An Ideal Career Path for a Scrum Master

An Ideal Scrum Master Career Path

The Scrum Master role is increasingly becoming more and more in demand these days. This role is played by a variety of people. We may see someone in the development team playing this role, such as the technical lead, or a developer, or a QA person, or even an analyst. Alternatively, project managers play this role to support the scrum team. Many other people have dedicated their lives to playing this role as a servant leader scrum master. There are instances when this role is shared among different people in the team, and there are times when this role is rotated among the different members of the development team.

Many times, because this is the role they were passionate about, some people who play scrum masters think about how to grow stronger and more knowledgeable as scrum masters or servant leaders. At other times, even while playing the role on a part time basis, an occasional developer may feel this is a role that they would like to pursue as a career option: servant leading and helping create greatness in their teams. Whoever that person is, if they want to grow strongly into this path of servant leadership, here are some tips that I can share from my experience. These tips can not only help you get hired as a Scrum Master but will also help you grow strong, and create a niche for yourself, impact a lot of people in your organization positively, and will also bring a lot of satisfaction and contentment into your own life. 

  Ideal Qualities of Scrum Master

First, never see this role as a means to quickly make money. What I mean here is, if you really want to grow as a scrum master, give the due diligence that this role asks for. Go deeply into understanding the values and principles of Agile, the Scrum Values of Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect and Courage, and what it means to be a servant leader. Work on your own self to grow as a professional coach. One of the many roles that a scrum master needs to play is that of a coach for the team. What does this word ‘coach’ mean to you? How can you be a better coach? This calls for a lot of self work. This self work will help you become more patient, a better listener, help you have more compassion, along with firmness. It will help you gain skills of conflict resolution, etc. and contribute towards developing good Scrum Master characteristics!

Ideally, spend at least 4-5 years playing the Scrum Master role in its full capacity if you want to further your career in the same direction (from good to great). Don’t rush through the learning process. This will expose you to a variety of situations, challenges and problems, and help you tackle each circumstance as a coach and a change agent. Understand the essence of what is really expected from this role. Meet all your challenges as a Scrum Master to the best of your abilities, but never feel discouraged. Such an attitude will help you develop qualities of a good Scrum Master

One of the expectations from a Scrum Master is to challenge the status quo. Try to understand what this really means. As I started taking on the Scrum Master role many years ago, I fell in love with it. I came face to face with this phrase, “challenge the status quo”, and what it personally meant to me (after thinking a lot) is to never give up. It does not matter how many attempts you have made to coach a stakeholder (executive, manager, leader or a team member), the energy you put in each attempt should not be impacted if previous attempts did not bring about a change you desired. Even if they ignore you or fail to understand you, go back to them with the same kindness and firmness, and patiently coach them at the next chance that you get. 

This is similar to the metaphor of an ant trying to climb a wall. The ant may fall 20 times,

but you do not see the ant rushing or giving up, it patiently goes back and tries to climb the same wall, until it finally reaches its destination. It's the exact same thing that happens when you are a very patient, passionate, compassionate, and dispassionate scrum master. You will not feel discouraged because you got a “no”. You will go back the next time and very kindly help them understand from another angle the value of what you are trying to coach and what it brings to your organization, department or team. This is very important to understand.

Too much passion can bring frustration in you and anger in others, so you need to make sure that the river of passion needs to stay between the two banks of compassion and dispassion. You will start to see that people are listening to you more, and you will be able to influence people more positively.  People will soon start seeing you as a Scrum Evangelist and will reach out to you for guidance when other avenues do not show much encouragement and support

Another tip would be to look into acquiring certifications. Do not see a certification as something that will help you prove your value to others, that the certification is the reason why you are good. Rather, look at it as a means to validate your knowledge or current level. You are already good, that’s why you have that certification. This is where most people need to understand the difference between the two approaches. Let your success with the Scrum Master role justify your certifications, and not use certifications to prove that you are great. But do go for certifications, there is nothing wrong with it! Have you noticed there are two kinds of Linkedin titles? One is where people put all their certifications in their title, and the other is where the titles only indicate their role. Try to go for the second and not the first. It will help you grow stronger. Do not get complacent with your certifications, remember that there is always something new to learn.

