If You’re Hiring a ScrumMaster, You’re Doing it Wrong

In this tight Austin job market, I’m seeing postings for positions like “Seeking Experienced ScrumMaster.”  ScrumMaster is a role – not really a full-time job.  I realize companies are having to dig deep into their goodie bags to attract talent these days, but they’re also applying terms like “ScrumMaster” and “Agile” in full-force buzzword style.  What a shame.  I’ll explain why.

There are 2 basic types of team members in the Scrum framework – chickens and pigs.  Pigs are the ones with “their bacon on the line” and chickens are there to “watch.”  An oversimplification, but I’m going to resist the temptation to digress.

ScrumMasters are pigs.  They are developers like the other pigs on the project.  They just happen to have volunteered (or been bribed or asked) to take on the facilitatory role of ScrumMaster.  Done properly, they have some level of tasking on the iteration schedule to help keep them honest (“at the trough”).  ScrumMasters are intimate with their product and teams, and they are proficient in the technologies with which they’re developing.  ScrumMasters are not project managers.

Scrum teams are self-organizing.  Project status is emitted from the burndown charts and team-maintained task board, as a by-product of each team member doing their part.  Having said this, the short list of responsibilities for the ScrumMaster role does include “enforcing the rules.”  But that’s different than scraping status for management or beating on teams for being behind schedule.

When you hire on a full time ScrumMaster, two important – and unfortunate – things happen.  The person in this job has a slim-to-none chance of owning any individual tasks on the development schedule, which makes them a chicken.  They just don’t have the same level of investment in actually completing the work as does a developer on the team.

The second thing that happens is that the full time ScrumMaster ends up diluting the sense of the self-organizing team.  The ScrumMaster is responsible for keeping the bumper guards in place, not for driving a project or pushing teams to go faster.

If you think you’re going to get someone to serve in the ScrumMaster role on multiple scrum teams, you might really be after a Program Manager.

Even in the biggest of tech companies, nearly everyone takes on multiple roles.  Mentor, liasion or mediator, to name a few.  ScrumMaster is another such role, and you might first suggest someone already on your team step into the role before trying to hire a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Your burndown charts will thank you.

This entry was posted in Software and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.