The other week, we reported on LinkedIn's list of the hottest jobs of 2017. Interestingly, number 10 on the top 20 list was that of "scrum master." The average annual salary is $100,000, and the number of jobs for this category is expected to double over the coming year.
So what is a scrum master, why do companies need this skill so badly, and what does it take to develop an appropriate set of skills to get there?
The LinkedIn listing assigns the need for expertise in roles including, of course, scrum, as well as Agile methodologies, Agile project management, software development, and software project management. TechTarget defines the position as such:
"A scrum master is the facilitator for an agile development team. Scrum is a methodology that allows a team to self-organize and make changes quickly, in accordance with agile principles. The scrum master manages the process for how information is exchanged."
The term is borrowed from the rugby world, in which a "scrum" is a huddle between team members before a play. Essentially, a scrum master gathers IT and business team members on a regular basis to review what's been accomplished and what still needs to be done. In an era in which software is constantly being updated and flying out the door, the ability to keep everyone connected and communicating, face to face if possible, is critical. A breakdown in communications leads to a breakdown in software. And a breakdown in software leads to a breakdown of the business.
While it would seem that scrum master could be an informal, part-time role that either IT or business managers who step up as needed to help keep things on track, it also becoming a job title in its own right. Not only that, while the formal definition suggests more of an advisory or evangelist role, a perusal of posted job descriptions suggests direct responsibility for keeping the software development and release process on track.
Here are some snippets of scrum master job descriptions culled from LinkedIn's job placement directory:
- Energy supplies firm: "The scrum master will facilitate, coach and lead scrum teams within the engineering organization. In this role, you will bring disclosure and transparency to the business while growing business trust. This position involves strong leadership skills with the ability to encourage collaboration. A deep understanding Agile methodologies, ability to improve transparency, and a desire to drive maximum efficiency of scrum teams is required."
- State government: "Manage the activities of the scrum team, leverage Agile principles, and actively direct the development processes as needed. Document and hold the team accountable to the development policies, procedures, processes, and metrics that reflect best development practices and information technology department business objectives. Be accountable for the development processes to ensure business readiness of the application and its quality at its release. Ensure timely, accurate, and clear communication is provided to the appropriate stakeholders. Deliver software releases on time and that meet the quality standards."
- Marketing firm: "Facilitate the development of the company's core product. Responsible for guidance to the team around creating and maintaining backlogs, managing artifacts, as well as facilitating the sprint planning meetings, daily scrum meetings, and sprint review meetings. Instruct teams on how to develop detailed planning and budgeting, release plan creation and execution, issue management and resolution, project controls according to statement of work, status reporting and hands-on team guidance to ensure completion of projects on schedule and within budget and scope."
- Financial services firm: "Responsible for both facilitating team to be Agile and making scrum work, removing impediments from team while promoting self-management, and constantly improving our standards, quality, and productivity. Nurture effective collaboration and provide facilitation, leadership, and coaching skills supporting the teams developing our software products."
In a recent white paper, Barry Overeem, Agile coach and professional scrum trainer at Scrum.org, explored the qualities that a great scrum master should embody, including the following:
- Involves the team with setting up the process.
- Understands principles are more important than practices.
- Recognizes and acts on team conflict.
- Dares to be disruptive.
- Is aware of the "smell" of the place (corporate culture).
- Lets his/her team fail (occasionally).
- Encourages ownership.
- Has faith in self-organization.
- Shares experiences.
- Can coach professionally.
- Has influence at the organizational level.
- Not only resolves, but prevents impediments.
- Forms a great duo with the product owner.
- Understands there's more than just scrum. (XP, Kanban, Lean, more)