How to Become a scrum master
Perhaps you heard about the scrum master role through a friend or colleague, and you think it sounds like it might be a good career path for you. But what are the steps to become one, and will it be a good fit for you?
It turns out, becoming a scrum master doesn’t require years of experience or even an advanced degree. What you do need is a fundamental understanding of the agile framework, time to take the scrum master certification course, and a passion for servant leadership. In this article, we’ll explain step-by-step the process to become a certified scrum master.
Step 1: Learn the fundamentals of Agile
Agile is a mindset defined by a group of fourteen thought leaders in the software industry, and is a compilation of the insights they gained from working in software development.
The Agile Manifesto states the following:
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
Agile is defined by the below 12 Principles:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress. Agile processes promote sustainable development.
- The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
By implementing the Agile framework, teams are able to achieve the following:
- Increased productivity
- Improved product quality
- Higher customer satisfaction
- Reduced or stable project costs
- Increased employee motivation and satisfaction
Step 2: Learn the Scrum and Kanban Framework
Why is it important to learn the Agile mindset? Because the Scrum framework exists under the Agile principles and is the framework that the scrum master works under and that they guide their team by.
The Scrum Team is composed of three parties (roles) :
- The scrum master: this person is responsible for overseeing the entire development process during the sprint.
- The Development Team: while some definitions limit the team to just developers, the team can also include Quality Analysts, Business Analysts, and other members of the organization who turn Product Backlog into releasable Increments of “Done” product.
- The Product Owner (PO): this person represents the business, customers, or other stakeholders, and is responsible for managing the Product Backlog.
The scrum master’s role is to help the team work collaboratively and remain open to change and evaluation in order to produce the best possible deliverable.
Kanban is another essential framework within the agile umbrella. Although a scrum master operates based on Scrum principles, it’s still essential for him/her to understand the Kanban methodology.
Kanban is a non-iterative methodology that values visualizing the work, limiting the work in progress and creating Flow by continuously delivering value to customers. Kanban recommends having a prioritized backlog on a Kanban Board in columns separated by the status of each item that’s being worked on.
Unlike Scrum, Kanban doesn’t define a set timeframe for when items need to be done.
Step 3: Dive deep into the scrum master role
A common misconception is that the scrum master is a project manager. However, the scrum master’s role is not to manage the team, but rather act as a “servant leader”. That is, they must be able to facilitate the team’s processes, without taking it upon themselves to resolve each obstacle that comes along. This allows the team to be self-organized and cross-functional.
Scrum methodology breaks down the development cycle into time-limited project periods called sprints. Sprints normally last from 1- 4 weeks and should result in a “Done,” useable, and potentially releasable Increment.
Sprints consist of several Scrum events: Daily Scrums, Sprint Planning, the development work, the Sprint Review, and the Sprint Retrospective.
Each Sprint is implemented with the purpose of working towards a larger goal.
Below are the meetings, or events, that take place in a Scrum setting:
- Daily Scrum
The daily scrum meeting is a quick 15-minute meeting is for the team to sync up and answer what the team member are working on, if they have any impediments they are facing and if they are on track to meet the sprint goal. The scrum master’s role in this meeting is to facilitate this meeting, identify any impediments and help the team to resolve any impediments.
- Sprint planning
The sprint planning meeting is to discuss, elaborate and commit the work for the upcoming sprint. At the end of sprint planning, the team should have an idea of the goal for the upcoming sprint, as well as a sprint backlog, or list of product features to be delivered and the steps to make that happen.
- Sprint review
The sprint review gives the team an opportunity to discuss the product that was produced at the end of a sprint. The team would demo the product, and evaluate it based on the goals that were established at the outset of the sprint.
- Sprint retrospective
The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to identify what is and isn’t working and to implement the changes in the upcoming sprint. The scrum master plays a critical role during the sprint retrospective, establishing the structure of the meeting and facilitating communication.
Here’s an example of what a one-week Sprint looks like:
During Sprint events, it is the scrum master’s role to:
- Clear obstacles or impediments
- Establish an environment where the team can be effective
- Address and improve team dynamics
- Ensure a good relationship between the team and Product Owner as well as others outside the team
Step 4: Take an Agile Fundamentals course that covers Scrum and Kanban
From what you’ve read so far, does being a scrum master sound like something you’d like to do? If so, then you’re ready to enroll in a course to prepare you for the scrum master certification. When choosing a Scrum and Kanban course, you should look for the following things to be covered:
- Agile principles
- Scrum Methodology (Overview, Values, Roles, Scrum, Artifacts, and Terms)
- Kanban Methodology
- Scrumban Methodology
Additionally, it is helpful if the course covers aspects beyond Agile and Scrum theory, and assigns you ways to apply Scrum in real life and land a Scrum role. At The Agile Coach, we recommend a combination of theory and practice with our Agile Master Class and Interview Preparation for scrum masters. The Master Class will dive deep into agile and scrum principles so you can understand the role, and the Interview Preparation will give you all the tools you need to interview for and land a scrum master position.
