The “New Scrum Master” Starter Pack

The rise of Agile software development frameworks is well documented. While Agile and Lean have been second nature in the startup world for decades, the late adopter crowd is now here: Enterprise. Because of this, we’re witnessing an explosion in the “Agile at Scale” industry. SAFe, LeSS, Nexus… there are countless frameworks being sold to the executive ranks. And it seems everyone’s buying in.

Now, this post isn’t about how to “scale your agile framework” or any such nonsense. This post is for folks on the ground who find themselves being asked to “make this scrum thing work for us.” I’m looking at you, newly minted Scrum Master!!

So, here is a common scenario playing out in enterprises around the world today:

Executive: “We’re an agile organization now.”
Project Manager: “Ok… but I’ve heard there are no Project Managers in Agile…”
Executive: “That’s right! I went to Agile Leadership Training last week, and they said we don’t need Project Managers anymore!! And our highly paid consultants agree!!”
Project Manager: <silence>
Executive: “Oh, don’t worry, you’re not fired, haha! There’s this role called ‘Scrum Master’ that is pretty much the same thing as Project Manager!”
Project Manager: “So… I’m a Scrum Master now?”
Executive: “Yup, you’re a Scrum Master!”
Project Manager: “ok… cool.” (oh boy)

Well, Project Manager, congratulations - you’ve managed to retain employment for now. But as your org’s agile transformation sputters along with fits and starts (as most do!), your managers and execs are going to start realizing that the Scrum Master role is quite different than that of the Project Manager.

The problem is, your boss probably doesn’t really know what a good Scrum Master even looks like. She may truly want you to succeed in this new role, but at the end of the day, your ability to have a positive impact at your company is going to come down to your own gumption. You’re probably going to have to figure this out on your own!

Luckily, the agile community is full of helpful people who are passionate about making the world of work better.

Before going any further, I need to warn you — there can be an air of arrogance among some in the agile community when it comes to “Project Managers.” Twitter and the blogosphere are peppered with snarky comments made towards “soon-to-be unemployed project managers” who are “wasting people’s time.”

My advice to you: Don’t be discouraged by these people.

If you are taking your new role seriously enough to be researching how to do it (e.g. reading this post!), you’re already on the right track. Let the grumps be grumps, and get on with it.

Grumps be grumpy.

…And with that out of the way, my hope in writing this is to reach Project Managers and others who have recently become Scrum Masters (by their own free will or otherwise) with a message: You can do this!

Below are some steps you can take to begin to build the right skills and develop the mindset that you’ll need if you are going to be successful in this new world.

Step One: Take a class

This is a no-brainer. There are a million and one different Scrum Master courses you can take. The most popular is the Scrum Alliance’s Certified Scrum Master course. There are 400,000+ people who have taken the CSM and held the resulting certification. It’s typically a 2-day course. There are others offered by various certification bodies such as, SAFe, etc. Do some research and find out which might be the best fit for you.

Many Scrum classes offer learning through Sprint simulation exercises

The bad news is that taking a class and passing the certification test isn’t going to magically transform you into the worlds best Servant Leader. The good news though, is that you’re going to get a working foundation upon which to build:

Terminology. This is an obvious one. But you’d be surprised how many people don’t actually know what the word “Sprint” means, or what a Retrospective is. It helps when we’re all speaking the same language.

An Agile support network. To repeat: you will not get everything you need from the course. But, by meeting people in your class who are going on the same journey, you’ll discover that people who are interested in Agile and Scrum are generally pretty helpful people! At the very least, your trainer is someone who has made a living helping people along the journey. They will likely be willing to help you out long after the class ends. That’s been my experience, anyway.

Anecdotes and reference points. Agile courses tend to be filled with anecdotes and real world examples of challenges that other companies have faced, and what worked (or didn’t) for them. Recalling these during your journey as a Scrum Master will certainly spark some ideas, or at the very least, help you start conversations with your peers.


Agile and Scrum have been around for a while now. It’s what you might call a ‘mature’ industry. Billions of dollars have been spent on Agile projects. Much of what we’ve learned as an industry has been captured in videos, blogs, books and other mediums. If you really want to improve yourself, learn from the experimentation of those who’ve come before you! Here are some good resources to get started on:

Michael James’ Scrum Training Series — an excellent intro to scrum!

Step Three: Get involved, get inspired

Attend agile conferences and events. If you live in a major city, there are likely already many agile-related conferences, meet-ups and user groups happening nearby. Do some googling, pick a few and attend them. Not only will you gain access to experts in the field, you’ll also realize that there are many other people going through the same struggles that you are. Understanding that we’re all trying to figure this stuff out together can serve to reduce the levels of stress and impostor syndrome you might be feeling. Plus these events tend to be really fun. At one point or another, you will probably be asked to play with Lego.

Another way to get involved is to join various forums and slack channels — these places are full of wonderful, knowledgable and helpful people. Two places to check out:

So those are three concrete steps you can take to start making your transformation from command-and-control Project Manager (or whatever your old role was), to servant leader Scrum Master. If you’ve discovered any other resources that have been helpful early on in your journey, please share them below!!

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