How to Become a Scrum Master

If you asked a typical cross-section of 100 High School students what job they hoped to be doing in ten or fifteen years from now, you’d get a lot of teachers and engineers, some lawyers and doctors, a variety of other job titles, but almost certainly not a single scrum master. It’s not that surprising really because scrum mastering is an unknown career path for the majority of the workforce of the future, as it is for many of those already in employment. Why is that? Well, just consider as a prime example, that it’s only in the last decade that agile methodology itself has become a module on a few very specialized project management courses at a handful of UK universities. So, because it’s still not thought of as a mainstream profession, perhaps we should think first about the reasons behind becoming a scrum master before delving into how to become one.  

What is a Scrum Master?

First things first: A scrum master is defined in the Agile Practice Guide as; “The coach of the development team and process owner in the Scrum framework. Removes obstacles, facilitates productive events and defends the team from disruptions.” The person has the responsibility to assist the whole team in gaining an understanding of the theory, practices, rules, and values of scrum methodology. Besides being the servant leader of the scrum team, he must also ensure that those outside the team interact with it in a helpful and productive manner. Thus, the scrum master has a duty to serve the development team, the product owner, and the organization as a whole in many different ways. He is a teacher, a counselor, an advisor, a planner, an organizer, an adaptor, a team player, a trouble-shooter, and a goal-getter. Still interested in the complex role of a scrum master? If so, read on.

Why Become a Scrum Master?

Belief in the Philosophy

Agile methodology, in which scrum is the most popular framework, has clearly defined roles and responsibilities, not least, where the scrum master is concerned. The concepts of agile and scrum are not as difficult as they may first appear but in order to become a scrum master, the correct utilization of the principles, processes and tools must be learnt and understood. So, the initial reason for wanting to be a scrum master is that the person is a complete advocate of the concept itself. To achieve real success, the scrum master needs to become fully immersed in the underlying philosophy and potential benefits of agile besides having the personal characteristics to compliment the role.

Scrum Mastering Jobs Availability

During the last couple of decades, organizations all over the world have implemented agile practices into their operations, not just in computer software development but in a range of other businesses. Thus, countless opportunities have been created, and are still being created, for qualified scrum masters. In today’s labor market, where unemployment is high, the availability of jobs and the rates of pay on offer are other reasons behind becoming a scrum master. What is a scrum master’s salary range? Well, you may be shocked to learn that in the USA for instance, it is now placed in the top 50 best-paid jobs.   

Scrum Master Training and Certification

It has already been mentioned that agile methodology is still not a core subject in university project management degrees, probably because established higher education institutes tend to be a little dinosaurian. That’s not a problem in becoming a scrum master though; training and certification does not mean having to have the time, all the relevant qualifications, and the financial resources which are needed to attend university these days. In fact, in the critical area of financing study and certification, think about paying one or two thousand dollars not the sort of amounts you would need to get through 3 or 4 years of college. Appropriate training and certification covers a much shorter period and is offered by a variety of accredited scrum organizations. However, don’t go into it thinking that you won’t have to study much; there is a lot to read, digest and learn whilst another warning is to choose the right course. There are dozens of organizations now providing “scrum master training, qualifications and certifications” over the internet and what you receive at the end may not really be worth the paper that it is written on.

Once officially certified as a scrum master, potential employers and clients are aware that the person understands the methodology and has the capability to implement it. There are two specifically recognized certifications for a scrum master which are the most established and highly regarded; CSM and PSM, although, it is worth noting that another two; SSM (SAFe 4.0 Scrum Master) and ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner) are now thought by many as equally sufficient so may entice you to investigate further.        

Certified Scrum Master (CSM)

The basic level of training and certification leads to becoming a Certified Scrummaster (CSM) and is offered by Scrum Alliance. In brief, this consists of a two-day course followed by a short exam and is valid for two years before requiring renewal for a nominal fee.

