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Should a Scrum Master have experience with Scrum?

Last post 02:38 pm August 2, 2022 by Chuck Suscheck-PST
5 replies
05:16 pm July 29, 2022

This might sound like a weird question, but it's something  I've been talking with a lot of people about lately, and I'm curious to hear from people here. 

My contention is, to be a Scrum Master, a person should have at least some hands on experience with Scrum. 

My general rule is to gain experience as a Developer before trying to take on the accountabilities of a Scrum Master. 

There seems to be an increasing movement that believe that a Scrum Master does not need any specific knowledge of scrum, no hands on experience of Scrum, and has never been a part of a Scrum team or seen Scrum in action. 

I would argue that given the accountabilities of the Scrum Master, you could not help the team improve the effectiveness of Scrum, or help people understand theory AND practice, if you have no practice to draw from. 

I think more often than not, people think 'developer' means 'writes code'. Of course, this is not what Scrum Developer means, and the irony is that people who wish to be (or are already) Scrum Masters that do not understand this difference. 

To me, that's a significant problem. 

What do you think? 

Tell me in what ways I'm wrong :)


06:09 pm July 29, 2022

I would argue that given the accountabilities of the Scrum Master, you could not help the team improve the effectiveness of Scrum, or help people understand theory AND practice, if you have no practice to draw from. 

A Scrum Master is not necessarily a Developer, but manages people's understanding of Scrum. I'd suggest therefore that he or she ought to have a warm fuzzy feeling the DoD will be satisfied by the Developers' forecast of work.

Having a WFF about quality is the level of technical expertise required. Bear in mind that Scrum can be applied in all sorts of industries and product domains, and Scrum Mastery is a transferable skill.

06:40 pm July 29, 2022

Not everyone is cut out to be a Developer.  And I have seen Developers that tried to make the move to Scrum Master but were not able to because they kept getting involved in the decisions that the Developers were to make. 

Scrum Master is not about being able to do the work that a Developer or Product Owner does.  It is about knowing how to apply empiricism to complex situations and educating others on that skill.  It is about helping teams become more predictable by using empirical practices and implementing specific events/practices that will enable teams to able to adapt to change quickly and efficiently. 

I don't believe that a Scrum Master must have experience in Scrum before they can be a Scrum Master.  That would mean that no company can ever transform to Scrum unless they hire some new employees.  There are skills that a Scrum Master needs and I have helped people become Scrum Masters and Product Owners.  I will say that there is a big benefit to having someone with experience that can work with others that have no experience.  But that can be said about any type of work or activity.

07:37 pm July 29, 2022

That would mean that no company can ever transform to Scrum unless they hire some new employees

This is where I start to get very confused about how we talk about Scrum in the guide, and then the completely different way people seem to talk about it in practice. 

To put it more simply, there's a lot of bad scrum practice out there. Is it enough that someone says 'we're doing scrum', or does it need to actually be effective Scrum Practice that meets the definition in the guide? 

The question then, is could an organization with literally zero experience of Scrum, without a single person that has attempted to practice scrum in ANY domain (which like we've said, doesn't mean software or anything particularly technical), could that organization possibly hope to do scrum effectively (that is, actually get the right inspect and adapt opportunities to create ongoing change)?

And to get even more broad with it, how could it possibly true that it's impossible to get Scrum experience without 'employees'? 

Scrum says and cares nothing for your employer, your job title or your domain. 

Practicing Scrum is as simple as having a team of at least two people, a product that can solve a problem, and at least one customer/stakeholder to provide feedback. 

Are we really saying that an entire organization that can't even muster one experiment meeting these minimal prerequisites, has any chance at all at a scrum 'transformation'? 

I guess i'm just really struggling to see how people really believe these statements. It's sounds like we're trying to be open and inclusive to people with limited experience, but taking it to a comical degree where we're saying there is literally no barrier of entry in experience or knowledge of the very thing you're expecting someone coach and mentor others in. 

That to me seems to be why Scrum practice overall in the industry appears to be on the decline, and why Scrum is starting to lose it's credibility. 

I say all this out of love. I know how powerful Scrum can be, but I also know how destructive a bad Scrum implementation can be. Surely we have to have SOME minimal boundaries to prevent this?

08:26 pm July 29, 2022

I understand your argument but we can't rule out that some Scrum Masters will not have any experience with Scrum.  Someone with experience in Kanban or eXtreme Programming might be able to understand the nuances of Scrum enough to be an effective Scrum Master. 

Also, we know that some people with no Scrum experience can become Scrum Masters because the first Scrum Master fit that bill.   (Sorry, couldn't stop myself from typing that).  

Now, how effective will these people be is a very legitimate question.  I say it is going to vary with the individual.  I do know some young people that are new to working that have some of the skills that would be needed.  Some of the organizations that young people can be part of via school, church, community activism use practices that involve team over individual efforts.  They work to minimize work in order to maximize value.  That can help in the understanding of Scrum and the values.  

As I stated previously, there is no doubt that having someone with Scrum experience to help mentor the unexperienced is invaluable. But I can't say that it is not possible for someone to become an effective Scrum Master if they are just starting their journey with Scrum. 

02:38 pm August 2, 2022

I guess you could be a Scrum Master with no experience, especially if the company is starting Scrum.  I have seen that. The company will struggle if there is nobody to mentor them (of course).  It just depends on the risks the company is willing to absorb. and their commitment to actually transforming.  I'm not saying that being a good Scrum Master requires experience, some people are naturally good at it.

By the same token you could have people who are developers with no development experience and a product owner with no product experience. 

I was training at a company going through their 3rd agile "transformation".  After the training I knew they'd be going through their 4th transformation because the organization wanted all the good part of Scrum with none of the changes. 

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