The state of Scrum Mastering

As most readers will have worked out, I’m not a fan of Scrum Masters. Partly this is because I find it a very mixed up roll to start with (see my “Hard Core Scrum” post), partly because the way individuals and organizations choose to interpret the role is so variable the title is meaningless but mostly because the Scrum Master certificate is not, despite its name, adequate to prepare people to be a Scrum Master. The certificate itself has problems, these problems infect the role.

Still, more and more people are getting jobs as Scrum Masters. And this doesn’t look good to me.

A few weeks before Christmas, out of the blue, an e-mail from a recruitment agency appeared in my mailbox. This Reading based company used to have a good reputation, then it got bought, the main man jumped and the company changed its name to something exceedingly stupid.

In the e-mail the recruiter – who I don’t know and have never met – extolled the virtues of Dr R. An exceptional Scrum Master, and whose CV was attached to the e-mail. What kind of agent is this who spams people someones CV? Anyway, its an insight into what Scrum Masters feel they need to put on their CV to get a job.

(Dr R, if your reading, this isn’t about you. Given recruitment system you are within you did your best, its the employees and agents that made you do this. Except I recommend you choose your agents with more care next time.)

Lets look at some excepts from the CV:

“I am a highly motivated and experienced techno-functional Lead Scrum Master. I am responsible for the deployment of Agile methodology in four different multi-site projects.”

What is “techno-functional” ?

What is a “Lead Scrum Master” ?

And what has happened to the self-organization and servant leadership we read about in Scrum books? This guys is responsible, not the team, him.

Move on to his last job – in a notorious *Staines office:

“Agile Release and Sprint planning and execution of thousand Story Points (SP) involving ten developers, five testers, project manager, product owner, business analyst and test manager.”

Sounds like the Scrum Master did the planning, shouldn’t he have facilitated the planning?

A “execution of thousand Story Points” – wow, thats erh… big? small? (What is the Right Size for a Story)

10 devs and 5 test, that sounds like a quality problem, maybe he’ll say something about how he managed that – erh… no he doesn’t!

And obviously as a Scrum Master he failed to remove management, he’s got a project manager and a test manager. Sounds awful.

  • “Deployment of Agile methodology from the basic to remote Scrum team management. Established Mingle Agile tool and trained Scrum teams to use Mingle. Integrated Scrum Board and Mingle in a single view. Implemented best Agile practices including Avatar and Scrum Weather Report. Working along with release and delivery team, I delivered many E2E solutions.”

“Deployed Agile Methodology” ??? How does one deploy Agile? And what about “Scrum is not a methodology, Scrum is a framework” ?

I’ve never heard of “Avatar” or “Scrum Weather Report” – anyone know what these are? – maybe I’m at fault here.

And again, “I delivered many E2E solutions” – no servant leader here!

“Conducted retrospectives and implemented many improvements e.g. accountability and visibility of Scrum activities. Early risk identification and solutions: shortage of resources, technical complexity (merge and migration, BI), test environment (time travel) and release bus alignment.”

Time travel? Does he really say “Time Travel?” – hire this guy now! Our schedule slippages are over!

So much of that bullet would fit in well on a Project Manager CV.

“Implementing Continues [sic] Integration and Testing, and prototyping Test Driven Development (TDD) and Test Automation.

How does one prototype TDD? If he only prototypes it what was achieved? And did he solve the quality problem?

“Successfully implemented an unplanned Change Request (35 SP) as a part of final sprint.”

Right, now, this gets serious. Sounds like he doesn’t approve of unplanned change requests, or at least they were a big deal (35 story points – yoh!) but if you really have CI, TDD and Test automation in place this is easy. Isn’t the whole point of Agile to embrace change?

Now the funny bit:

“Maintained an average Velocity of hundred over eight Sprints.”


Go team Staines! – that is fantastic, did they pay you in Roubles too?

What happened to Scrum Commitment? Velocity is so XP.

And how long are your Sprints?

I wonder how long this guy will take to travel from Staines to say, Edinburgh? Thats what, 400 miles.

“Member and contributing to Scrum of Scrums, Agile Community of Practice, and Agile Centre of Excellence.”

Gee, if he is in the Agile Centre of Excellence they have real problems.

There is more but its drivel, lets look at some claims from earlier in his career.

As a Senior Scrum Master he:

“Defined Sprint Zero Definition of Done and implemented it across eight different Agile product developments”

Leave aside the fact that many think Spring Zero is a defective working practice all by itself should it be defined by one man? Maybe he is taking credit for a team, where is the servant-leadership there?

Later on he states:

“Interface with venders, Business Process Owners and off-shore development teams, followed though the Service Level Agreement to maintain the software quality and acceptance criteria as a part of product management”

I’m sure he did, and I’m sure he was good. But is this what a Scrum Master should be doing? This sounds like Project Management while he says he was part of Product Management. Proof – if it was needed – that the Scrum Master role is confused.

There is more like this. It’s not the best CV I’ve ever seen but what interests me more is two things.

Firstly it shows what he believe employees want from a Scrum Master. There is nothing in this CV about servant leadership, self-organizing teams, facilitation, talking to team members and other soft skills. There is a lot about managing and administering. Clearly from his experience when an employee hires a Scrum Master they expect a project manager. In other words, it shows how completely messed up the Scrum Master role is.

Second this CV shows how some agile techniques have become tick list items. Story points. Sprint Zero, Definition of Done.

Finally, let me say, if I had to write a CV today I’d probably make just as many mistakes and offer just as many hostages to fortune. Really this is a comment on just how bad recruitment practices in IT are and how bad the CV is at communicating what you do.

(*According to the London rumour mill, a few years ago Thoughtworks pulled out of a project at this company because they couldn’t see any possibility of success. Another Agile Coach/Scrum Master was told at their 3 month review “You are unusual, most people are depressed after 3 months here.”)

Reference: The state of Scrum Mastering from our JCG partner Allan Kelly at the Agile, Lean, Patterns blog.

Allan Kelly

Allan Kelly inspires, educates and advises teams and executives creating digital products. He helps businesses improve their use of Agile methods and serve their customers better
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