things in place now?
Investigating the implementation of outcome-based metrics can provide invaluable insight into the efficacy of current and future product development. By focusing on key performance indicators such as cycle time, velocity, lead time, customer satisfaction, team satisfaction, innovation rate, and defect rate, you will be better equipped to effectively plan and manage stakeholders while also providing guidance to the team in order to set realistic goals and optimise product outcomes.
As a practitioner approaching the level of expertise, you should feel comfortable and confident in the role of a servant-leader. To address team dysfunctions, it is important to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of others while maintaining an objective perspective. Utilising cooperation as a tool to turn conflicts into creative opportunities can help to effectively plan and execute future product objectives.
Leading in a Changing Environment: The Expert
It is difficult to provide a concise definition of what constitutes an exemplary Scrum master, as different organisations place an emphasis on different characteristics. Some establishments might emphasise the importance of coaching and facilitation, while others prioritise delivery and execution.
In my opinion, leadership agility is a key characteristic of an accomplished Scrum master. In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, an agile leader is well-equipped to handle unexpected situations and areas that are not governed by standard regulations, responsibilities, and guidelines. To demonstrate leadership agility, a Scrum master should be able to:
- To identify the best answers, evaluate each scenario in its particular context.
- To discover process gaps, use Lean thinking and look at the larger picture.
- To bring out the best in your team, use active listening, compelling questions, and coaching models.
- Increase team responsibility to lessen reliance on the Scrum master.
- When organisational barriers are affecting the team, understand how to involve management.
- Assist the team in creating an outcome-focused vision of product success.
- Mentor and drive the development of agility throughout the enterprise.
Above all, those who demonstrate a mastery of leadership agility act as catalysts for change. Rather than responding to crises in a reactive manner, they take the initiative to shape the environment amidst ongoing changes.
Progression in the Profession—At Every Stage
No matter your level of experience, self-education and engagement with a professional network of peers are essential for any individual looking to grow their career. For those just starting out, it is beneficial to reach out to their business or project management office in order to gain additional support and training. For those with more expertise, a setting that promotes autonomy and trust can be conducive to success. Ultimately, even the most experienced Scrum master and the most eager novice should both be actively contributing to and participating in the professional community.
The International Association of Facilitators, International Scrum Institute, and International Consortium for Agile are organisations that offer a range of resources to assist individuals in their professional development, such as conferences, webinars, books, and toolkits, as well as providing access to a network of peers. Moreover, Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, and the LeSS Company offer highly visible professional credentials to demonstrate one’s knowledge to current and potential employers. According to recent research conducted by Coursera, Scrum Alliance certificates are featured in over 9,000 job postings across LinkedIn, Indeed, and SimplyHired, with the additional requirement for Scrum.org and Scaled Agile certifications.
What Do You Mean by Success?
If you are uncertain about your own career advancement, the best source of support and guidance is your team. As a Scrum Master, your success is primarily determined by the success of your team; as your own progress is closely linked to the progress of your organisation. By upholding the standards and values of the company, you have the opportunity to become an agent of change and challenge the status quo to help your team reach their highest potential. In conclusion, your personal growth and development as a Scrum Master will have a direct and meaningful impact on the success of projects, the organisation, and your own career.
As a Scrum Master, you have the power to determine where your career path will take you next. Being a Scrum Master is an incredibly rewarding profession, but you may find yourself venturing in unexpected directions. With years of experience leading teams as a servant-leader, you will have the necessary skills to pursue executive positions in Human Resources. Alternatively, managing the product backlog and allocating resources may open up opportunities for you to shift to the business side of projects as a Product Owner. You may also choose to carry on leading Agile transformations at a corporate level and work as an Agile Coach Mentor. The options for progression are broad and varied, and the skills you will gain through this role will equip you to be an agent of change within your company, no matter your position.