My first 4 weeks as a Scrum Master.

Last post 08:55 pm August 7, 2019
by Johannes Geske
9 replies
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01:15 pm July 26, 2019

Hi everyone. My name is Stephen and I am a Scrum Master and agile coach.

Background

8 weeks ago, I was someone who was at his wits end trying to find a job as a Scrum Master. I passed my PSM1, I attended a coding bootcamp to get some first-hand coding experience, and I had years of hard earned, real life experience in banking and training. Yet no one was willing to take on a new Scrum Master. This was one of the most frustrating periods of my life.

It was the age-old question of, how does one get Scrum experience, if no one wants to give people Scrum experience? Do Scrum Masters just appear out of thin air with 5 years plus experience? Is there a Scrum Master conveyor belt somewhere?

At a wits end, I went to get help from the people who have already done this part of the journey and sought help from the people in this very forum.

You can find the link to my original post here:

https://www.scrum.org/forum/scrum-forum/30548/changed-my-life-become-sc…

Luckily, not only did I get some really useful feedback, but I was offered a chance to be an intern for Johannes Geske at Amazing Outcomes. (Also happens to be a Scrum Trainer at Scrum.org) It was on this very forum! It was the lucky break I wanted, and I grasped it with both hands.

So what did I learn?

Truthfully my learning curve was steep, but boy I learnt a lot. Here are my main takeaways from my first 4 weeks:

a)    Not all Scrum Teams practice Scrum, and pushing for change requires courage, coaching and really good grasp of the Scrum Guide. Product Owners are happy to change so long as they can see value. This is why coaching becomes so important. If you can’t explain and demonstrate why a Scrum Event has value, why would you expect your Scrum Team to buy into it?

b)    Scrum is a framework, but how it is used differs greatly. I was very lucky to be with a group of people who had Scrum in their blood, (Amazing Outcomes itself runs on Scrum) yet had completely different styles. This really helped me in developing my own style, and way of doing things.

c)    The 3 Pillars of Scrum: Transparency, Inspection and Adaptation really helped me get better. The first time I took part in Product Backlog refinement I couldn't contribute as much as I wanted.  Previously I might have been tempted to shrug it off as a bad day, but that would have been a lie. If I really wanted to be a true practitioner, I had to be courageous enough to admit my mistakes and be 100% transparent. I told my mentor (Jessica, also a Scrum Master)how I felt, and we inspected what I did together. Finding all the things I did wrong, didn’t make me upset, it made me want to get better. Luckily, we had another Product Backlog refinement session the next day, and I adapted and improved. That felt really good.

What I love about Scrum is that, this feeling I felt of improving is something I get to do every day.

Conclusion

2 weeks into my internship, I was offered a full-time position within Amazing Outcomes. I will forever be grateful to Johannes and the team for taking me in and showing me how to do Scrum right and letting me learn from my mistakes so I can grow.

My question though, is that if Johannes can take someone with a passion for Scrum and turn them into a Scrum Master, why can’t the rest of the market? How much value are we losing by not letting good people get a break?

04:28 pm July 26, 2019

Great story Stephen. There are many traits beyond knowing Scrum that make for a great Scrum Master, including the passion and courage that you have. Many organizations struggle to understand what the role is about, or how to choose a person for the role.

04:33 pm July 26, 2019

I remember your original post and it is great to hear this kind of success story.  Thank you for coming back and giving us an update.  I hope it helps others that come here. 

05:15 pm July 26, 2019

Hi guys.

 

Thanks for the comments. My whole post is basically a post about opportunity cost. How can we convince companies and specifically hiring managers that the role of a scrum master is unique and requires a skill set that can not only be found in coding but also outside the IT industry? We shouldn't be a closed shop we should be an open door. I was lucky that Johannes took a chance on me. I'm sure there are thousands of great potential scrum masters that don't have the same opportunity and that's a shame!

06:04 pm July 26, 2019

What I am seeing in my area of the US is that companies that wanted to have Scrum Masters that are also Developers/QA/Product Owners are starting to appreciate that there is value in having different individuals focus on one thing.  I like to think that is because the Scrum Masters doing the dual roles have been able to coach the organizations and show the value. 

I am a big believer that pain is a motivator.  Sometimes you have to let the people feel the pain of their behavior in order to understand there is a better way to do things.  As a Scrum Master/Agile Coach I take every opportunity I get to help organizations learn, even if it means I have to endure doing things that I feel is adverse to their agile progression. 

I would love for someone to provide a few ideas that can help in this area.

01:43 pm July 30, 2019

Hi everyone, 

Welcome to the team, Stephen, it's great to have you! 

@Daniel, sure, let's swap ideas. Could you tell us a bit more about the things you endure that impede the agile progression of your coachees?

Best, 

Jo

02:38 pm July 30, 2019

@Johannes, I was referring to @Stephen's question when I mentioned looking forward to other's ideas. I know that I don't have all the answers so I always look forward to what others have to say. 

10:24 am August 6, 2019

Hi everyone,

Based on my experience, the problem Stephen describes isn’t about having a background in IT, at least not at our clients. In Germany we see just as many Scrum Masters without software development backgrounds as those with software development backgrounds.

The problem is that CVs that don’t show relevant Scrum (Master) experience are unlikely to make it past the initial screening process. While you hear many managers proclaim a “hire for attitude, train for skills” stance, their hiring policy seems to be different. You can’t really blame organizations, it’s up to them to decide which approach to follow. However, in the light of the “war for talents”, we take a different approach and coach our clients to reconsider theirs.

Here are some problem layers as well as some actions that worked well for our clients:

1. Initial CV screening process

  • candidate’s objective: Getting invited for interview
  • employer’s objective: Selecting promising candidates
  • employer challenge: Separate genuine experience and skills from false information. Also, it is difficult for recruiters without Scrum experience to evaluate experience, e.g. how is an inexperienced recruiter supposed to evaluate whether “As a Scrum Master, I managed my Development Team to always ask the three questions during Daily Scrum” is "good" Scrum?

2. Hiring Interview:

  • candidate’s objective: Getting a job offer
  • employer’s objective: Offering a job to the right person
  • employer challenge: Assessing genuine experience and skills. Same problem here. How are inexperienced interviewers or interviewers who have misconceptions about Scrum supposed to assess skills and experience?

What we did in the past that was helpful:

  • We educated recruiters about Scrum and what is important to successful Scrum Teams, e.g., through Scrum training or by promoting interaction between recruiters and Scrum Teams.
  • We coached HR to allow Scrum Teams to interview and even assess candidates themselves, e.g., by inviting candidates to work with a Scrum Team for a day.

 

This is off the top of my head. I hope others will add more.

 

Best,

Johannes

05:27 pm August 7, 2019

Johannes, I appreciate this piece of info! This was exactly what I was looking for!

08:55 pm August 7, 2019

Hi David, I'm glad I could help!

I'd be interested in your experience in case you try any of these ideas.