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So you’re a Scrum Master now. Maybe you’ve volunteered to fulfill the role or maybe you’ve taken a Scrum Master class. Now what?
The apprenticeship system is a useful reference. In apprenticeship, one studies under a “master.” (Unfortunately, the terminology conflicts with the Scrum Master name but we’re stuck with it; I’ll use upper-case Scrum Master when referring to the role, lower-case master when referring to the highest level of expertise.)
The apprentice learns the basic skills of the job until they are proficient enough to work on their own under normal circumstances. At this point they have achieved the journeyman level of competence. A master teaches apprentices and journeyman and can handle the most difficult situations.
To continue your growth in the Scrum Master role, you need to do two things:
- “Do” the Scrum Master role to gain experience, and
- Learn to achieve mastery as a Scrum Master.
To do the Scrum Master role, practice what you’ve learned. Make sure you’re doing the basics correctly. If you haven’t read the Scrum Guide, do it now (it’s only 16 pages). But don’t just read it, understand it. If you haven’t yet, consider taking the Professional Scrum Master course. If you can pass the Professional Scrum Master 1 credential, that’s good evidence you understand the roles, artifacts, events, and basic rules of Scrum.
From the Scrum Guide, we know the Scrum Master:
… is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.
That’s a tall order. You have to understand Scrum well enough to teach others. Experience will be an important component of your ability to help others do Scrum well.
Most Scrum Masters that I work with are either apprentice or journeyman level. Some are just learning the basics (apprentice). Many are able to support Development Teams in “doing” Scrum on their own (journeyman).
In the long run, that’s not enough. You will have to grow in your abilities beyond just doing Scrum. To be a master Scrum Master, you will not only need to gain experience in the mechanics of Scrum, you will need to gain an innate understanding of what Scrum means and to live by agile principles. How do the underlying principles of Scrum and agile affect actual work? Why do the Scrum roles, artifacts and events exist in the first place? Why are they important? Learn the answers to these question.
Again, from the Scrum Guide:
The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.
In other words, a master Scrum Master is able to serve the self-organizing Development Team to constantly improve…even when the team can’t think of anything to improve upon. The master has absorbed the underlying principles of empiricism, constantly working to help the Scrum Team, the organization, and themselves inspect and adapt. The master’s focus shifts from features in releases to value delivery. And ultimately, the master Scrum Master focuses on behaviors more than process; that’s where mastery lies.
But why should you? You already work long and hard at just doing the Scrum Master role. It will take that plus more effort and energy to become a master. I can think of at least three reasons why it’s worth it:
- The team: The Development Team will be better for it. A master Scrum Master doesn’t just schedule planning meetings and remove impediments. They proactively look for improvement opportunities the team is unable to see. They seek out how others are getting value out of new approaches and find ways to make this information available for the team to consider. A master Scrum Master is essential for a truly high-productive Scrum Team. Advanced Development Teams select their own Scrum Master; how will you be their first choice?
- The organization: In mechanical Scrum, journeyman Scrum Masters will focus on things like the planning of Product Backlog Items, velocity, and impediments. In professional Scrum, a master Scrum Master understands velocity is irrelevant unless the team is delivering value. Lots of irrelevant features are worse than useless—they waste investment. A master Scrum Master helps the Development Team, the Product Owner, and in fact, the whole organization to understand value delivery. Superior organizations consistently deliver more value for their investment; how will you make that happen in your organization?
- You: Daniel Pink, author of the book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” identifies 3 primary motivators for people in creative professions like ours: autonomy, purpose, and mastery. Mastery is exactly what this article is about: the opportunity and drive to become among the best in your field. If you’re passionate about servant leadership in the Scrum environment, how will you achieve mastery in your role?
If you’re going to grow toward mastery as Scrum Master, you need to not only support but actually help the other roles of Scrum: the Product Owner and the Development Team members. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in those roles, but you do have to learn what it takes to do those roles. Consider classes for other Scrum roles such as the Professional Scrum series for Product Owner and Developer. And since the team is self-directing, you will need to excel at coaching skill such as those to be learned from the Agile Coaching Institute.
The deeper awareness of Scrum required for mastery won’t come from experience alone. You will have to learn from others, just as apprentices and journeyman in other professions do. Of course, books, articles, and blogs will help. But there’s nothing like learning from others’ experiences. Get involved in local Scrum users groups. Go to meetings and events such as Scrum Days. Find other master Scrum Masters; talk to them…learn from them.
Since we don’t currently have an apprenticeship system for Scrum or agile, how can you find the masters? Look for people that have evidence of mastery. Years of experience is necessary, of course. And objective evidence helps. For example, the Scrum.org Professional Scrum Master 2 credential is a difficult test confirming a person’s knowledge and experience. The up-coming Professional Scrum Expert credential (available in 2015) will be further evidence. Credentials alone don’t prove mastery but they can get you pointed in the right direction.
It may be cliché, but to become a master Scrum Master is a journey. You can’t get there by reading a book or taking a test. You have to experience it, learn from other masters, and continuously improve yourself.