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How to Become a Scrum Master?

by: Shiv Sharma
How to Become a Scrum Master?

In a world where speed and adaptability are essential ingredients of success, it’s unsurprising that the Agile philosophy is changing the rules of traditional project management. Originally, an IT-exclusive concept, it’s increasingly getting popular in all kinds of industries. 

Out of various Agile methodologies, none has captured people’s imagination like Scrum. It has become the most popular framework for becoming Agile. Due to its immense popularity, many people mistakenly use the terms Agile and Scrum interchangeably. 

It’s impossible to discuss Scrum without talking about the glue that holds the Scrum process together – the Scrum Master. The popularity of Scrum means a huge demand for talented Scrum Masters. There are over 17000 job openings for Scrum Master worldwide on LinkedIn as I write this post. A startling stat, especially at the height of COVID-19 pandemic when most organizations aren’t hiring. 

Being a Scum Master can be a satisfying career if you’re interested in Scrum. In this post, I won’t be discussing the Scrum process or Agile philosophy but focus solely on specific tips that will help you become a Scrum Master. If you’d like to learn more about Agile or Scrum, check out our previous posts. 

I am also not going to discuss Scrum Master certifications. There are plenty of online resources for that. Certifications are meant to expand your knowledge and not mandatory for becoming a Scrum Master. Here are X tips that will help you kickstart your career as a Scrum Master:

1. Don’t worry about your background

Here’s an interesting report from Google Trends about Scrum Master searches. 

scrum-trend-is-rising
Scrum Master on Google Trends

Notice that until 10 years ago, the concept of “Scrum Master” was almost unheard of. It’s only since 2014, that the public interest in the Scrum Master started growing. Its popularity will only increase in the years to come. 

What this means is that most of the Scrum Masters didn’t read about it in school. Traditionally, even project management courses had no mention of Scrum. Almost everyone learned about it on the job. So if you don’t have an academic background in Agile methodologies, Scrum, or project management, don’t worry. What matters is how interested you are right now. 

Kamlesh Ravani, Scrum Trainer at Agile For Growth states that some of the most popular backgrounds of Scrum Masters are project management, product management, Software development, customer success, operations, etc. Such a wide variety of disciplines illustrate the fact that your background doesn’t matter too much if you want to become a Scrum Master. 

2. Don’t worry about Scrum certifications

It’s common for aspiring Scrum Masters to get confused about what Scrum certifications should they get. Which Scrum associations are credible?

In my opinion, Scrum experience is a lot more valuable than any Scrum certification.

Simply look at some of the job openings for Scrum Masters and you will seldom encounter one where Scrum Master certifications are mandatory. Organizations value actual Scrum experience over everything else. So what can someone who’s just getting started do?

If you work in an organization that has a Scrum team, talk to its Scrum Master and ask if you can shadow them for 4 essential Scrum meetings – sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint review, and retrospective. This would require additional hours from you at work but it’s definitely worth it. Attending these meetings and getting a firsthand experience of the Scrum process will be infinitely more useful than certifications. 

If your organization doesn’t have a Scrum team, don’t worry. The remaining tips will help you. 

3. Read the basics of Agile philosophy and Scrum

the-agile-scrum-sprint-process

One of the great things about IT folks creating methodologies is that you’ll find tons of great content about it online. This is true for both Agile philosophy and Scrum.

Scrum is a flexible framework and its application varies considerably from team to team. Still, it’s important to understand its terminologies and roles because they remain consistent. For example, it’s important to know what the product owner does. How is a daily scrum different from a sprint review or sprint retrospective. 

This will also help dispel some common misconceptions about the role of the Scrum Master. How it’s not the role of a team lead or project manager. Also read about servant leadership because that’s one of the most essential qualities that teams seek in a Scrum Master. 

If you’re looking for a place to start, check out our post – Introduction to Agile methodology. We have explained both concepts specifically for people who don’t have a background in IT. 

4. Get familiar with the tools of the trade

As a Scrum Master, you facilitate the entire Scrum process. You can’t do it with a pen and paper or spreadsheets. This requires a knowledge of specialized tools that are used for Scrum. Almost all Scrum teams use at least one.

A good Scrum tool includes essential features such as – task boards (Kanban), project timeline, chat, reports, etc. These help the Scrum team to keep track of the Sprint backlog and organize Sprint events. 

Jira is arguably the most powerful Scrum tool for software development but it can be a bit overwhelming for new users. Taskworld is also used extensively by Scrum teams and is an easier alternative. There are also other tools available with varying functionality. Pick one and make yourself familiar with its features used for Scrum. 

5. Gain technical knowledge

Scrum is increasingly used by non-IT teams. However, the majority of Scrum teams are still in the IT industry. While it’s not mandatory for a Scrum Master to have technical knowledge about software development, it’s definitely a priceless add-on

A Scrum Master with technical skills is able to empathize with the development team better. They can also make communication between the development team and the stakeholders more efficient. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to be a full-stack engineer. However, read about the basics of the Software Development Lifecycle. Understand the fundamental differences across technical functions of a typical Scrum team –  frontend, backend development, DevOps, UX, and UI.

6. Practice listening

practice-listening-to-your-team-and-leaders

Scrum Master doesn’t have any authority to tell the team what to do. The development team in Scrum is self-organizing and prioritizes work itself. Scrum Master absorbs the pressure and distractions around the Scrum team and gives them the space to do deep work. To do that successfully, Scrum Masters need great communication and conflict resolution skills. And there’s one thing you can start doing right away to master them – practice listening.

Leslie Shore in her book Listen to Succeed writes, “When we begin working on a reply before the speaker is finished, we lose both the complete information being offered and an understanding of the kind of emotion present in the speaker’s delivery,”

The key to being a good listener is not to listen to retort but simply to understand what the speaker wants to say. This allows you to give unwavering attention and helps gain trust as a Scrum Master. 

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