22 Scrum Master Anti-Patterns from Job Ads: From Funny to What the Heck?

TL; DR: Scrum Master Anti-Patterns from Job Ads

Job ads for Scrum Master positions reveal great insight into an organization’s progress on becoming agile. I analyzed more than 50 job ads for Scrum Master positions to gain these. Learn more about what makes job ads such a treasure trove with the following 22 Scrum Master anti-patterns derived from job ads.

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Analyzing a Job Advertisement for a Scrum Master Position

Probably, you are considering a position as a Scrum Master 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 people management department will create the job advertisement’s final text 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 promoting the wrong description to prospective candidates.

However, too often, advertisements may read like a copy and paste from positions that an organization’s people management department believes to be similar to that of a Scrum Master (for example, a project manager). Sometimes, the people management department copies from other Scrum Master job ads that they believe correctly reflect the organization’s requirements. 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 people management 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 people management department has not yet caught up with the new reality. Such an advertisement can help raise the topic and benefit during the job interview.

However, be aware 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 implies.

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Scrum Master Anti-Patterns from Job Ads in 22 Examples

Let’s have a look at some examples of Scrum Master anti-patterns from more than 50 job descriptions that should raise a red flag:

  1. 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?)
  2. 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-managing. Whether this is aligned with the company goals remains to be seen.)
  3. Technical PO: The Scrum Master is also supposed to act as a (technical) Product Owner. (There is a reason why Scrum knows three accountabilities and not just two. Avoid assuming more than one role at a time in a Scrum Team.)
  4. 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.)
  5. 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 hardly feasible.)
  6. Scrum scribe: The Scrum Master is supposed to do secretarial work (room bookings, facilitation of events, ordering office supplies). (Read More: Scrum Master Anti-Patterns: Beware of Becoming a Scrum Mom (or Scrum Pop).)
  7. Problem solver-in-chief: The Scrum Master removes all problems on behalf of the Scrum Team. (How is the Scrum Team supposed to become self-managing if the Scrum Master handles all obstacles? ‘Impediments’ are those issues that the Scrum Team cannot solve independently.)
  8. Team manager: The Scrum Master is responsible for team management. (If nothing else helps read the Scrum Guide: Is there anything said about team management by the Scrum Master?)
  9. 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.)
  10. Delivery scapegoat: The Scrum Master is expected to accept full responsibility for the delivery process. (That is the responsibility of the Scrum Team.)
  11. Proxy PO: The Scrum Master is expected to drive functional enhancements and continuous maintenance. (Maybe someone should talk to the Product Owner first?)
  12. Keeper of the archives: The Scrum Master is expected to maintain relevant documentation. (Nope, documentation is a team effort.)
  13. 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-managing teams is not one of the milestones to solve complex adaptive problems?)
  14. 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-managing teams.))
  15. 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.)
  16. Here, I am lost: The Scrum Master is expected to perform the role for “multiple flavors of agile methodologies”. (Multiple what?)
  17. 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.)
  18. 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. Finally, ‘correct estimates’ is an excellent example of an oxymoron.)
  19. Product discovery guru: 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 and the rest of the Scrum Team.)
  20. 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 sessions are ideal for this purpose.)
  21. Siloed in doing agile: There is no mention of the Scrum Master either coaching the organization, the stakeholders, or coaching the Product Owner.
  22. Lastly, my favorite Scrum Master anti-pattern from job ads 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.”

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Conclusion — Scrum Master Anti-Patterns from Job Ads

Imagine, 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 people management department might merely be misaligned with the Scrum Team in question as the organization is still in the early day of its agile transformation. That sounds like an attractive opportunity for me.

On the other hand, the organization might merely try to attract talented people by sugar-coating the otherwise command & control 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 or interview will bring clarity.

What other Scrum Master anti-patterns from job ads have you noticed? Please share your findings with us in the comments.

