Can you truly be good Scrum Master or coach when you are independent?

Last post 03:07 pm May 23, 2016
by Timothy Baffa
11 replies
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09:47 am May 14, 2016

Hi everyone,

I was wondering about the following.

Can you truly be a good Scrum Master or Agile Coach if you are working independently?

For example:

Where I come from, freelance Scrum Master and Agile Coach assignments are pretty scarce.
Lets say you manage to get an assignment and will be working for a company as Scrum master.
During your first sprint you notice many organisational impediments. So you as a scrum master start talking to managers and they tell you "this is how we work and it's not going to change! If you don't like it perhaps you should look further".

This is just an example but I can imaging that it happens in real life. I've seen many scrum masters joining a company and at first being all innovative, ambitious, full of life turning into zombies, just following the rules of the company.

Wondering if anyone has experience with this and what he/she did.

09:41 am May 16, 2016

Pablo,

Certainly you can be a good, "independent" Scrum Master. The terms are in no way mutually exclusive!

In your example, there are a number of organizational practices that run counter to Agile. You begin raising your observations to management, and are subsequently shot down.

What then?

One thing a "good" Scrum Master can do is identify the areas where change can result in the biggest gains. The Scrum Master should have either experience or knowledge of such areas as they apply to the current environment.

One thing a good Scrum Master should not do is to just conform and follow the rules of the company. The Scrum Master (or Agile practitioner) needs to be an agent of change.

If a Scrum Master is unsuccessful in getting buy-in on their observation, they should look at ways to improve how their observations are made to management. Were they too heavy-handed? Too prescriptive? Did the SM do a good job capturing the current practices, highlighting the inefficiencies/negatives of such practices, and presenting possible alternatives to such practices?

A good Scrum Master should never be discouraged when their educated and informative observations are discounted. Who is their audience, and what do they value? How can you craft the message better? How can you continue to make your observations known?

Good luck.

02:55 am May 18, 2016

Most organisations misinterpret the Scrum Master position and think it is more of a Project Manager position.
Of course there is value in explaining them what the Scrum Master job is all about, but during an interview usually the hiring manager already have an idea of what he is seeking for in this person. So there is minimum space for convincing.

What I see happening a lot is that companies hire Project Managers because they say things like: "managing the team in achieving their commit, experience with project management, good with budget, strong communication etc etc." For an ignorant manager, this sounds pretty great

12:01 pm May 19, 2016

Pablo,

You need to ask yourself if you want to work in a company that claims they are looking for a Scrum Master, but in reality are looking for a Project Manager. A good Scrum Master will know the right questions to ask so that they are not walking into a role where they will be asked to simply tow the company line.

During an interview process, it isn't necessary to convince anyone of the benefits of Scrum. If they claim to be looking for a Scrum Master, then they should be well-versed in Agile/Scrum. If they aren't, then it is beneficial to make very visible what they are looking for and how it conflicts with Scrum.

It is always worthwhile to help others understand what they don't understand.

10:15 pm May 19, 2016

During an interview process, it isn't necessary to convince anyone of the benefits of Scrum. If they claim to be looking for a Scrum Master, then they should be well-versed in Agile/Scrum. If they aren't, then it is beneficial to make very visible what they are looking for and how it conflicts with Scrum.

Good points, especially the one I bolded. I think it’s very important to have a good idea of the type of company you want to work for in advance. Sometimes you can tell from the job description, sometimes you can’t. However, if you find that the interviewer is tangling up the responsibilities of the Scrum Master then I think it’s critical to use one of the pillars of Scrum which is transparency and professionally let them know your thoughts.

01:49 am May 20, 2016

Posted By Timothy Baffa on 19 May 2016 12:01 PM
Pablo,

You need to ask yourself if you want to work in a company that claims they are looking for a Scrum Master, but in reality are looking for a Project Manager. A good Scrum Master will know the right questions to ask so that they are not walking into a role where they will be asked to simply tow the company line.

During an interview process, it isn't necessary to convince anyone of the benefits of Scrum. If they claim to be looking for a Scrum Master, then they should be well-versed in Agile/Scrum. If they aren't, then it is beneficial to make very visible what they are looking for and how it conflicts with Scrum.

It is always worthwhile to help others understand what they don't understand.

Don't get me wrong Timothy, I fully agree with you, but what if you are NOT in that position to choose? What if Scrum Master (external) positions are very scarce and not getting this position means (for you specifically) no job and therefore no income.

08:03 am May 20, 2016

Scrum, as a commodity, has been debased for the mass market. Ersatz offerings are sold as the real thing or "better", while the real deal is rejected as impractical and/or fake.

As I understand it that's why Ken Schwaber set up Scrum.org, i.e. in order to reassert the essential standards of the framework. Some clients figure this out, and education helps. However, the fact is that genuine Scrum is currently something of a boutique solution for the discerning buyer.

09:33 am May 20, 2016

Posted By Pablo Rossi on 20 May 2016 01:49 AM
Don't get me wrong Timothy, I fully agree with you, but what if you are NOT in that position to choose? What if Scrum Master (external) positions are very scarce and not getting this position means (for you specifically) no job and therefore no income.

Pablo, you are always in a position to choose. Always.

02:27 am May 21, 2016

Posted By Timothy Baffa on 20 May 2016 09:33 AM

Posted By Pablo Rossi on 20 May 2016 01:49 AM
Don't get me wrong Timothy, I fully agree with you, but what if you are NOT in that position to choose? What if Scrum Master (external) positions are very scarce and not getting this position means (for you specifically) no job and therefore no income.

Pablo, you are always in a position to choose. Always.

In an ideal world yes. You should have the freedom to choose. BUT can you always choose, I don't think so.

10:19 am May 23, 2016

In an ideal world yes. You should have the freedom to choose. BUT can you always choose, I don't think so.

Pablo, it basically comes down to a decision when faced with a situation as you described.

Do you choose the paycheck and "hold your nose", or do you decline to enter the bad situation?

It is still a choice.

One thing to always keep in mind: there is nothing about Agile/Scrum that is coercive.

01:11 pm May 23, 2016

Posted By Timothy Baffa on 23 May 2016 10:19 AM

In an ideal world yes. You should have the freedom to choose. BUT can you always choose, I don't think so.

Pablo, it basically comes down to a decision when faced with a situation as you described.

Do you choose the paycheck and "hold your nose", or do you decline to enter the bad situation?

It is still a choice.

One thing to always keep in mind: there is nothing about Agile/Scrum that is coercive.

OK lets talk about the 2 options

1) Choose paycheck
Result: bad implementation because now you are following the companies rules.

2) decline to enter bad situation
Result: you won't get the deal but somebody else will. Go to option 1.

Conclusion: Either way company will get bad scrum implementation. So we can back to the initial question, can you be a truly good scrum master or coach when you are independent?

03:07 pm May 23, 2016

Posted By Pablo Rossi on 23 May 2016 01:11 PM

So we can back to the initial question, can you be a truly good scrum master or coach when you are independent?

I believe I have already made my statement regarding this (see first response in this thread).

To avoid the circular argument, I will leave it at that.

Good luck Pablo.