So you’re going to be a ScrumMaster?

Team“Well I am a PM now but they are making me a Scrum Master.” I have heard that statement countless times. Some PMs are happy about the new challenge, some aren’t and some just want to keep making those Benjamins. I have to admit even though being an embedded software engineer by trade the ScrumMaster role is my favorite role on a Scrum team. When asked what is a ScrumMaster I always respond with a servant leader and Agile champion for your team. Yes there are more details but I think simple is the best approach sometimes.

I thought it might be a nice time to talk about some of the qualities that a great PM has and how those look in an Agile environment. PMs tend to get a bad wrap from the Agile world so lets clear the air. I just so happen to have a fiancee that is a PM for a large company. She tries to give me a gantt chart for the week and I hand her story cards daily at breakfast. I asked her to take a survey of her peers which consisted of development, product management and other PMs. They came up with five qualities a PM has, here they are in no particular order.

Issue / Risk Assessment
Issue Resolution
Listening Skills
Manage Expectations of the Business
Process Oriented
On the topic of issue/risk assessment I can help your stress level by letting you know that issue assessment and risk assessment take different routes. Issue assessment gets the chance to happen everyday in team’s standup meeting. Of course if this is urgent it may be brought to your attention sooner. Risk assessment is happening all the time by way of the entire team. Is the sprint going to be completed, what stories might be slipping and what can we do as a team to deal with that.

Issue resolution is a key quality that will carry over. As a ScrumMaster you should do everything in your power to resolve issues or impediments for the team. This not only keeps the team adding value all the time it also builds their trust in you as the ScrumMaster. Issue resolution also requires a good listening skill.

Listening is a skill or quality that I think everyone is challenged with in life. Listening before you speak, listening before you start to think of your response etc. ScrumMasters have to fine tune this skill, even when it makes things uncomfortable at times. Some ScrumMasters tried to lead the team too often with words. I am a fan of posing the question and then letting the silence get uncomfortable enough that someone from the team answers. Which breaks the ice and conversation begins to flow. This also starts the baby step path to the team becoming more and more self organized.

Our next quality, managing expectations of the business, which is easier now! You get to manage it two weeks at a time or however long your sprints are. You will work with product owner to sprint plan and release plan if you are making use of that planning method. Better yet, let’s remove manage and add rank. Ranking is what a product owner is doing with the pieces of the value the business is looking for. Your job as a ScrumMaster may be to help the product owner provide details necessary to get the conversation and collaboration going! Those specs are you are used are gone and I challenge you to ensure the story doesn’t turn into a spec.

Being process oriented is good thing since you have new processes to learn. Scrum as a concept isn’t hard to understand but mastering it can take quite some time. That being said a Scrum team can take a year or more to fully mature. A good ScrumMaster is more than a certification, not to knock them. You will have times when you have to figure out the best way to passively guide the team towards better Agile values. You have to truly believe that what you are saying has value and can be successful.

So I go back to my definition, a servant leader and Agile champion. Live everyday for those around you and remember the values that Agile stands for. Go have fun with the rest of the pigs! (Search for it) I’m sure I didn’t paint rainbows and unicorns for the PMs out there reading this. I can assure you the ScrumMaster role will be one of the most challenging and enjoyable roles you’ve ever played on a team.

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10 Responses to So you’re going to be a ScrumMaster?

  1. Al Quarles says:

    I’m just curious as to what are the next steps one should take after graduating with a PM degree and no work experience?

    Thank you.

  2. Terry Densmore says:

    Hi Al, thanks for your comment, if you are referring to a ScrumMaster role I’d start to look into what local Agile meetups you have in your area. Most major cities have Agile groups that meet once a month. This will start to get you more familiar with Agile and the methods used by various companies. You can also look into a certified ScrumMaster course. As your knowledge begins to grow I’d reach out to recruiters letting them know of your interest. Many ScrumMaster jobs start off as contract to hire jobs. Hope this helps!

  3. James Dunmore says:

    I don’ think Project Managers should become scrum masters. A project manager, should either become someone in the business who manages overall project(s) scope and roadmaps, and coordination between scrum teams, or if they are involved in an individual project then the project owner role is one for them (if there isn’t already a PO candidate).

    A project manager will always be driven by his gannt chart goals, rather than all the other great qualities that a scrum master uses to lead and guide his team.

    • Chris Murman says:

      I disagree James. Leading a team is leading a team. You don’t need a gantt chart to manage scope, roadmaps and coordinate work. It’s all in your mindset. If you don’t feel that the SM role is for you, I agree you shouldn’t force yourself into becoming one. I know of several PMs that have become successful SMs.

      I made the opposite move. I was a SM and was asked to take on more traditional PM work to help my company while being an Agile Coach still. Has been a fun challenge and has helped grow me as a leader. :)

  4. Terry Densmore says:

    Thanks James, I think anyone can be a ScrumMaster. Telling a PM they can’t be a ScrumMaster is like telling an engineer they can’t be a doctor. Most engineers are noted as introverts that require little social interaction. A doctor is the exact opposite, however when my friend told me she wanted to switch to the medical field I told her to go for it. She is a great doctor and I am sure a PM can be a great ScrumMaster. Are there differences in the roles, absolutely but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

    • James Dunmore says:

      Of course anyone can become any role they want – I wasn’t saying a PM shouldn’t be a scrum master, just that someone who is used to PM role, in my experience shouldn’t. It would probably work if that PM went to work for a different company (or area in a company), but if you translate a waterfall team into, PM, dev team, testers, designers, etc. The SM should come come from the combined dev-test-design cross functional team; ideally you’d have a PO, but if you didn’t then the PM is a great candidate for that – not the scrum master role; they too quickly fall back onto being driven by deadlines and roadmaps, project plans and process, and not focusing on facilitating the team.

      I think the key thing is in the job title – Manager. In my view, a great scrum master doesn’t manage, they facilitate.

  5. Steve Martin says:

    Terry-
    Nice summary.

    There have been many articles talking about the difference between PM’s and SM’s and I agree the one thing that has always stood out is servant leadership. Mentoring, coaching, supporting, celebrating (being the cheerleader) and facilitator are just a few of the words to describe the job that Scrum Master’s do. I have done both for various year and one additional observation I would add is that often on waterfall projects you will see the PM at the forefront ensuring the deadlines, risks and communication plans are handled. The SM’s on strong teams are normally in the background allowing the team to find their identity and flow while keeping them on the tracks.

  6. This is a nice spring board to more in depth roles of the SM. Service to Product Owner leads you to “Service to the Organization” as defined in the Scrum Guide. This service isn’t denoted in metrics but rather in being a change agent to the organization, coaching, defining and acting like surgeon of agile culture.

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