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Update 2018-12-15: The Replay of the Webinar on Scrum Master Anti-Patterns Is Available

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Note: If the browser will not start the video automatically, click here to watch the replay of the webinar Scrum Master anti-patterns directly on Youtube.

Related Posts

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Peer Recruiting: How to Hire a Scrum Master in Agile Times.

Scrum Master Anti-Patterns — 20 Signs Your Scrum Master Needs Help.

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Stefan Wolpers: Stefan—based in Berlin, Germany—has been working for 14-plus years as an agile coach, Scrum Master, and Product Owner. He is a Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) with Scrum.org. He has developed B2C as well as B2B software, for startups as well as corporations, including a former Google subsidiary. Stefan curates the ‘Food for Agile Thought’ newsletter and organizes the Agile Camp Berlin, a Barcamp for coaches and other agile practitioners.

View Comments (8)

  • I once met a consultant who told me the following: A customer asked him to create a job description for a Scrum Master. After half a day's work, he presented the result.
    The client turned it into: „What we are looking for: A Scrum Master.
    Your responsibilities: You know what to do."
    Now that's really cool!

  • I more andmore get the feeling that, especially in Germany,mostcompanies have no clue about Scrum and agility. Likeithas been stated inthe article, most job-ads are clones.

    Especially bizarre terms like "agile methodologies line Scrum, Jira & Confluence" (WTF?!?!) show, that Germany is far from being agile. They hang posters on the walls with the agile manifesto and other agile phrases, but they are not able to perform a simple daily.

    Germans also are devoted to the holy grail "a degree in economics". A Scrum Master and a Product Owner seem to need that, to survive. It's funny, thatin other countries tother skills are wanted.

    It will take a long time,before Germany has keptup with the rest of the world and untill they know about Scrum, agility and company culture. And they are overburdened, or at least the young HR girls, when someone is experienced and asks questions.

    I had a call with a guy who offers digitisation to companies, when he starts to talk about culture they tell him to stop about this kind of esoteric bullshit.

    Germany is quite funny country sometimes :)

  • I have been looking for work in scrum, so I have seen a lot of strange wording. The Project Manager/scrum master is so common, I barely notice it anymore. I think it results from the "making sausage" approach to getting a head count req through HR.
    Team: "I/We need a scrum master!"
    HR: "Got it, what other terms should I look for in a candidate?"
    Team: (Muttering) "Well, some might be working as Project Managers in other firms..."
    HR: (Scribbling) "Pro - Ject Man A Ger, OK, what else?"
    Team: "We really need someone Agile, though."
    HR: "AGILE Project Manager/scrum master, OK, it'll be up this afternoon."
    I also see lots of ads reflecting desired certification, CSM, and so on. The issue I have is that without a CSM, firms that run CVs through a terms database will drop mine out as "not meeting requirements." So, I am planning on getting a CSM just to get past that, and maybe I will learn something useful, too. Seems like a potential waste of several hundred to a thousand €, $, or £, though...

  • Many times people have a wrong idea about the job their applying for. This may be due to the incorrect description given by the HR or the job description may not have been rightly understood by the candidate. This article has clearly explained what are job descriptions future scrum aspirants must dismiss.

  • My favourite anti-pattern in job ads as well as interviews is:

    "Experience working in XYZ domain."

    Where XYZ could be retain, government, banking, etc. I actually do not completely disagree that it helps if all team members are familiar with the domain but making it a condition to hire a Scrum Master is just stupid.

  • I just read a job posting where the job title was given as "Project manager/Scrum master" which is a red flag in and of itself. The job description was completely a description of a project manager. The only way Scrum was mentioned in the description was where they said that one of the certifications they'd accept is a CSM.

  • My favorite anti-pattern is:
    “…working reliably on projects within a given time and budget frame whilst maintaining our quality standards.”

    This is DSDM rather than Scrum, where solution development is done to time, cost and quality with the scope being reduced if necessary to meet release schedules.

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