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Scrum Master is not an entry-level position, so how do I get there?

Last post 07:20 pm February 21, 2024 by laury friese
7 replies
10:45 am December 6, 2023

Hello,

I've had my PSM 1 for a while now and in the beginning thought this is the way for my career change. Fast forward a couple of months later, I'm back in a development position, and I keep having the scrum values and some of the practices in mind. I try not to push them onto the team, but I do ask the "difficult" questions sometimes (some of my team members even explicitly commended me for doing that). However, I now feel like I don't have any good options to ever get into a "proper" scrum master position (I'm not necessarily talking about a job posting with that label attached to it, but to be real - there are positions out there that look for "a scrum master" to which I could choose to apply, so it is a real position by now, whether or not Scrum intended to do so.

With that in mind, I talked to my managers about getting into a more leadership-oriented position, and they told me that the only way to get into such a position (in my current department/company) is by being so technically excellent that I will then be considered a good fit for leadership. I don't think that's a good way, because technical skills are not leadership skills and vice versa, but that's where I'm at.

How do I get into a position - any position, really - to even become a scrum master then?

 

Would love your thoughts on that :)

Cheers,

Lexi


12:32 pm December 6, 2023

Your managers are correct. Developing technical skills can be a base for progression into leadership roles and the Scrum Master is one such leadership role.

I find it helpful to frame these discussions around the Agile Coach Competency Framework. A Scrum Master is a specific instance of an agile coach, specifically in the context of Scrum. All agile coaches must have the ability and skills to teach, to mentor, to coach, and to facilitate. They also need experience working in agile values, principles, and practices. A Scrum Master specifically needs knowledge and experience within the Scrum framework, but working knowledge of other methods and frameworks is useful. However, all these are built on a base of some kind of mastery.

The masteries that the Agile Coach Competency Framework are built on include technical mastery and the experience designing and building products and services, business mastery and the ability to manage projects and products, and transformation mastery and helping organizations grow and change. It's very rare to have one person have a high degree of mastery in all three, but at least one is requirement. If you do not have sufficient mastery in at least one of these, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to teach or mentor people in that area.

Specifically, for a software developer, there are a number of practices that I would expect at least familiarity with, if not expertise in. These include domain-driven design, pair and mob programming, automated testing, TDD and BDD, continuous integration, refactoring, and working in a cross-functional team (closely with non-developers), just to name a few. A developer who can not only use practices like these, but know when a practice is or is not applicable, can bring up good and effective practices with their team, and can teach these practices to others shows the signs of being someone ready for a leadership position, whether that's moving into a technical coaching role or a technical leadership role, like a senior developer.

If you want to move into more of a technical coaching role, continue to develop the technical skills. I would not neglect the other skills, around product management or organizational transformation. Continued demonstration of knowledge of agile values and practices is also helpful, not just around Scrum, but other methods and frameworks, starting with those in use at your current organization or that are used by organizations where you may see yourself working in the future.


02:48 pm December 6, 2023

The following is my opinion and may not be the same as others. 

Leadership is more than being able to do the job of the people you lead.  It also includes the ability to understand business and be able to apply the work that is done to make the business more successful.  It involves being able to "read" people and help them find their skills. Being able to help others become better at the job they have chosen is a key part of leadership. Leadership is also about knowing when to step up and when to push others forward.  It is about knowing when a battle is worth fighting and when it is better to retreat.  It is the ability to learn from everything and helping to teach those that follow how to do the same. Leaders will let people make their own decisions and form their own opinions while helping them to understand why that matters.

One of the big problems in industry is the philosophy your company has.  Pushing people that are extremely good at their job into leadership positions is not always the right thing.  If they do not have the soft skills and the desire to improve others, they are ineffective leaders. 

Scrum Masters are servant leaders.  First they are servants to the people that follow them (see my previous comments).  Then they are leaders.  

Develop your soft skills.  Improve your ability to influence without controlling.  It may not help you get a job as a Scrum Master because Scrum Master has become a job description and not a philosophy.  But you will be a better individual and make a better impression on those around you.  People that are highly effective in the role of Scrum Master as defined in the Scrum Guide are those that influence without being a focal point.  They are ones that strive to make themselves unnecessary. 


07:58 am December 7, 2023

Thank you both for your answers. They are great! :) I'm going to focus on my skills in the Agile Coach Competency Framework - it's a good metric to compare my skillset against on a regular basis.

 

One of the big problems in industry is the philosophy your company has.  Pushing people that are extremely good at their job into leadership positions is not always the right thing.  If they do not have the soft skills and the desire to improve others, they are ineffective leaders. 

Probably not much I can do there, I'm not the first person in this company to attempt that (and surely not the last). I'll still talk to people and try to influence their views on the ways of working, collaboration, effectiveness etc., of course, but things like these take time. 

Also, my company is huge. The stance of my direct bosses might not be the stance of other leaders/managers in the company, possibly in other departments. Maybe networking a bit more with other agile-interested people could help me there.

If you have any more thoughts, do let me know :) I really value your positions!


01:20 pm December 7, 2023

I talked to my managers about getting into a more leadership-oriented position, and they told me that the only way to get into such a position (in my current department/company) is by being so technically excellent that I will then be considered a good fit for leadership.

How true is that assertion? Are the managers in your company technically excellent?

You say your company is huge, so presumably this is not a garage startup with an upcoming Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, or Musk at the helm.


01:43 pm December 7, 2023

My viewpoint aligns with Daniel's perspective. I would go even further to say that it's impossible for a leader to know all the details of their team members' jobs. While having a comprehensive understanding can be beneficial, the crux of effective leadership is the shift towards a trust-based style. Most team members are well-versed in their respective roles. The role of a leader, therefore, should be to provide support and intervene only when necessary. This is what I appreciate so much about the servant leadership approach of Scrum. It emphasizes the importance of leaders serving their team, facilitating their success rather than dictating every move, which resonates strongly with my beliefs on leadership.


11:50 am December 25, 2023

I talked to my managers about getting into a more leadership-oriented position, and they told me that the only way to get into such a position (in my current department/company) is by being so technically excellent that I will then be considered a good fit for leadership.

https://www.scrum.org/forum/scrum-forum/79340/scrum-master-not-entry-level-position-so-how-do-i-get-there geometry dash

How true is that? Are your company's managers technically proficient?

You say your company is massive, therefore it's not a garage startup led by the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk.


10:10 am February 21, 2024

You are correct that a Scrum Master role is typically not considered an entry-level position. Scrum Masters are responsible for facilitating the Agile development process, ensuring that the Scrum framework is implemented effectively, and supporting the team in achieving their goals. While becoming a Scrum Master may require some experience and knowledge, there are steps you can take to work towards this role.Start by familiarizing yourself with Agile principles and methodologies. Understand the core values of Agile, such as collaboration, iterative development, and continuous improvement. Learn about Scrum, Kanban, and other Agile frameworks commonly used in software development.


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