Sunday, November 20, 2022

How can I rent a 50 foot yacht (or get a job as a scrum master) if I have no experience? You shouldn’t!

Recently, a successful speaker and trainer –whom I also happen to know personally– posted a (German) article on linkedIn, where he “replied” to the many questions he got on “How do I find a job as a Scrum Master if I have no experience?”

He actually did give suggestions. And that is what really made me sad, because the question alone already highlights much of what's wrong in today's post-agile world.

In my opinion the only right answer would have been: "You shouldn't!”

aerial view of green body of water with sank ship photo – Free Image on Unsplash

To me, the whole "How can I get a job as a scrum master if I don't have any scrum master experience yet? It's so unfair that they all expect me to have experience." is fundamentally the wrong question to ask.
It is like asking “How can I rent a sailing yacht if I don't have any sailing experience yet? It's so unfair that they all expect me to have experience. How should I ever get the experience if they don’t let me try it out?” or maybe even "How do I get a job as a surgeon if I don't have any experience?"

There are many jobs for which you do need experience.

Let's look at what a master used to be:

In most areas (university excluded) you become a master after you've been an apprentice (usually for three years) and after completing your journeyperson’s time (in Germany usually also three years). After that, you have to pass an examination and deliver a so–called masterpiece.

In the agile realm people can become a “Master” (at least a Scrum Master) after a two-day training course.

The people who defined Scrum (around 1995) were part of the group that wrote the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, so it's safe to assume that they also co-created the first page that starts with "We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” If one believes that sentence, how much sense does it make to have people who don’t have any actual experience doing it train and coach other people in things they never experienced themselves?

If you look at the original idea of a Scrum Master you will find that the Scrum Master is –to pick just a few items– meant to

  • [be …] accountable for establishing Scrum
  • help[ing] everyone understand Scrum theory and practice, both within the Scrum Team and the organization.
  • enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework
  • [be] leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption
  • for more: see the current version of the scrum guide

All of these things are pretty hard to do if you only know them from theory. For similar reasons maritime law makes sure that even though the first journey of a skipper is their first journey as a skipper, it is by far not their first journey in an active role on a ship. In the same vein, new Scrum Masters really ought to have experienced the environment from numerous roles to fulfill the expectations laid out in the framework.

To quote one of the original books on Scrum by Ken Schwaber (Used to be required reading for getting the Scrum Master certification in the olden days):

The Team Leader, Project Leader, or Project Manager often assume the Scrum Master role. Scrum provides this person with a structure to effectively carry out Scrum’s new way of building systems. If it is likely that many impediments will have to be initially removed, this position may need to be filled by a senior manager or Scrum consultant. Schwaber2001, p. 32

On the other hand, especially that innocous “enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices” from the bullet-list above implies (according to most, but not all, certified scrum trainers (CSTs) I know) all the stuff from the technical side of agile as well.

So please, if we want to achieve the goals we had in the early 2000s, when “lightweight processes” –as they were called before 2001— became “Agile Software Development”, then let’s stop with dishing out the idea that the person who is intended to help people get better at the game, can learn what to do in a couple of days and “on the job.” Let’s be realistic and tell people that they should go through the path of apprentice and journeyperson themselves before they start acting in roles that are designed to be held by experienced people.

Because of all of this, in my opinion, the best answer to the original question “How do I find a job as a Scrum Master if I have no experience?” should have been “You shouldn't.” Amended with the suggestion of better questions to ask.

To me one better question would be: “How can I get the experience that is necessary to be an effective and useful scrum master?” (From my point of view, working as a developer, tester, subject matter expert or maybe even as an intern in an environment that actually has a working(!) Scrum setup are some good ways to get experience.)

In my experience, the (few) people who ask this latter question and try to get that experience usually don't have any problem with job offers – except that they might get too many. After they did get the experience…

till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

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