Scrum Masters: Where Did We Go Wrong?

What happened to Scrum Mastery?

In 2023, I reviewed hundreds of resumes and interviewed dozens of candidates for three open Scrum Masters positions at two clients. Given the state of the economy in 2023, you would expect the task of selecting Scrum Masters to fill the vacancies to be relatively easy. That was my assumption; it didn’t work well, like many other assumptions.

Part One–The Resume Flood

First, we were “flooded” with resumes. You would think 100 was a lot; several hundred was more like it. An LLM proved very useful for the initial filtering. Before you ask, I didn’t use one of the public ones; this was hosted locally. Names were replaced with an ID, and no info went to who knows where. I am a firm believer in privacy! You may have noticed no trackers if you have visited my website.

Speaking of resumes:

Tip #1 A 9pt font with a ton of stuff crammed into one page won’t help you.

Tip #2 What helps you, and me when reviewing resumes, is concrete, believable, and verifiable data on how you helped improve your teams or teams. Saying that you improved without figures or substance won’t work.

Tip #3 Using the word servant leader 27 times won’t get you any “extra points.” The same applies to saying you are a great listener. Hint: this is not a dating site. 

Summarizing: Unless you can clearly articulate why you are a good Scrum Master and the value you bring to the organization, you won’t get through the first filter. Buzzwords and a ton of certifications have no value. The same applies to listing tools. Tools don’t make you or the organization Agile; they make tool vendors a ton of money.

Part Two–Interview Nightmares

From hundreds of resumes to dozens of interviews, it didn’t start promising or get much better. It went down hill, but I promised my friend Beth not to be too harsh with words so she would not have to change too much before publishing. 

Here are some “jewels” from the interviews: 

- I asked a candidate: “You are the Scrum Master for a team, and the Product Owner refuses to acknowledge defects and other quality issues, only concentrating on creating new features. What do you do? ”I won’t forget the answer, ever. 
- “As a servant leader, I use my emotional intelligence to speak to the Product Owner about it.”
When I asked to be more specific and dig deeper, the person sounded like a broken record (you know, those vinyl things that are back in use). 

I am hiring people to be Scrum Masters; I am looking for someone to help solve problems and improve the process so that a team can be more productive and not frustrated with, in my example, the attitude of the Product Owner.

It would have been simple to say, “I haven’t had to deal with that before, but I would try...”. Propose solutions and try them out; some will work, and some will not. Either way, you learn. I am not looking for buzzwords and empty sentences. I am not looking for people who reflect the questions to me.

I am looking for someone who can come and help the organization become more effective. Teams are happy when the process to get stuff done doesn’t suck! A vital part of the ScrumMaster accountabilities is to do precisely that. I don’t want things to suck unless we make vacuum cleaners.

Team happiness is not having games and other stuff that just numb people for an hour or so and then back to reality.

Servant leadership is about having your people’s back, helping them out any way you can, not setting up meetings, and sitting there like a potted plant with the excuse of listening and being a servant leader while everything is falling apart!

Tip #4 It is OK to say I don’t know or I haven’t seen/done that before. It shows me that you are not a BS-spreading machine; not everybody knows everything. Propose some ideas on attacking a problem that doesn’t involve the empty use of buzzwords.

Tip #5 Do not try to BS the person interviewing you unless you think they are more clueless than you are.

Summarizing: I am looking for the value you bring to the organization. I am hiring someone active, interested, and willing to help people and processes improve.

Part Three - A Call to Clean Up

I just heard that the success of Agile and Scrum brought a bunch of carpetbaggers into it. I never thought about it this way, but it got me thinking… 

When did we get “lost” into what the role of the Scrum Master is? 

Was it the wanna-be psychologists that somehow got into the business? See reference to carpet baggers.  

Was it the certification mills, with their poor quality and standards and the hope that someone would become an expert after 14 hours of content? 

When did we forget about process efficiency, people’s need for purpose, and profitability? Did we replace it with empty references to servant leadership and forget the leadership part of it?  

When did we start to accept a bunch of theoreticians, “crazies,” and others and forget common sense? 

Did we forget to inspect and adapt? When did people who can’t even explain waste get into this business and turn it into a joke that affects our credibility as serious practitioners? 

Many organizations are catching up with the empty buzzwords and the BS.  

Something is wrong when you review hundreds of resumes, conduct dozens of interviews, and can only find two candidates to fill three open positions. 

It is time to clean up the house before all credibility is lost. Perhaps the tough job market will do what we failed so miserably to do. 

We are here to help businesses and teams succeed, not to chase after pies in the sky—those tend to fall in your face! 

Luiz Q Quintela May 21, 2024
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