Scrum Master job descriptions

By | August 17, 2017

As a Scrum Master, it’s never easy to know what a job is really going to be like before you start, but we’ve been looking out for what we think are bad smells in job offers. Please feel free to tell us your own in the comments.


Job title of “Agile Project Manager”

What they really mean: “Project Manager”

This always makes me think that the firm has just added “Agile” to what they are really looking for.


“Working with the technical department …” or “Working with digital teams …”

What they really mean: “The team (and other teams around it) will be stuck between other teams that are fixed in a waterfall mindset …”

Defining the role as just working on tech (or digital or web) products, especially when these areas are core to the business (e.g. a retailer that sells 100% online) is a worry; surely the whole business is tech?


“Can show experience in delivering projects on time and within budget”

What they really mean: “We want an estimate to be provided before projects begin, and we will be very disappointed if you go over the money and time agreed at this point. We are probably also not willing to negotiate on scope either.”

Nobody wants to spend more or take longer than necessary. The Agile Manifesto is littered with encouragement for regular releases so that we benefit from early monetisation of the product, so why are they saying this? It’s normally a control issue.


Frequent mentions of “planning”, “risk management and mitigation”, “reporting to senior stakeholders”, etc.

What they really mean: “We have no idea how to plan a project any other way than waterfall, so you can use whatever Agile thingymajiggy you want, but you will still need to give us the wealth of reports that we are used to.”

We expect some reporting, but if this is repeated in different forms, it might be a clue that something is amiss.


Repeated mention of “resource planning”

What they really mean: “We need you to micro-manage the team and make sure they are 100% utilised at all time. We don’t value knowledge growth or learning.”

They may well want micro-management and will probably ask for time-sheets (even when not an agency working on a time-and-material basis). Extra smelly when they talk about “line management of the team” too.


Requests specific Scrum-based certification as essential

What they really mean: “We don’t have anyone in the organisation who knows anything about Agile or Scrum so won’t be able to establish your knowledge and experience in an interview. You can probably walk the interview by reading the Agile Manifesto on your way in.”

A recent review of dozens of jobs on Linkedin revealed about 50% still ask for “a candidate to be CSM or equivalent”. It’s lazy recruitment and is often resorted to when they have no way of establishing if a candidate actually knows anything about Agile. This smell is even worse if they also mention Prince2 as beneficial.


“Responsible for delivery”

What they really mean: “Our senior management don’t like how Agile approaches mean that they are equally culpable for delivery, so we will make you solely accountable for it, and will shout at you if it goes wrong.”

No, the team as a whole is responsible for delivery (including the Product Owner).


A desire for the Scrum Master AND the Product Owner

What they really mean: “We think we understand what the ‘Delivery Team’ does because that’s the devs, et al, but we don’t really understand these two fancy titles of Scrum Master and Product Owner, so we would like you to do both. It’ll also save us money.”

We don’t believe a Scrum Master and Product Owner should be the same person. There is potential for a conflict of interest. One of the duties of the ScrumMaster is to protect the team from over-committing to an over-eager Product Owner. If one person is performing both roles, we’ve got a problem.


“Expected to work with multiple teams”

What they really mean: “We don’t think a Scrum Master really does much and our budget is tight so don’t ever expect more money”

We frequently get asked by attendees on our courses about how many teams a ‘good’ Scrum Master can work with. Our preference is a 1:1 ratio but have seen Scrumc Masters cope with two teams simultaneously. It’s hard to be in two places at once though, so it is sub-optimal. I would never recommend a Scrum Master work with three or more teams simultaneously.


“You can be based in our London office … or you can work remotely from anywhere in the UK”

What they really mean: “We don’t really understand what a Scrum Master does but we reckon you can manage the team and provide the reports we want from anywhere.”

Unless the team is distributed, I’m not convinced they understand what a Scrum Master does (this is a contentious point and one that often opens up much discussion; but it’s my view)


“Is good at removing impediments”

What they really mean: “The team is used to being molly-coddled so will expect you to run around after them whenever they have a problem.” or “The organisation has so many problems (that it isn’t really prepared to compromise on), so the team is both over-whelmed by issues and has its hands tied behind its back in terms of delivery.”

Servant without the leadership! The Scrum Master isn’t the team’s slave so shouldn’t be solely responsible for removing impediments. Over-stressing the need to be able to remove impediments should make you ask whether there are so many impediments in the team’s way that they’ll never be able to work in an agile way


“Manages JIRA [or other ALM]”

What they really mean: “The team expects you to be their servant and has no discipline of documenting their own work.”

Again, the Scrum Master isn’t there as a crutch for the team to rely on. The team should be updating their progress as they go along.


 

Of course the above is a bit tongue-in-cheek. There may be perfectly acceptable reasons for the strange requirements you read in a job description. All we are suggesting is that you question what they mean before you start the job.

One last thought. What about the title of Scrum Master in general? Why not an agnostic version? Although I don’t like ‘Delivery Manager’ as an alternative, Scrum Master could imply that they are dogmatic about their approach and won’t consider any alternative approaches.

 

Image courtesy of Mark Bennett / freeimages.com

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