I don’t hire Scrum Masters. I don’t hire Scrum Masters because the role is the wrong shape to fit into my team, with the wrong set of responsibilities, and the people who might apply have insufficient qualifications for the job I need done.
I’m not attacking the people who categorise themselves as Scrum Masters. I’ve met and worked with some fantastic folk who apply that title to themselves. I would hire those people, for example, Mike Lowery is the servant-leader par excellence and I’d snap him up if he didn’t live on the other side of the planet.
It is the Scrum Master role itself that I have a problem with. I just don’t need it. At least I don’t need the role as described in the Scrum literature and covered by the Certified Scrum Master course. In particular I don’t need:
- Scrum police
- Somebody whose view of project management is restricted to removing impediments
- A small scale Agile coach
- An Agile coach whose only Agile experience is a two day course
The Scrum Master’s responsibility is “ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules” (Scrum Guide 2011). That sounds a lot like process police – not surprising in a culture where deviation from orthodoxy carries a derogative term, i.e. Scrumbut.
So I don’t hire Scrum Masters because I don’t need somebody to enforce Scrum. I do need somebody to own the development process and this is something I share with my project managers, technical leads, and to a certain degree the whole team.
Just a hint of Project Manager
One of the specific responsibilities of a Scrum Master is “Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress”. Which is why Mike Cohn characterises Scrum Masters as bulldozers.
Removing impediments is really important but there is lots about project management that a Scrum Master doesn’t do – Planning, Monitoring and Control, Quality Management, Risk Management, etc. I have a particular beef about Scrum Masters and Risk Management. An impediment is an issue. It has manifested. It is already smacking you in the face. We shouldn’t even get to that point – that is the distinction between Issue Management and Risk Management.
So I don’t hire Scrum Masters because I don’t need somebody who only removes impediments. I need somebody to take responsibility for delivery and manages accordingly, and that is what I hire project managers for.
Small scale Agile Coach
Despite the enforcement implication I mentioned above, the specific responsibilities of a Scrum Master are those of a coach. A quick analysis of the bullet points in the sections on service to the Scrum Product Owner, Scrum Development Team, and wider Organisation in the Scrum Guide 2011 reveals these verbs: Coaching (3), Teaching (2), Facilitating (2), Leading (2), Understanding (2), Helping (1), Communicating (1), Finding (1), Planning (1), Removing (1), Causing (1), Working (1). The number in parenthesis is the number of times the verb appears. Lots of coaching, teaching, and facilitating. All good stuff. Wouldn’t change any of that.
The caveat is that this coaching is mostly for a small team. Scrum is for teams of up to 10, 1-8 in a Scrum Development Team + Product Owner + Scrum Master. My last team had 43 people on it including 34 in development.
So I don’t hire Scrum Masters because I don’t need a coach for only one of my development teams – particularly not if they only coach Scrum. I do need somebody to coach the wider programme team on Lean-Agile – in all its various incarnations – and this is something I usually share with an external consultant. (Currently I’m using Andrew Jones and Ed Scotcher from Agility in Mind. Great guys. Know there stuff. Give them a call.)
Only two days to become a “master”
The Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course is two days long. A flood of people go through those courses and get certified.
To be fair I quite like the course. I’ve done it myself and still recommend people attend the course. Admittedly I don’t expect those people to assume a Scrum Master role when they returned to work. I just used the CSM course as a general introduction to Agile, and if somebody like Mike Cohn is running it then that is an added bonus.
you can’t learn anything in two friggin days
Ron Jeffries (@RonJeffries) 06 Nov 2013
But a two day course does not equip people to do a useful job as an Agile coach or project manager. It certainly doesn’t make the candidate a “master” of anything. Not of Scrum let alone Lean-Agile.
So I don’t hire Scrum Masters because I don’t think a two day course equips them adequately for the job they are intended to fulfil. I need people with experience, experience of delivering large scale software products successfully and experience of using Lean-Agile to do that. That is why I hire people based on what they’ve done rather than the qualification.
To summarise the Scrum Master role is the wrong shape for my team. So I don’t hire for Scrum Masters. I hire competent software professionals who can help me deliver complex products often in challenging circumstances.
This post is part of a series on Agile Roles and Responsibilities.