The Scrum Master Paradox

Gabriel Barbur

Scrum Master

“Don’t hate what you don’t understand.” – John Lennon

Yet even if you try to understand, the role and existence of the Scrum Master are subject to intrigue. Starting with the name and going through to the most elaborated definition, the shape and substance of this new character is an opportunity for debate.

scrum master - leader

Etymologically speaking, Scrum refers to a rugby play formation where the team gels together to achieve a common goal by taking the game rules to a state of the art synchronous movement. A Master originally refers to a person with control and authority over others. So how did these two opposite terms get into one name?

Mastering Scrum sounds like a powerful skill, yet the road to becoming a Scrum Master is sometimes brutally short. Taking the official path means a two-day-workshop that ends with an online test that gives you the certification to master Scrum (and more).

What is a Scrum Master?

Going into the role definition, we will find that Scrum Master is a leadership role. Nothing new here, we are used to having leaders and there are ways to identify a person who can prove these needed skills. Another look at the definition and we notice that the leader is, actually, a servant one. Reading more, we somehow get the feeling of a democratic leader, a representative of the people, someone that puts others before his personal interests and works to help others fulfill their objectives. Are people in for the servant part or for the leader part?

Agile at a glance catches the eye by its pure simplicity. It makes you think: this is the normal way of working. How come none thought of this until now? People and interactions over processes and tools is a statement that somehow restores confidence in the human ascendant over any other processing artifact in the world. This is until you meet someone that works in a Scrum team and ask him what does his/her Scrum Master do all day. Most of the answers I got are related to updating indicators, maintaining process tools and providing reports to the team and also to the external stakeholders. Could this mean the Master is the least Agile of them all?

Finding the best Scrum Master

When you want to do the job right, usually you go to someone with experience. So now you are in an interview to find a great Scrum Master, that person that is the ooey-gooey inside that can hold everything together. It sounds like a special role in the team that relies heavily on soft skills, so candidates might take on this opportunity for a shortcut way up in their careers. How can we properly evaluate those soft skills?

Finding someone with experience in this domain is important in order to get assistance and drive in making that switch to the Agile mindset. So done right the Scrum Master is an important position within your company. But is he/she the proper one for the role inside the team? Remember that Scrum plays where the team is so glued that they move like one and then put someone new there and ask him to lead the way. Even with the qualified person for the position and the universally accepted individual for the role the intrigue will not stop. Building trust and helping a team become highly efficient makes the Scrum Master an important member, a member with equal rights and a clear purpose: someone that protects the team and maintains an environment where outside noise is kept at minimal values. With the role flourishing and the team running at full speed it is the Scrum Master’s duty to empower the team and leave to find another quest. But why would you like to break an engagement that works so well?

It’s easy to hate something you don’t understand, but let’s apply the same logic when we don’t understand why others hate/ignore Scrum Masters. There is a lot of reading material out there and it’s clear the definitions are not subject of an exact science. Build your own Scrum Master profile depending on the specific needs you might have. One thing to remember is to draw this profile within the boundaries of Agile and then promote it for what it is not for what others expect it to be.

To recruit key resources (Scrum Masters, Product Owners, architects, lead developers, etc.) and assess the IT skills of your current or future employees, check out SkillValue’s tools and services.

More reading about Scrum and Agile methodology: Scrum requires a different mindset, Agile Methodologies: The Perfect Match for Startups


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