Per a January 20th, 2017 article by Daniel Shapero, VP of Talent Solutions and Careers at LinkedIn, the role of “Scrum Master” is in high demand. It’s ranked number 10 on his list of most promising jobs of 2017.
This all sounds great - a six-figure salary, tons of job openings, and lots of career advancement! So, what does it take to be a Scrum Master and how can you get a job in the field?
Let’s start with the basic list of top skills outlined in the LinkedIn research and go through each:
I’m not going to sugar coat it. If you want to be a Scrum Master, it helps to take the words naming that role literally. You'll need to be a master at using Scrum. You'll need to know Scrum so well that you can explain it to others in terms they understand even if they haven’t learned anything before about Scrum. Moreover, you need to understand why Scrum works, what problem each role, event, and artifact is solving, and why traditional SDLCs (aka, “Waterfall”) are inferior in the realm of new product delivery.
How can you understand Scrum at a master level? You need to read, practice, and experiment. You need to take the continuous improvement principles Scrum applies and embrace them at a very personal level. Even if you’ve taken a class, start by reading the Scrum Guide. Read it again, and read it one more time. Oh, and the Scrum Guide itself changes to continuously improve, so you’ll likely need to read it again next year.
Getting solid Scrum Master training and being certified helps, but getting a Professional Scrum Master (PSM-1) or a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certificate is just the beginning of your journey. While these certifications may look good on your resume, it’s what’s inside that counts. You’ll need to know your stuff and constantly be learning.
Software Project Management
If you don’t understand how software teams work or how they are traditionally managed, Scrum will be foreign to you. Learning it would be like giving you an answer to a question you never had. It’s key to understand the traditional ways of managing a project, and the differences between a “Product” and “Project” to understand why Scrum works and what problem it solves. To gain this knowledge you’ll need experience in one of the following: Project Management, business analysis, software development, software quality assurance, user interface or user experience design, or some field that would give you intimate knowledge of how new products are made and the challenges people face in making them.
Scrum Requirement Analysis
If you understand how Scrum works, you also need to understand how the needs of the stakeholders are communicated to the team with which you work. Traditional ways of building new products involve large stacks of requirements. These requirements are designed to resist change and attempt to describe the end state of a product. A good Scrum Master can help their team work in better collaboration with their stakeholders to understand the problems they want solved and deliver quickly to solve the most important problems. This gives delivery teams flexibility to change as needs of the customer change.
A technical background helps considerably when working with product development teams. A background working with databases and using Structured Query Language (SQL), or software development, or something technical is important. You may not be doing the technical work as a Scrum Master, but you need to know enough about technology to be helpful. Part of a Scrum Master’s role is to aid in removing problems that reduce a development team’s efficacy. It’s hard to do that if you can’t help identify problems or don’t know the right questions to ask a development team to expose them.
Additional skills you’ll need
The ability to influence without authority is necessary to be successful. You are no one’s boss as a Scrum Master. Your role is to be a servant leader to the team. A ‘servant leader’ means you serve the development team to help guide them to success. Whip-crackers need not apply.
In general, excellent soft-skills and high emotional intelligence are necessary to be a good Scrum Master. If people don’t like working with you, your efforts to improve will stall quickly. This includes members of your team and the people in your organization that help you remove impediments. You also need to build a strong network within your organization to make things happen. If you never leave the area in which your team works, how can you possibly help remove roadblocks to team success? Again, soft-skills are critical to being an effective Scrum Master.
How do I find a job as a Scrum Master?
Clearly, you’ll need experience being on a product development team, so start there. You will also need an opportunity to experiment with the role of Scrum Master, so find a company going through an agile adoption or one that has already made the change. Seek opportunities to apply the skills mentioned above to project or product delivery teams. “Scrum Master” is just a role, it’s not a job title. Even if your job is to develop the product, test it, or project manage it, you can gain valuable experience by filling the need for a Scrum Master on your team. Get good training and keep learning. If you decide to make a career change and become a Scrum Master as a full-time job, you’ll be more than prepared to make the leap.
Being a Scrum Master is a challenging, but rewarding role. It takes years of experience and training to be one. Bad Scrum Masters don’t last long at an organization. If you’re curious about what a bad Scrum Master looks like, a simple YouTube search on that very topic will yield many humorous examples. Aim to be a good Scrum Master and your opportunities are without bounds. The world doesn’t need any more bad ones.