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Inhumane Scrum Masters In Demand

September 23, 2014

Technical Scrum Master at work

I was talking to a friend the other day. She was looking for a job as a Scrum Master. Her background is technical and the last year or so she has been working as a professional coach. Not in IT that is. Just helping people to think and grow.

We came to talk about if she should include her coaching skills in her Scrum Master applications. Others had advised her not to.


"Companies might feel that professional coaching is too touchy-feely for a Scrum Master", they said.

So, she was leaning towards not mentioning it in her applications.

Also, companies in general are asking for Scrum Masters that are experts in the technology that their team is working in she told me. Not for soft skills. So maybe her next step as a Scrum Master should be to take an advanced Java course?



Inhumanity as a core skill?

And I have seen this before. So perhaps a Scrum Master without soft-skills is what your organization needs?

Could be! To avoid changing anything that is. If that is your goal.



The actual job

The real skill set for Scrum Masters is designed to help organizations, teams and individuals to improve. And to improve is to change.

Guiding and assisting people as they change and improve requires zero Java skills.

It requires some serious soft-skills though.




Esther Derby wrote a nice summary of Scrum Master skills and traits a few years ago.

Some required things from her article:



  • coaching

  • facilitation

  • interpersonal skills

  • influence

  • team dynamics

  • systems-thinking

  • organizational change agent


These things all have to do with human beings and how they interact. These are not technical skills.

You could call them"soft". They require quite a lot of courage though.

To be successful you will have to face your own inadequacies. You need to realize that your own beliefs and actions to a large extent are contributing to creating the things that you are most unhappy with at work. You need to work on fixing that.

You need to show vulnerability and you need to take those difficult crucial conversations with your peers as well as with people that outrank you.

If you acquire the skills and face up to these challenges, you can help create a healthy organization. According to Patrick Lencioni, this is what ultimately leads to business success.

So, about calling them"soft-skills", I don't know what would be any more hardcore than that...



Climbing Mount Everest? Nah, that seems like a walk in the park compared to the organizational change challenge ;-)



The catch 22

Realizing that organizational health is the key to success requires a culture change for most organizations.



No culture change will happen without expert help though, but without culture change no experts will be allowed to help...

Which makes it a catch 22. Companies will keep looking for "Technical Scrum Masters" or the dreaded "Scrum Master/Project Manager" etc.

Unless you have organizational change super powers the sane thing would be to run like crazy when you see one of those ads.

On the other hand we need to resolve the catch 22 somehow. One way would be for some courageous people to take some kind of Trojan horse approach. Sign up as a "Project Manager/Scrum Master" and start working the change from the inside. Engage with the agile community and learn how to involve the leadership of your organization.



Another option would be that someone with adequate positional power decided to give it a try and brought someone in to help even though what was being offered currently seemed alien to the organization.



A note to hiring managers

The competition for good technical persons is quite high in some places. Hiring people with different backgrounds as Scrum Masters might be very much easier. In addition to that they might be more suitable for it. And salaries would probably be different to...

Just think about it. What would be a "safe to fail" way for you to give it a try?



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