Step 5: Apply Scrum or Kanban to one of your work or personal projects
Now you know what a scrum master does in theory. But how do you know if you’ll enjoy the role in practice? The best way to find out is to apply the framework to a personal project.
For example, let’s say your goal is to plant a garden by the end of the summer. You would first set up a backlog, or a prioritized list of things you need to accomplish. For the garden, your backlog may look like this:
- Buy planting materials (seeds, soil, pots)
- Weed your yard
- Lay the soil
- Plant the seeds
Next, you would want to determine the timeframe for the sprints. Since you know that you’ll get hot in the sun if you garden all day, you decide to dedicate 2 hours a day, 3 times a week to grow and maintain your garden. That means your sprint timebox is two hours.
When you’re ready for your first sprint, you first need to conduct Sprint Planning. Your first priority in the backlog is “buy planting materials.” You determine that it’ll take about two hours, or one sprint, to research the materials, go to home depot, and come home.
You may hop on the computer and take about 30 minutes to research the materials that you need to start a garden. You end up taking about 45 minutes though, and you’re running behind schedule. You drive to Home Depot, and buy the materials. Once you get there though, you realize that you forgot what type of flower you wanted to buy. You talk to a store representative, and they try to help you remember what the name of the flower was. Because you don’t want to buy the wrong plant, you decide to only buy the other materials.
You come home with most of the materials you were looking for, and your sprint is done! It took 2 hours and 15 minutes. Next, it’s time for the Retrospective. A good way to evaluate your project is to list things that you would start, stop, and continue doing.
Here’s an example of what your Retrospective may look like:
Start doing: making a list of things to buy, so you don’t forget when you get to the store
Stop doing: taking too long to research
Continue doing: going to Home Depot, since they have a wide selection of gardening materials
Another core responsibility of the scrum master is to facilitate meetings in order to leverage the power of individuals and interactions, before processes and tools.
Once you’ve broken your project from the previous section into iterations, get with a friend or co-worker to go through each of the scrum events in the sprint: daily scrum, planning, review, and retrospective.
What personal project will you apply the Scrum framework to?
Step 6: Get a pro-bono servant leadership role
After you’ve applied the Scrum and Kanban framework to a personal project, it’s a good idea to take it a step further and practice in a real work setting.
One way you could do this is to get in contact with a scrum master who works at a company that interests you, and asks if you can shadow them for a day or two, unpaid. The company will be glad to get free labor, and you’ll be getting hands-on scrum master experience (not to mention valuable contacts that could lead to a real job later on). It’s a win-win!
How do you get in touch with that kind scrum master at a company you potentially want to work for? The best way we’d recommend to do this is to use LinkedIn to find someone with the scrum master title at a company near you. You can either reach out to them directly on LinkedIn or ask for an introduction to that scrum master from someone already in your network.
Having this experience in hand will not only teach you valuable scrum master skills, but also impress employers down the line by showing your dedication to improving your craft.
We have a few startup companies who are willing to use ad-hoc facilitation for their planning and retrospective meeting. Reach out to us at [email protected] if you feel like you have built competency to facilitate a retrospective session.
Step 7: Get a scrum master certification
Certifications can help you gain a deeper understanding of Agile, and prove to employers that you have the knowledge to become a successful scrum master. In order to get scrum master credentials, you can become certified through one of the accredited Scrum certification providers: ICAgile, Scrum.org, and Scrum Alliance.
- ICAgile - ICAgile Certified Professional (ICP)
ICAgile offers the most holistic agile certification program. Participants will learn the fundamentals of Agile, so they can be prepared to jump into any agile profession.
- Scrum.org Professional scrum master (PSM) certification
The PSM certification is complex and targets Scrum fundamentals specifically. In order to pass the course, you need to get an 85% score on the test.
- Scrum Alliance Certified scrum master (CSM) certification
The CSM certification is less complex than the PSM, and consists of a two-day course that costs anywhere between $800 and $1,600. In order to pass the course, you need to get a 68% on the exam.
Step 8: Apply for a scrum master role
Once you’ve taken a Scrum course and gotten certified, you’re ready to apply to scrum master jobs.
If the thought of interviewing for a position that you have no experience in scares you, don’t worry. Many scrum masters get started entry-level, with no software development or team leadership experience. If you’ve followed steps one through seven and demonstrated your interest in becoming a scrum master, there isn’t anything that can stop you from achieving it.
Click here to download our free Scrum Master Resume Tips + Interview Questions Guide!
While you can, of course, send your resume to companies for a scrum master role, there’s no guarantee that they’ll give you an interview. That’s where additional coaching comes in.
At The Agile Coach, we not only offer a 12-week scrum master bootcamp with 10 Q&A coaching calls but also guide you through the job application and interviewing process once you complete the course. We also help you enhance your resume and LinkedIn profile, offering you full-service support to help you land a scrum master role.
You’re now equipped with all of the knowledge you need to go out there and start a new and exciting career as a scrum master.
For more information on the scrum master role, visit us at theagilecoach.com