TL;DR—Scrum Master Anti-Patterns from Job Ads
Job ads for scrum master or agile coach positions reveal great insight into an organization’s progress on becoming agile. To gain these, I analyzed more than 50 job ads for scrum master or agile coach positions. Learn more about what makes job ads such a treasure trove with the following 22 scrum master anti-patterns.
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Update 2018-12-15: The Replay of the Webinar on Scrum Master Anti-Patterns Is Available
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Analyzing a Job Advertisement for a Scrum Master or Agile Coach position
Probably, you are considering a position as a scrum master or agile coach in a particular organization. I suggest that before going all in (the application process), you should consider analyzing the job description for scrum master anti-patterns first.
How Large Organizations Create Job Ads
Usually, the organization’s HR department will create the final text of the job advertisement and post it to the chosen job sites. Hopefully, and depending on their process and level of collaboration (and agile mindset) in the organization, the team for which the new position was advertised may have participated in creating the job ad. This certainly avoids advertising the wrong description to prospective candidates.
Too often, however, advertisements may read like a copy and paste from positions that an organization’s HR believes to be similar to that of a scrum master (for example, a project manager). Or, sometimes, the HR department copies from other scrum master job ad which they believe correctly reflect the requirements of the organization. So, don’t be too surprised to see a job advertisement that reads like a list of scrum master anti-patterns.
Red Flags: A Sign of Cargo Cult Agile or just on Organization at the Beginning of the Agile Transition?
This is often the case when an organization’s HR does not have a lot of experience in hiring agile practitioners because they are in the early stages of the agile transition. Therefore, an unusual job description does not imply that the organization is not trying to become agile, it may just mean that the HR department has not yet caught up with the new requirements. Such an advertisement can actually help raise the topic and be of benefit during the job interview.
Be aware, however, that if an organization that claims to be agile is using this kind of advertisement despite being well underway on its agile transition, it then raises a red flag: miscommunication in the hiring process may indicate deeper issues or problems at the organizational level. It could be as critical as someone at the management level, to whom the new scrum master would likely report, having no clue what becoming agile is all about.
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Scrum Master Anti-Patterns from Job Ads in 22 Examples
As mentioned previously, here are some examples of scrum master advertisement anti-patterns (from more than 50 actual job descriptions) that should raise a red flag:
- Ersatz PM: The scrum master position is labeled as “Project manager/Scrum master”, “Agile Project Manager”, or “Agile scrum master”. (Are there un-agile scrum masters mentioned in the Scrum Guide?)
- The whip: The scrum master is expected to communicate the company priorities and goals. (Product backlog-wise priorities are the job of the product owner. Scrum-wise it is a good idea that the scrum master spreads scrum values and, for example, coaches the scrum team to become self-organizing. Whether this is aligned with the company goals remains to be seen.)
- Technical PO: The scrum master is also supposed to act as a (technical) product owner. (There is a reason why scrum knows three roles and not just two. Avoid assuming more than one role at a time in a scrum team.)
- Outcome messenger: The scrum master reports to stakeholders the output of the scrum team (velocity, burndown charts). (Velocity—my favorite agile vanity metric.) (Read More: Agile Metrics — The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.)
- SuperSM: The scrum master is supposed to handle more than one or two teams simultaneously. (Handling two scrum teams is already challenging, any number beyond that is not feasible.)
- Scrum secretary: The scrum master is supposed to do secretarial work (room bookings, facilitation of ceremonies, ordering office supplies). (Read More: Scrum Master Anti-Patterns: Beware of Becoming a Scrum Mom (or Scrum Pop).)
- Scrum mom: The scrum master is removing impediments on behalf of the team. (How is the scrum team supposed to become self-organizing if the scrum master handles all obstacles?).
- Team manager: The scrum master is responsible for team management. (If nothing else helps read the manual Scrum Guide: Is there anything said about team management by the scrum master?)
- Delivery manager: The scrum master is responsible for the “overall delivery of the committed sprint”. (I assume the organization does not understand scrum principles very well. The forecast and the sprint goal seem to be particularly challenging.)
- CSM®, CSP® & CST®: CSM or equivalent certification is listed as mandatory. (A typical save-my-butt approach to hiring. A CSM certification only signals that someone participated in a workshop and passed a multi-choice test.)
- Delivery scapegoat: The scrum master is expected to accept full responsibility of the delivery process. (That is rather the responsibility of the scrum team.)
- Proxy PO: The scrum master is expected to drive functional enhancements and continuous maintenance. (Maybe someone should talk to the product owner first?)
- Keeper of the archives: The scrum master is expected to maintain relevant documentation. (Nope, documentation is a team effort.)
- The PM Reloaded: The scrum master organizes the scrum team’s work instead of the project manager. (Why use scrum in the first place if creating self-organizing teams is not the goal?)
- Risk detector: The scrum master is expected to monitor progress, risks, resources, and countermeasures in projects. (The scrum master is neither a project manager nor a risk mitigator. (Risk mitigation is a side-effect of becoming a learning organization built around self-organizing teams.))
- Scrum minion: The scrum master is expected to prepare steering team and core team meetings. (The last time I checked the Scrum Guide there was no ‘steering team‘ mentioned.)
- WTF? The scrum master is expected to perform the role for “multiple flavors of agile methodologies”. (Multiple what?)
- Psychic: The scrum master is expected to participate in “project plan review and provide input to ensure accuracy”. (The scrum master is neither a project manager nor capable of predicting the future any better than another human being.)
- Bean counter: The scrum master is expected to “review and validate estimates for complex projects to ensure correct sizing of work”. (Well, reviewing estimates might be the job of the scrum team during the product backlog refinement process if they see value in that. However, there is no review by the scrum master.)
- Discoverer: The scrum master is expected to provide “design thinking sessions”. (I love covering the product discovery process, too. However, this should be a joint effort with the product owner sand the rest of the team.)
- Techie: The scrum master is expected to “walk the product owner through more technical user stories”. (Nope, that is the job of the developers. The product backlog refinement meetings are ideal for this purpose.)
- Siloed in doing agile: There is no mention of the scrum master either coaching the organization, or coaching the product owner.
My favorite anti-pattern is:
“…working reliably on projects within a given time and budget frame whilst maintaining our quality standards.”
In other words: “Actually, we’re happy with our waterfall approach but the C-level wants us to be agile.”
Let’s close this section with an exemplary job advertisement, posted by Zalando in 2016 for a (senior) agile coach position: (Senior) Agile Coach.
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Conclusion—Scrum Master Anti-Patterns from Job Ads
The job ad of the organization of your interest is a best-of of scrum master anti-patterns. Should you in this case immediately drop your interest in becoming a member of that organization? I don’t think so. An extensive list of red flags can be beneficial, too.
For example, the HR department might merely be misaligned with the scrum team in question as the organization is still in the early day of its agile transition. That sounds like an attractive opportunity to me.
On the other hand, the organization might just try to attract talented people by sugar-coating its otherwise command & control like management style with some glitzy agile wording. Continuing the application process under these conditions might indeed be a waste of your time. A short phone call/interview will bring clarity.
What other scrum master anti-patterns from job ads have you noticed? Please share with me in the comments.