What next after Scrum Master?

What certifications would I recommend? There are many lines of certifications. Your career path of a scrum master should go from a scrum master to a senior scrum master, to a principal level scrum master, to an Agile Coach, and so on. After you have played your scrum master role for about 4-5 years, start looking for opportunities in the role of an Agile Coach for additional teams. As you grow into the role of an Agile Coach, resolving challenges, conflicts and creating happy, high performing teams, you may want to consider transitioning to a full time role of a coach. 
As you continue to grow in your journey as a scrum master, review the Agile values and principles every once in a while (preferably once in a month). Eventually these values and principles live in your heart, and start to manifest in your actions. Towards the end of the week, look back at all the challenging situations that have happened and see how you would have tackled them differently. This will help you sharpen your skills. Participate in the community of practice for scrum masters or meetup groups that have other scrum masters participating.

Share your knowledge and challenges, and also learn from others. Knowledge grows when it is shared, and knowledge becomes wisdom when it is contemplated.

Remember, also, that you are a change agent. What it means is that you are not only focused on your team, but as your team gets up and running in a sprint, you start building relationships with other stakeholders. Do not lose any opportunity to coach a stakeholder when you see they have got something wrong. Your coaching should come up in such a light manner that they should not even know they have been coached. When your conversation ends, people should go home thinking that they have learned something new that will benefit them and their teams. Take responsibility for resolving situations that are left unattended.

Many years ago when I was scrum mastering for a team, senior executives brought in a new rule that violated agile values. A meeting was called in a big conference room where everybody participated. We heard the vice president say that despite sprint planning and commitments, a certain amount of scope will be added on top for each team after the sprint begins. Many people were overwhelmed, thinking that they’ll have to do more work than they can sustainably do in a two week period. I suggested if the teams are meeting their commitments every sprint and delivering to their capacity, then anybody who is trying to add an extra scope will have to work with the product owner and scrum master to remove an equal amount of scope which was already committed. Everybody liked this idea. When you solve such problems, whether simple or complex, people start looking at you as a servant leader and subject matter expert in this field. This is really what is meant by “scrum master”, “the master of scrum”. If you really want to grow in this career path of scrum master, remember that the expectation from you is that you will be the master of scrum, understanding the deeper principles of Agile and how to implement them effectively.

One revolutionary advice: if you want to grow in the role of a scrum master or in any career path for that matter, try not to serve just one company for more than 5 years or so. When you encounter a new company and new situations, you grow your skills much more. 

Try to live the principles of Agile and Scrum yourself, so that it also manifests in your actions. Actions speak more than words. Always bring fun things to do for your teams. For example, starting a retrospective with a new icebreaker, connecting with your team and your team members to each other. After you’ve spent a good number of years of Agile coaching, start your own line of thought. You may also want to start submitting papers in different conferences. Never belittle yourself on an idea that you think could be worth sharing. Let it go out to others. It will help you grow further. 

Are Scrum Masters in Demand?

To summarize, Scrum Master career path is a good option for folks who want to make an impact by serving others and grow as servant leaders. Per the world economic forum report (2020) the Product Owner, Agile Coach and Scrum Master job outlook will be on the rise in the coming decade which is heartwarming. This powerful role done wisely, will serve as a role model in the corporate world where many run after power, fame and money only to realize fairly late that the satisfaction that they begot wasn’t quite deep and that it did not last long

Amitabh (Amit) Sinha is a servant leader entrepreneur, visionary, mentor, trainer and coach. Amit is highly passionate about Agile, its principles, values, and the human side. Amit is a people champion and strives to bring out the best in his teams. Amit leverages his expertise in Agile, Scrum, Kanban and people skills to increase team effectiveness and happiness. See more

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