If I wanted to be a ScrumMaster, I wouldn’t start from there!

Our resident Scrum Master and Agile Coach Kelvin Lawrance shares his opinion on becoming a Scrum Master. Originally posted on LinkedIn – http://ijyi.co/1IGulg8

Should you bother reading on?

If you’re a Project Manager thinking about re-branding yourself as a ScrumMaster after reading a little on the subject, then beware of the traps and pitfalls discussed here that may await you. If you’re a senior manager or recruiter and you think there is a similarity between the roles of PM and SM then you might find this useful too….

My mistake

When I first came across the title ScrumMaster I made the same mistake that I see time and time again in others now – that it was a logical career development step from Project Manager.  In reality this is a long way from the truth. I hope this article will help someone avoid the same misunderstanding and shortcut the transition if that is the one you choose.

 

So if not another name for PM – what is it?

Fundamentally, if the part of being a project manager that you enjoy is telling people what to do then don’t even think about starting to call yourself ScrumMaster.  Just take a look at the basic definition from the Scrum Guide –

“The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team”

Yup, you read that right – ‘servant-leader’. If you get your kicks from wielding power then the position isn’t right for you. However, if you’re happy to live in the reflected glow of the team’s success then maybe you might just make it.

Let’s try an even simpler definition from an unknown source:

“A project manager tells people what to do, a ScrumMaster helps them decide for themselves.”

Facilitator or coach are far better synonyms for ScrumMaster than Project Manager and if you can recognise any of these traits in yourself then maybe there’s a ScrumMaster deep inside you waiting to rise to the surface.

  • Love to help others grow and develop in whatever discipline they have chosen?
  • Get satisfaction from hearing your own idea reformatted and implemented to deliver improvement?
  • Prefer the sound of other voices to your own?

A ScrumMaster can lead only by example – you must exercise and exhibit Agile practices in everything you do within the team.  As your example starts to have an influence on the approach of the team and they start to reap the rewards and benefits, only then can you take a moment to have a little smile to yourself in the knowledge of a job well done.

 

Delivering a project

Have you ever seen a job advert with a phrase anything like this?

”we need a ScrumMaster to deliver an urgent project for our high-profile client in ….”

I used to take the bait and have an argument with the author of such adverts – thankfully I’m now much calmer and count to 10 instead but I will never be able to hide my frustration at the proliferation of this contradiction.  What do you want?  A project manager to deliver that urgent project or a ScrumMaster to help the team deliver it.  And no it’s not just me being a pedant – there is a real and important difference – a key tenant of Agile is the shared-responsibility of the team and there is no place for a project manager cracking the whip rather than a ScrumMaster facilitating cultural, environmental & philosophical change within the team.

If you’re a project manager who craves the responsibility for the delivery of a product and associated ROI but are looking for progression to Agile then perhaps you should consider the role of Product Owner rather than ScrumMaster.

 

No technical experience an advantage?

I attend lots of Agile events and talk to many other coaches – I sometimes get a little jealous of those with a different background to my own. It is often said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and whilst I may never have been a world leader in any technical discipline, I do have a little knowledge in a lot of areas.

If you have a technical or development background then the challenge to become a ScrumMaster may be even harder. When listening to the team wrestling with tricky issue, you will probably need to fight the urge to jump in with ‘helpful’ technical suggestions. Remember the ScrumMaster has no authority relating to project deliverables – you are there to coach and facilitate Scrum process.  By expressing a technical opinion you will always run the risk of ‘perceived authority’. In other words your grandiose job title may make the team believe you know the answer.

If you’re lucky enough to have no technical background this is one trap you can’t fall into.

 

The realisation

When I finally realised that I should leave all the design & technical planning aspects of the project to the development team, I experienced a tremendous feeling of ‘letting go’ and a great weight was lifted from my shoulders.  The team knew best – that talented set of varied technical brains was always going to come up with a better solution than my own limited mind so why should I worry myself about that aspect of the project.  Much better than I concentrate on removing any other issues that were holding the team back.  If that meant simply making the coffee or ordering the pizza then so be it.

… and thus I felt I had finally started the journey to ScrumMastery – a road that has no end. Without getting all Confucius on you, for you to aspire to Agility you must commit to a life of learning. A recognition of how little you know or will ever know is the key to a constant commitment to learn and experiment.