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?



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Scrum Skills Series, “Retrospectives, part I”

For a while, I have been thinking about writing a series of papers with hands-on advice on how to use Scrum. Note that I don’t claim to know exactly what your environment looks like and how you should best make use of Scrum, only you can figure that out.

No, the idea with the paper’s is to share collection of techniques that I have found to work well. If you find them interesting, you can try them out while you are experimenting to get to a way of working that best fits your current situation.

The format of the papers has been choosen to be somewhere inbetween a blog-post and a book. I will try to make them small enough so that many people will find time to read them, yet long enough to contain some useful information.

So, lets see how it works out! Today I posted the first paper: “Retrospectives, Part I – Getting Started”

I hope the paper will be useful both for newly started teams and for existing teams that are interested in improving their retrospectives.

If enough people are interested, I have a series of papers planned out covering various aspects of starting up Scrum teams and how to keep finding improvements.

The paper can be downloaded from here

So, let me know what you think!

Passed Certified Professional Scrum Master II

Got the news today that Ken Schwaber had graded my responses to the essay style questions and that I passed the Professional Scrum Master II exam! So far only about a dozen people in the world have passed the level II certification exam and I’m the only person in Sweden it seems!

I have worked in agile teams for more than ten years now and as a full time agile coach for several years, so why did I bother to take this exam?

For one thing, I thought it would be a nice challenge! I find that trying to figure out the answer to tough questions always deepens my understanding. In fact a lot of what I learn, is from people asking me questions. So, I thought it would be interesting to work through some questions considered important by the co-founder of Scrum, Ken Schwaber.

Well…boy did I get what I asked for! Almost needed to use to full two hours to complete the test and some of the questions were really tough! I passed with a 95% score though. I misread one of the questions and I’m not sure that I agree in a few cases where my answer was rejected, so I’m quite happy with that!

Besides the challenge, I took the test just to check it out, and I was very pleased with what I saw. Until now ScrumMaster certifications in the Scrum community have been handed out without the person being certified having to do anything except to stay in a room for two days. I think the new written ScrumMaster assessments from are a welcome change to that! A lot of people, like me, will get more motivated to grasp the subject a bit more thoroughly before taking the test and that will be a good thing! Especially in the case of the level II assessment, where a lot of questions are in essay style, I also think that the assessment result can be an indicator of knowledge.

Another thing that is doing is widening the spectrum of training offered. In addition to ScrumMaster skills, you can now also get training in skills needed as a developer on agile teams. Other types of skills like facilitation and team skills are also mentioned as possible candidates for offerings if I remember correctly. This addresses a main problem in real life Scrum implementations today. People may have a basic understanding of Scrum, but they have not yet experienced what types of issues that can be resolved by adding technical practices for example from eXtreme Programming, XP.

Nothing has affected the spreadin of agile so much as the strength of the Scrum brand. As unfair this may seem to the other fine ideas in agile this is a fact. Hopefully the new organization with its fresh ideas will now contribute to getting the level of agile actually practiced in real developments teams to a higher level.