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Why Do You Want to Be a ScrumMaster?

8 March 2017

Since we can’t all be Batman, let’s be Frank: Scrum doesn’t work for everyone.

Technically savvy types are not necessarily keen to work with people. One of the reasons I like working with computers is that I know I can fix the damned things when they go wrong. I can usually find a solution pretty quickly, and if not, at least I know where to look. People are a tad more complex.

I imagine that this draws a lot of people to working with technology. Regular meetings and face-to-face interaction will not always be popular. Some developers just want to get their heads down and code. ScrumMasters should enable this when they can, but the team-centric aspects of Scrum will not suit everyone.

That’s fine. There are other ways to work; there are plenty of places that need great coders. I believe we need to be honest about this and not expect everyone to love everything we do. Of course, that is not a reason to stop trying, but we should recognize this. Some people are just better suited elsewhere.

But there is a bigger, elephant-shaped problem in this room. This applies to some ScrumMasters as well.

Some ScrumMasters are awful. They wouldn’t “get” Agile if it leapt onto their shoulders and started beating them with a dead kipper. It’s a sad fact that while we are meant to be torchbearers for Agile, we are sometimes seen as white van men — all about delivery. Some ScrumMasters are happy to fulfill this expectation and fail to challenge anti-Agile practices. Or worse, they promote them.

There are a million reasons for failing in this role. The Agile Manifesto is a fantastic document, but like all documents, it is open to interpretation. Certifications and course format may need some attention. The industry attitude to these certifications certainly does. The industry, in general, is not Agile. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need ScrumMasters. The role itself is hard — you face challenges on every side, and it can be deeply frustrating.

I argue that to be good at this (I’m not claiming to be myself . . . I make more mistakes than I get things right), you need to believe in it with real passion. You need faith enough to seek challenges in order to strengthen your understanding. It should be a vocation. In short, if you’re not committed to this way of doing things, it’s never going to work.

My journey toward Agile started with high school business studies. I learned about Douglas McGregor and his Theory X and Theory Y. The quick version is that a Theory X person is a lazy malingerer who wants to be paid for doing as little work as possible. A Theory Y person is a conscientious, hard worker who enjoys the work and for whom money is a bonus. I wanted to be the Theory Y person. I wanted to work with them.

Soon after, in a summer job at a wholesaler where I was “the computer guy,” I met my first Lean principle in the workplace: Just in Time.

Later, I worked in process improvement and learned more about Lean. In my career, I’ve seen many different approaches to management and to getting stuff done. I’ve been managed by a few Theory Y managers and a lot of Theory X managers. I’ve lived through the effects of these approaches with my colleagues. Agile frameworks take Theory Y and apply it to software development in a real, practical, way.

Learning Agile was more than a light bulb moment for me. It was the culmination of everything I’d learned about work since reading Theory X and Theory Y.

That might not be “it” for you. It might be the customer interaction or the joy of delivering something that actually works. It might be the fact that you’ve worked for the business for ten years, know it inside out, and really care about it.

It doesn’t matter what “it” is; the point is that this is not just a job. It can’t ever be that.

The best ScrumMasters and Agile coaches have something that drives them to get up and go to work, even on the days when they know they’re going to have to spend the whole day in a hopeless argument.

Everything else you can learn, but if you don’t have that, please consider your alternatives. It’s a big world out there.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (6 ratings)


Ilario Zaffaroni, CSP,CSM, 7/28/2017 7:20:19 AM
Hi James,
I fully agree with you. Recently I have got your question during and I answered : "I am Scrum Master because I want to make people happy and proud joining the Team and work together" that's definitely not just a job, that's kind of mission.

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