5 Essentials for a Newbie Scrum Master

4 minutes

My recent posts have all been on fairly deep behavioural themes so I thought it might be time to break it up a bit.  I have worked with several people in my career that I would class as ‘newbie’ scrum masters.  I still coach newbies at work and privately too, and as I always give them the following 5 pieces of advice, I thought I’d share.

So whether you

  • have  Scrum Master Certification* but limited experience,
  • you’re changing roles from agile team member to Scrum Master,
  • or you’ve read a book and think it looks fun,

this post is for you in your first steps of Scrum Mastery.

I should add that the mechanics of agile working aren’t really complicated; read a couple of books, live the work environment for a few months, you’ll get the broad picture.  Whenever we recruit for Scrum Masters, we find lots of people at this level of experience.

Newbie Scrum Masters' Road to AmazingHowever, getting good at being a scrum master is a whole other kettle of fish.  Getting to be an awesome scrum master is a lifetime’s work, and suffers from the same Dunning Kruger effect as every other specialism. Once you are good, you will just be much more painfully aware of what you don’t yet know – I know!  Sucks, right? (On the upside, you will know what the Dunning Kruger effect is with out looking it up, AND you’ll know why its important).

So, here is my advice to 5 things you should do as a newbie scrum master.

1)  Keep a (work) Journal.

What you don’t know now, you will learn really fast.

Once you learn it, your brain will trick you into thinking you always knew it, and it was never difficult.

By keeping a journal you can revisit how you learned things.  This will be great in 5 years time when you are super-awesome and are trying to coach another newbie scrum master.  Before that however, you should review your journal after 3 months, 6 months and a year.  Keep contributing to it for as long as you possibly can maintain the habit.  It will be a source of blog post material, and personal insights for many, many years.  Eventually it will help you be an awesome coach.  I didn’t do this, and really, really wish I had.

2)  Gatecrash everything you can.

If you are working with other scrum masters ask to join their standups, planning sessions, show and tells and even retrospectives (if they and their team are ok with that).  Do nothing in these sessions but watch the people and how they interact.  Ignore the detail about the work – you will never learn anything useful in that area as an occasional observer.   But non-verbal behaviour of the team, and the ‘performance’ of the scrum master: well, you can’t buy this stuff, seriously.

3)  Volunteer.  For everything.

Other Teams Aren’t Scary, Just Unfamiliar

Is the Scrum Master in another team off sick, on holiday….otherwise elsewhere?  Volunteer to facilitate their session(s) for them.

Ignore ALL feelings of fear and self doubt.

Do not listen to your inner dialogue telling you that you aren’t quite ready yet.

Just volunteer before you have time to think about it.  The experience of facilitating will be invaluable to you, and I have never yet found a team in this situation anything but hugely supportive of the Newbie Scrum Master.

If you want to maximise your learning (and why wouldn’t you), ask for feedback after the session.  By ‘ask for feedback’ I mean literally go around to each individual after the session and ask them what you did well, and what could you have done better.  Again, it’s probably best not think about what they say yet, self doubt will eat you up so just write it down and read later.  Do try and write the exact words down, don’t paraphrase for them.  Your own bias will creep in, and believe me, it is rarely your friend.

This volunteering idea has the added benefit of making you very popular with other scrum masters too, by the way – helping them out when they need it.

4)  Actively Learn.

Ask for a recommended reading list from other scrum masters, or your line manager.  If they don’t have one, use mine, or find one of the many other agilists online.  If you are lucky, your company will give you a list of resources that includes podcasts, youtubes, blogs to follow as well as books to read.  If you aren’t lucky like that, here are some.

Join twitter and subscribe to some lists of agilists other people have collated.  Join LinkedIn and join some of the agile groups, and read the submissions. (Caveat: Do NOT believe everything you read!)

Now look, you have started making your own list.  Congratulations!   I told you you were going to be awesome!  Remember everything that you do now, the next newbie Scrum Master will also need.  Build your lists, and be ready for when they ask you for these things – they will.

5)  Go easy on yourself. 

Settle down and seek knowledge
Remember your Journal!

If you think this sounds like a cop-out, you are wrong.  Everyone who hires a newbie scrum master (certified or otherwise) knows that at best, you know the theory.  Imagine, after reading a book on how to drive a car (and taking your theory test), actually trying to drive a car.  Scrum Mastery is essentially the same thing. Only its more complicated as it’s with people not machines.  As with driving a car, it requires practice, practice, practice.

Keep your Journal, and try and reflect on your own performance fairly and honestly each day, or at least each week.  Remember to keep a note of all feedback that you are given there too…even the good stuff 😉   (I see you smirk – the good stuff ‘counts’ too you know!)

Continuous improvement is very importantly not just about looking at what went wrong and trying to be better next time.  It is also about examining what went well in so that it can be consistently reproduced.  You will improve much faster looking at the things you do well, so that you can find out how to repeat such greatness.

That’s it.  Good luck, and I know you’re going to be great!


*Personally, when I am recruiting, I have little or no preference for whether the interviewee has Scrum Master certification, or with whom they studied.  I am intensely interested in the way that they think.

2 thoughts on “5 Essentials for a Newbie Scrum Master”

  1. Hi Helen,

    This has given me hope. I recently completed my Busibess Analysis certificate and felt getting the SCRUM Master certification would be an excellent addition because I find agile extremely appealing. I also observe my husband when he works at home and notice he employs SCRUM with his clients as well. That makes me want to get into agile even more.

    I am unemployed at the moment and landing an interview has been extremely difficult. I’m not sure why though. I moved to the States for better opportunities. I have a masters in international business and the bulk of my training and experience is in investment banking. I’ve always had a passion for IT but I was always told stick to business because that’s what I’m good at. I’ve never been given the chance until I moved to the States and thought, maybe now is the time to pursue that dream. I completed my BA certificate and now I want to immerse myself into SCRUM. Could you please give me your honest opinion on the recommended career path for me. When I ask for advice all I get is keep applying to jobs, nothing valuable in my opinion.

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