Inhumane Scrum Masters In Demand

I was talking to a friend the other day. She was looking for a job as a Scrum Master. Her background is technical and the last year or so she has been working as a professional coach. Not in IT that is. Just helping people to think and grow.

We came to talk about if she should include her coaching skills in her Scrum Master applications. Others had advised her not to.

“Companies might feel that professional coaching is too touchy-feely for a Scrum Master”, they said.

So, she was leaning towards not mentioning it in her applications.

Also, companies in general are asking for Scrum Masters that are experts in the technology that their team is working in she told me. Not for soft skills. So maybe her next step as a Scrum Master should be to take an advanced Java course?

Inhumanity as a core skill?

And I have seen this before. So perhaps a Scrum Master without soft-skills is what your organization needs?

Could be! To avoid changing anything that is. If that is your goal.

The actual job

The real skill set for Scrum Masters is designed to help organizations, teams and individuals to improve. And to improve is to change.

Guiding and assisting people as they change and improve requires zero Java skills.

It requires some serious soft-skills though.


Esther Derby wrote a nice summary of Scrum Master skills and traits a few years ago.

Some required things from her article:

  • coaching
  • facilitation
  • interpersonal skills
  • influence
  • team dynamics
  • systems-thinking
  • organizational change agent

These things all have to do with human beings and how they interact. These are not technical skills.

You could call them”soft”. They require quite a lot of courage though.

To be successful you will have to face your own inadequacies. You need to realize that your own beliefs and actions to a large extent are contributing to creating the things that you are most unhappy with at work. You need to work on fixing that.

You need to show vulnerability and you need to take those difficult crucial conversations with your peers as well as with people that outrank you.

If you acquire the skills and face up to these challenges, you can help create a healthy organization. According to Patrick Lencioni, this is what ultimately leads to business success.

So, about calling them”soft-skills”, I don’t know what would be any more hardcore than that…

Climbing Mount Everest? Nah, that seems like a walk in the park compared to the organizational change challenge 😉

The catch 22

Realizing that organizational health is the key to success requires a culture change for most organizations.

No culture change will happen without expert help though, but without culture change no experts will be allowed to help…

Which makes it a catch 22. Companies will keep looking for “Technical Scrum Masters” or the dreaded “Scrum Master/Project Manager” etc.

Unless you have organizational change super powers the sane thing would be to run like crazy when you see one of those ads.

On the other hand we need to resolve the catch 22 somehow. One way would be for some courageous people to take some kind of Trojan horse approach. Sign up as a “Project Manager/Scrum Master” and start working the change from the inside. Engage with the agile community and learn how to involve the leadership of your organization.

Another option would be that someone with adequate positional power decided to give it a try and brought someone in to help even though what was being offered currently seemed alien to the organization.

A note to hiring managers

The competition for good technical persons is quite high in some places. Hiring people with different backgrounds as Scrum Masters might be very much easier. In addition to that they might be more suitable for it. And salaries would probably be different to…

Just think about it. What would be a “safe to fail” way for you to give it a try?



Picture source:

The #1 rule of agile management

Think about this: If everyone in your organization could do whatever they wanted at work, would they do anything differently compared to today?

If so, your organization is in big trouble!


Because that means that some of your people do some of their work because they have to, not because they want to.

Consider these top three challenges of today:

  • The young people entering the work market today have other experiences and expectations
  • It has never been more difficult to guess what customers may find valuable
  • The global competition is tough, and getting tougher

None of these can be solved by people doing things because they have to. More on that below.


Try hiring someone with internet in their DNA from birth. Someone that has been building phone apps on their free time. Someone that has been contributing to open source, just for fun.

Then tell then that you will decide what they will work on. Also, you will tell them with whom to work. And that there are many other things that you will decide for them also. And that they will have to wait for a year before they can have any sort of real feedback from users.

Good luck with that…

We have to set our workplaces up so that people will want to work there.


The world is changing ever faster. It is also getting more and more complex and hard to predict. Guessing what customers may find valuable rarely works anymore.

Instead we need to learn what works through massively experimenting. This requires short development cycles. Measured in weeks, days or hours.

When it comes to innovating in a complex world, it is also a numbers game. A central investment decision point in a company, such as a product manager, will not do. We need to go for volume and for diversity of ideas.

Alas, you cannot command people to take initiative, to be creative or to be passionate! This only happens if they want to.


Whatever successful products you build is likely to be copied really fast by some competitor. The same goes for any innovative business model you may have. The average lifetime of big companies have never been as short as it is now.

Again, to survive we need to speed up on innovation and/or shorten the time it take to respond to competitor moves. Agile practices has been the standard attempted cure for that for more than a decade,

But, having people follow some agile framework because they have to does not work! Agile works because done right it awakens the intrinsic motivation in people.

When dropped inside a traditional organization without a mindset change, the practices give very little value.


A change of mindset is required


Gary Hamel's Pyramid of Human Capability

I think Gary Hamel explains the situation well. Look at his ‘pyramid of human capability above. It shows different levels of engagement employees can choose to apply at work.

It used to be possible to compete by having access to hard working obedient experts. This is not the case anymore. Anybody can buy that. In some places even for a very low price.

What matters now is if your organization can deal with the top three problems at the top of the article. The solutions to all of them are all based on decentralization and delegation.

Decentralization and delegation in itself will not fix the problem though. We also need people to start operating from another mindset.

  • We need people that show initiative when needed even outside their job description.
  • We need people that keep scanning the surroundings to come up with disruptive innovative ideas
  • We need people that feel passionate about their work.

The agile management solution

Since you cannot command people to take initiative, to be creative or to be passionate, the solution is quite simple:

The #1 rule of agile management: Treat everyone as if they were volunteers

If people choose to do whatever it is that they do, because they want to do it, then we have created the conditions needed to solve todays top problems. Anything less will not suffice.


What? We surely cannot have people running around doing whatever they like?

Well, no. Sort of. Some very successful companies that seem to grasp the #1 principle is WL Gore, Morningstar, Semco and Valve. All of these would probably look quite chaotic to an outside observer. They all are managed though. We still need management, but in a different form. Some might call it Management 3.0.

What to do?

I have using the #1 principle a lot. With great results! So can you! Right today, in your current organization. Here are some things to try:

  • Involve the team members when creating new teams. Having a say in what team to work on and what products to work on makes a big difference.
  • For each new effort: align company goals, team goals and individual goals. Do a team kickoff session and ask people: “What would you like to learn, experience, achieve to make participating in this effort worth your time and full attention”.
  • Redesign work until everyone is driven by intrinsic motivation. Moving Motivators is one useful tool for working on that.
  • Clarify the boundaries of self-organization for your teams. I.e. by using a delegation board.
  • Study the Christopher Avery’s Responsibility Process. This is essential learning for everyone in a modern organization. People are not used to thinking about what they want  it seems! BTW I have a really funny and powerful 45 min session on this that I’d love to do for your whole organization 😉


So, I hope that you found some inspiration and some new thoughts above. If you also actually want to try some of these things I’d be really happy;-)

Will you?





Image: (c) Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0. Port of San Diego, Operation Clean Sweep 2013