Grow a pair

By Mentoring
2 white egg on persons feet

At a recent SUGSA open space in Johannesburg someone posed the question “where do I find Scrum Masters?”. I hear this question asked repeatedly in different forms by people trying to transition to lean-agile ways of working. I believe such questions are born out of the historic machine model we have of organisations, that people are fungible resources. At least in the world of knowledge workers this is both untrue and damaging.

Moreover, if everyone in a rapidly growing number of companies adopting Scrum, chases after the same pool of experienced Scrum Masters, we are not addressing the need. We are just recycling the same group of experienced people and not growing capacity. Let’s examine the capacity requirement a little more. If you’re starting out with Scrum, for every 10 or so development team members (the people who actually do the work) you need one Scrum Master (aka team coach). I’ll save the sermon here on why you need a Scrum Master per one or two teams. You can read Michael James’ Scrum Master Checklist to learn more about that.

My simple response to the original question is “grow a pair!” I’m not being rude here. I mean that to get the Scrum Masters you want and need, the best way is to invest in growing your own people. In all but the smallest of organisations, you will need two or more of these people. And I have found that Scrum Masters thrive in groups. Which is one of the reasons I helped to found SUGSA in 2008.

Another reason you should seriously consider developing your own Scrum Masters is this. A Scrum Master manages via influence, not authority. This requires accumulating a positive balance in your “political capital” bank account. A newly hired Scrum Master, even if experienced in Scrum, begins with zero political capital in your organisation. On the other hand a savvy employee who has been with you a few years knows the lie of the land and who can help her get things done.

Growing your own Scrum Masters is both simple and hard, just like Scrum itself! It’s simple in that you just need to ask the question of your own people: “who thinks they would like to try being a Scrum Master?” Of course it will help if those you ask have had some exposure to Scrum. Preferably Scrum used well. And then you need to give them the opportunity to learn. And that can be harder. Becoming agile (as opposed to “doing Scrum”) is hard. It’s a journey. And an apprentice Scrum Master needs a “master” Scrum Master to mentor her on this journey. That’s where the term “journeyman” comes from after all!

Better still, your apprentice Scrum Master can be supported on her journey in multiple ways. These might include:

  • formal training to gain explicit knowledge
  • practice within Scrum teams to grow tacit knowledge
  • mentoring by a “master” Scrum Master
  • coaching to help them unlock their potential
  • peer support via mentors, conferences and user groups.

I’ve been experimenting with ways to help grow Scrum Masters (and agile coaches) since 2010. Most recently I’ve been talking with some of my clients about an approach to selecting potential agile team coaches and growing them through a formalised mentorship programme. This includes identifying people with potential, yet who have lacked opportunity thus far. If this interests you, please drop me a line and join the conversation.