Serious Scrum
Published in

Serious Scrum

The (not really) Scrum Master job description

It’s spring of 2021. I’m looking over some Scrum Master job descriptions on LinkedIn and various recruitment websites. What I see is text copied from the Scrum Guide as to what a Scrum Master’s responsibilities should be to the team, product owner, and the organization…. aaaaand a bunch of red flags!

Twenty years have passed since the appearance of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, and more than ten years since the first publication of the Scrum Guide. Companies present themselves as being Agile and using Scrum, but the ads they have opened for Scrum Master positions are showing cracks in their Agile and Scrum façade.

What am I seeing? Three flavors of the Scrum Master role:

  • Team assistant
  • [Insert some other role here] / Scrum Master
  • Project manager

I have yet to see many job descriptions that, after removing all copy-paste from the guide, don’t contain any red flags in the remaining responsibilities and duties required (assuming that copy-paste from the guide wasn’t the whole posting). I’ll start in the middle since I find this the most interesting of the three examples.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

[Insert some other role here] / Scrum Master

For a lot of companies, it seems that being a Scrum Master is something one does “on the side”. Apparently, some don’t think this job is so important as to be done full time. The main role from the title varies in this category of job postings:

  • Developer / Scrum Master
  • QA Lead / Scrum Master
  • DevOps Engineer / Scrum Master
  • Business Analyst / Scrum Master
  • Delivery Manager / Scrum Master
  • Project Manager / Scrum Master (worth mentioning, although I include this in the third category)
  • etc.

Not only are these positions a mix, but the first role has some heavy requirements, sometimes for a senior with many responsibilities which can easily take up 100% of one’s time. And on top of that, you also have to be a Scrum Master. Really? Which of the two roles do you think will end up being neglected most often?

Even if it’s a role not shared with other responsibilities, there are also many other job descriptions where, as a Scrum Master, you have to oversee several teams at the same time. You are not a Scrum Master inside the team, you are some sort of “helicopter” Scrum Master that hovers over several teams, on several projects. This can work with senior Scrum Masters and experienced teams, but again, it’s something that shows how many companies consider this a somewhat lightweight or not-too-important role, for which multiple projects need to chip in money from their budgets to pay someone’s full-time salary.

Team assistant

The “Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed” text appeared twice in the 2017 version of the Scrum Guide. In the 2020 version, there is now “Ensuring that all Scrum events take place and are positive, productive, and kept within the timebox”. This is one of the ways the Scrum Master serves the team, besides helping and coaching the team in self-organization, self-management, and cross-functionality, removing impediments, helping establish empirical product planning, advising on the Scrum implementation, and so on. It’s one of the duties of the Scrum Master. But what if we focus on this single thing and make it the entire job description?

This is another Scrum Master flavor some job postings are advertising. You do things like booking conference rooms, holding meetings, preparing pens and post-it notes for everyone, taking and distributing meeting minutes, move things on the sprint board, communicating statuses, handling other administrative tasks, etc. This is a known Scrum anti-pattern best described as “The Scrum team’s secretary”, but many companies don’t shy away from advertising such a position.

These job postings usually come together also with asking for little to no Agile or Scrum experience and no need for a background in software development. But the postings don’t say this is an entry-level or Junior Scrum Master position, which I guess would make some sense. No! You will be a Scrum Master. You get hired into the team and you start helping them with the things I just mentioned: booking conference rooms, holding meetings, preparing pens and post-it notes, etc. I’m sorry, but as a “secretary”, without having some understanding about how software development is done, or what Agile and Scrum are all about and how they fit into that picture, you can’t really help a team focus on creating high-value product increments.

Project manager

Finally, other job postings do ask for a good understanding of software development. And they also ask for a lot of experience. But it’s not the kind of experience I would normally expect inside the details of the posting when I open it. The job is for Scrum Master, but it mentions stuff like this:

  • gather and document requirements
  • provide high-level estimates
  • manage project scope/schedule/cost
  • commit on deliverables
  • ensure people work at 100% capacity
  • build processes for the team
  • etc.

Some are honest and at least say it’s a “Project Manager / Scrum Master” job, but regardless, the responsibilities and the requirements on candidates are plain and simple those from traditional project management… with a touch of Scrum/Agile (like beer with a touch of lemon, but still beer).

Scrum defines the team as consisting of a Product Owner, developers, and a Scrum Master. You have the three aspects needed to build products here: the business perspective, the technical approach, and the process for how to build it. Although the team is self-managing, meaning that the team decides who does what, when, and how, the Scrum Master is mainly responsible for the process angle. Hmmm… doesn’t it sound like a Project Manager? So does the Scrum Master play the role of the Project Manager in Scrum? That must be it, right?

These are hybrids of some sort. So I’m wondering why not advertise them as such? Is this a misunderstanding of Scrum and how a Scrum Master interacts with the team? Is this some form of pragmatism? (you need good people to implement Scrum, so maybe some of the people in the team still need to be handled the old fashion way?) Is this just cherry-picking? (we like this, we don’t like that; we’ll embrace this, we ignore that). Is it maybe because companies have moved to Scrum in name only, with Project Managers rebranded as Scrum Masters, but still doing the same things they did before? (maybe with some of the practices needing forced accommodation because Scrum prescribes the use of sprints, for example?)

So what am I (really) seeing?

I also saw a couple of decent Scrum Master positions, that not only required a strong command of the Scrum framework and a deep understanding of Agile values and principles but also to have been involved in software development for a while, as something else than a Scrum Master - mainly a developer. Yes, many say that a Scrum Master doesn’t need to be technical, but can you truly help a software development team if you don’t understand the essence of their work?

Do companies that don’t understand the Scrum Master role, start with a Team Assistant or with a part-time role? Do they then realize that a “secretary” is not enough, that it is difficult for a team to spontaneously self-organize and self-manage, that the role requires more attention and involvement, and that inevitably someone will have to deal with these issues more than others? Do they consider they need someone to be more in charge? Someone with more authority? Do they then - from old habits and impulses - think about things in the field of traditional project management, and so a Scrum Master becomes a Project Manager? (assuming that the Product Owner doesn’t take on such responsibilities, which can also happen; but that’s beyond the scope of this post).

So is it what I’m really seeing a transition phase? Companies at different levels of trying to use Scrum? Is the Scrum Master role destined to be another form of Project Manager, at least until involvement with Agile and embracing a new mindset develops on several levels in the organization, not just at the bottom of the company? Or is this the end result and things get stuck like this, even after ten years of having an official Scrum Guide and twenty of a Manifesto for Agile Software Development?

What do you think? What red flags have you seen in Scrum Master job descriptions, or in how the role itself is practiced?

Do you want to write for Serious Scrum or seriously discuss Scrum?

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store