Once obtained, the next step forward is to the Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM) certification which requires one year of work experience as a scrum master and validation from a CSP educator who is a highly qualified and experienced representative of scrumalliance.org.

The third stage is called the Certified Scrum Profession (CSP-SM) which demands completion of the first two stages plus an intensive hybrid course and two years of work experience as a scrum master.   

Professional Scrum Master (PSM)

Besides Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org also offers recognized certification in the form of the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification. In a similar way to the CSM, the PSM is a three-staged certification (PSM I, PSM II, PSM III) and, although not requiring candidates to follow particular courses, is thought of as being more rigorous and demanding in its examinations. A pass mark of 85% being typical compared to that of about 68% in Scrum Alliance certification.         

Finding a Job as a Scrum Master

As in most jobs, when you are looking to start out as a scrum master, you will most likely face a Catch 22 scenario in the beginning;

The preferred applicant should have at least one or two years of experience

Yet, how can you get that if nobody will give you a chance? Don’t despair, at some point, either via an internal route or an external route, the opportunity will come and, if you’ve decided to become a scrum master, you’re probably an open-minded and optimistic person possessing a very adaptable character. In addition, if the company is new to scrum, it is the ideal opportunity to move it away from traditional project management methods and assist in the transition to a new way of thinking.

The Internal Route

Like the old rags to riches story about the penniless immigrant who started off as a part-time cleaner in a five-star hotel then eventually one day became its general manager, the route to becoming a scrum master may well be internal and quite rapid.

It is quite likely that the company you work for has adopted agile methodology and hence requires a scrum master. You may already have a technical background, experience in other forms of project management, or just be the most suitable candidate for the position because of your natural organizational and social skills. Whatever the criteria, not being new to the company means that you will already know about the way it works and the existing dynamics between individuals and groups within it.

The External Route

It is more likely that your route to the position of scrum master will be external rather than internal, namely, you will be applying for positions as advertised by companies. Ideally, you would be looking into areas of industry which are more your speciality although this is not a necessity.

Being a scrum master is more about understanding and applying agile project management practices than having an in-depth knowledge of the product being developed. Think in terms of soccer coaches and, although it may be a bit of a cliché, it is true that the best ones are almost always those who were not top players. Approach your job hunting as if you were searching for any other position, an obvious example being through the use of sites such as Linkedin.

Working as a Scrum Master

You have done the training, you have got the certification, and you have found a job. However, that is only the beginning. As in the majority of professions, becoming a scrum master is not just about learning the theory but also applying it in practice since the job and its responsibilities will undoubtedly vary from company to company.

There is a need to fully comprehend the role; the scrum master is not “the boss”, who is usually considered to be the product owner, but a servant leader.  Similarly, the scrum master is not a team member but the one responsible for coordinating the team and the project. Holding the Daily Scrum and the organization of reporting within it are just two examples of specific facets of the job.

In your first job as a scrum master, and particularly if you are an external appointment, you will undoubtedly face initial difficulties which will include being accepted by the people around you, gaining a working knowledge of the product and technologies in use, and both the existing philosophy and internal politics of the company you have joined. All these potential obstacles can be overcome if you are willing to adapt and adjust methodology into the formation of the most productive team structures. Flexibility, response to change and continual improvement were cornerstones in the development of agile methodology and to become a successful working scrum manager you should always bear these in mind.

Moving on in time, and after gathering a wealth of experience with the support of an established and enthusiastic team around you, you have to continue to try to improve efficiency, to introduce improvements, and to limit any complacency which may start to set in. Like the concept of agile itself, the successful scrum master adapts to change and progresses.            

Because it’s not like wanting to be a teacher, an engineer, a lawyer, a doctor or whatever is thought of as a typical job, most of today’s and tomorrow’s workforce have never even thought about the possibility of becoming a scrum master, let alone the job satisfaction and financial rewards it has the potential to bring. So, if it sounds appealing and you think it would suit your abilities, why not take the time to delve a bit deeper into it?