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  • Writer's pictureJulie A. Foster

Recruiters, why do you ask for "pure" Scrum Master or coaching experience?

It's been a crazy year! This past year, I made several life changes. I quit my job for over 10 years and moved across the country for new opportunities and better weather. It was exciting and scary but worth it!

The most eye-opening part of my journey was interviewing with new companies. I haven't had to do a real interview in 13 years. Most of my promotions I didn't have to compete for. I was just moved into them. When I decided to move out of the Midwest, I had to update my resume and polish up on my interview skills.

My phone rang off the hook with recruiters looking for experienced scrum masters or agile coaches. That's when I began to notice a theme. Recruiters and hiring managers are saying these very odd statements, "how much pure coaching experience do you have?" "How much time were you purely a scrum master?" "We aren't looking for someone who held "dual roles" we want someone who is a pure scrum master."

I had never heard this sort of question before.

I have all sorts of experience. As a scrum master or coach, my typical day looked like this:

  1. Conduct daily scrums for 5 teams

  2. Write a training class for the frontline supervisor and directors who need to understand their role in scrum.

  3. Protect everyone from the command and control project manager (it's not their fault, agilist typically don't teach them how to do agile project management)

  4. Conduct stakeholder meetings with the stakeholders, directors, executive management, and the PMO to explain how to make timelines accurate with scrum and then align on the roadmaps

  5. Map out current and future states for each team on the digital transformation to realign teams and remove waste.

  6. During a drive-by session with a developer, I realized a 6 weeks savings on the schedule by cutting out a step. Analyze to prove out the theory

  7. Meet with brand new product owners to teach them what their role is and how to be successful.

  8. Lead prioritization for teams, teaching by showing. Product Owners are very new.

  9. Teach the business analyst how to work with the product owner to write stories

  10. Analyze the current state of the work, not just the process, to understand where we really are

  11. Attend a CAB meeting to explain what artifacts they should be asking to help them become more agile.

  12. Hold back the project manager (again)

  13. Stop a supervisor from adding due dates to Jira's work tasks because she was an obsessive micromanager.

  14. Meet with internal audit to explain how "requirements" are written in a scrum.

  15. Another herding of the project manager.

  16. Help the team adopt the use of the kanban scrum board.

  17. Set up departmental prioritization sessions to help the PMO limit the WIP and understand why it's risky to have 50-60 projects going at once.

  18. Get ready for a creative retrospective for all 5 teams.

  19. Write requirements for a previous team that has a gap and has not yet moved to scrum. I have the skillset; I might as well help.

  20. Crash director meetings who were planning things that directly contradicted an agile transformation. Someone has to put the breaks on these things; that was me.

There's much more, but you get the pattern here. So to these recruiters and hiring managers, I ask, at what point was I being a "pure coach or scrum master"? Was it only #1 and #17?

So I was only a pure scrum master for 2 hours that day? My typical day would be called "dual role" to a lot of people.

Asking how much of your career was pure scrum mastering leads me to believe the folks asking these questions do not understand agile or scrum nor the role of a scrum master. Also, in what universe has anyone in the corporate world of knowledge workers ever not held a "dual role" or had multiple responsibilities?

Some time ago, I was a director-level manager on the operations side of life insurance. During my 3 years in this role, I ever asked if I was "pure director" and if I only did "director things." Most would think that was a ridiculous question, but for some reason, when it comes to scrum, it's a logical question?

So let's look at the role of the scrum master. According to the 2020 Scrum Guide,

"Scrum Masters are true leaders who serve the Scrum Team and the larger organization.

The Scrum Master serves the Scrum Team in several ways, including:

  • Coaching the team members in self-management and cross-functionality;

  • Helping the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value Increments that meet the Definition of Done;

  • Causing the removal of impediments to the Scrum Team’s progress; and,

  • Ensuring that all Scrum events take place and are positive, productive, and kept within the timebox.

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

  • Helping find techniques for effective Product Goal definition and Product Backlog management; (aka Prioritizing)

  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;

  • Helping establish empirical product planning for a complex environment; and,

  • Facilitating stakeholder collaboration as requested or needed.

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

  • Leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;

  • Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization;

  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact an empirical approach for complex work; and,

  • Removing barriers between stakeholders and Scrum Teams."

Everything listed above describes my typical day, and yet, recruiters and hiring managers would argue that's not pure scrum mastering.

Those who don't truly understand enterprise transformations and the intended role of a scrum master are taken aback when I describe that I can be a supervisor, put on a training class, mentor scrum masters, scrum master 3 teams while being a product owner on another team while mentoring other product owners, write a roadmap for change, stand up a CoE while pulling data to analyze where we can improve. They act confused and ask, "so does that mean you only have a few years being a scrum master instead of 13? (someone really said that to me).

<Insert frustration here.>

How do we solve this? We need recruiters and hiring managers who understand exactly what the role is. Bring on an expert who can help you find the right candidates.

Change how you are asking the question. Are you simply trying to avoid those who were called scrum masters who never really fulfilled the role? If so, there is a better way to avoid this than dismissing experiences you don't think are relevant.

The scrum master wears many hats, and they serve everyone differently. They are not just facilitators of meetings. They are teachers, mentors, leaders, trainers, analysts, and more. If your teams are new or young in agile or scrum, you need someone who understands all aspects of your technology world, those people with the big lens perspective who understand project management down to releasing; those are the people who are going to make the biggest impact. Those are the people you need.

Julie has been an Agilist for 14 years. She has been in multiple roles while embracing Agile. Director of Operations, Lead Business Systems Analyst, Coach, Mentor, Project Manager, Lean Six Sigma Project Lead and Transformation Lead. She is currently open for an Agile Director or Senior Coach role (remotely) within your organization. If you want big sustainable change, you need Julie.

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