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Scrum Master in Name Only

Last post 03:15 pm January 25, 2018 by Curtis Slough
7 replies
09:22 pm January 23, 2018

Hello Everybody,

Just wondering if any of you guys come across this phenomenon. I'm not even certified yet, but what I've read the roles and duties of what Scrum Master are, and some of the beliefs I've seen expressed by people as the duties of a Scrum Master often seem at odds with each other. 

I could give examples, but my point is that there seem to be some practicing Scrum Masters out there in other communities that seem fairly dogmatic about positions that in my humble opinion are not the purview of the Scrum Master. 

Is this a thing? If so, should I not let it bother me? Is it even a potential advantage in interviews to establish what I believe are and are not the boundaries of the role? I guess it depends on the company. A company that has fairly mature scrum practices and has adhered to the guide will see it as an advantage, but one that hasn't will see the S.M. as something different for want of better words. 

Anyway, I'd welcome your thoughts because this incoherence between theory and practice in certain quarters has been bothering me. 


06:02 pm January 24, 2018


I'm willing to bet that most Scrum Masters have encountered various degrees of adherence to Scrum in their workplaces.   Perhaps you should ask whether you want to work at a company that "gets Scrum", as opposed to a company that doesn't?

For the record, when I am presented with opportunities that claim to be Scrum Master positions, but have very little to do with Scrum, I call them out on it, and politely inform them that the opening is not something I am interested in.   It may be discouraging sometimes, but I know that there are many true Scrum Master opportunities out there.

I'm currently working at a company that is far from perfect in their Agile journey, but they "get" Scrum, and that makes my job much more enjoyable and fulfilling than if I tried to conform into something far from being a Scrum Master.

07:09 pm January 24, 2018

I agree with Timothy on that one.

When you look for a job it's not only company looking for the right candidate, but also you as a candidate looking for the right company for you.

You will be much happied in your role if this actually aligns with your expectations of a Scrum Master role. A lot of companies that are not very good in Scrum or doing it incorrectly will be often looking for a person who will validate their incorrect implementation rather than a person who will make them change the way they are doing things. It's very sad, to be honest.

So if you want to be a real Scrum Master you should also "interview" the company you're interviewing for about their practices and if you see any discrepancies, call them out.

07:38 pm January 24, 2018

You'll have these differences because even though you would think that Scrum means Scrum to everyone; there are people who choose to interpret Scrum into what they want it to be. In other words, they like certain aspects of Scrum but not everything. This is true for my current position. I was brought on as QA and have begun implementing Scrum but the company is not fully on board. We have 2 sets of developers, UI and back end instead of just "developers"; we don't do user stories, and the developers are not given any power to make decisions at all. 

For me, it's frustrating because I am trying to implement Scrum as much as I can but I am bound by the restrictions set against me. Technically, I'm a Scrum Master by name considering I'm doing Scrum things in a non-scrum environment. However, I am not a SM by name in the sense that I'm putting my own interpretation on Scrum like many others do. 

Timothy hit is perfectly with "You have to ask yourself if you want to be a part of a company that gets scrum or doesn't get scrum." Personally, I'm frustrated with where I am but I'm also gaining a ton of knowledge that will help me in the future; but I cannot wait to be in a role with a company that actually gets Scrum. 

09:43 pm January 24, 2018

Thanks for the responses guys. I definitely understand the importance of interviewing your prospective employer based on my experience in my current profession as a teacher. However, also like my previous experience, and as Curtis implies, I might have to just take one of my first opportunities to get my feet on the ladder. I definitely want to work for an organisation that gets scrum, but not having a tech background, I might be hamstrung in my options. I was an architect in an even earlier life, so perhaps I might be able to massage my resume in ways to highlight that project work, but I guess I'll pass the certification first and see what happens after that. 

Addressing my initial post, I was actually asking about individuals who claim to be practicing Scrum Masters, but whose ideas suggest that they don't "get scrum". I had joined a Facebook group for Scrum Masters very early on in my exploration into this field, and a lot of what I saw on there was not what I was expecting to see from Scrum Masters based on what I'd seen on this site. It just confused me and still does to be honest. To be fair to the group, discussion is welcomed there (very scrum), and there are people there who do seem to get scrum as I understand it, so it's not an epidemic or anything. Just enough to give me pause for thought, I guess. 

Perhaps the problem lies in my own understandings. I was just wondering if it was a thing that there are practicing Scrum Masters who don't actually practice scrum, and are somehow unaware of that fact. In the meantime, my own learning continues. 

09:56 pm January 24, 2018

Johnny, I have a question: why do you think having a technical background is important for the Scrum Master role? Will you become a better Scrum Master by having technical background?

In regards to Scrum Masters who don't actually practice Scrum - that happens. I've seen SMs and POs with certifications who were contradicting Scrum Guide in its essence with their own actions and things they were saying. So it definitely exists which is very unfortunate. 

12:46 am January 25, 2018

Hi Darina,

Thank you for your response. 

To answer your question, I don't necessarily think it is important to have a technical background when it comes to performing the role, but from what I've seen posted publicly, it appears to help in terms of getting a job. That's based on what I've seen. Hopefully, it isn't that much of a problem as some people make out, and maybe you guys have some tips on how to manage the job search when you don't have a tech background. I have also read blog posts such as this one about whether a technical background is an asset or a hindrance for a scrum master, so I'm not entirely uninformed on the pros and cons. 

What I do think is important are other elements of my background and aptitudes. I try to practice student-centered teaching, which means I try to be a facilitator rather than a lecturer. I could go into more detail, but suffice it to say, I will certainly be playing up what I can do, and playing down any perceived deficits.

03:15 pm January 25, 2018

Whether or not you have a tech background is really dependent upon your regional location. Some areas are in such need for Scrum Masters that employers don't put a huge emphasis on tech background. To them, it's more important to have the training, certification, and some background in leadership. Conversely, if you're in an area that is a hub for software companies and there is an abundance of Software development experienced Scrum Masters; you'll have very little luck of breaking into that role. 

In Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, you need a software development background. I've not found any companies that are hiring Scrum Masters that are not requiring several years of software development background. That doesn't mean you have to be a developer, it means you need to have experience in a software development environment; project management, QA, anything like that. 

My advice to you would be focus on your experience in leadership and team building. That is one of the most important factors of being a Scrum Master, you have to be an effective leader. I also encourage you to connect with a few quality recruiters in your area and ask them to critique your resume and ask them how they would advertise you to a company looking for a Scrum Master. I did this and it was immensely helpful. The recruiter changed up my resume format, gave me some pointers, did a mock interview with me; since I made those changes I have had more companies reaching out to me to fill their Scrum Master roles. I have not accepted them yet because the ones I've gotten just don't make sense for me to go (3 month contracts that will not be extended kind of things). 

Overall, don't get discouraged. Reach out to recruiters and Scrum Masters in your area and ask them how you can break in. Look for Scrum Master Meetups and networking events and go to them. Sometimes the best way to get your foot in the door is put yourself out there and ask around. You never know what can happen.

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