Some time ago, the Scrum Master Community at NewVoiceMedia played about a bit with some podcast ideas. It was more about learning how to do it, rather than actually setting up a regular podcast in any way.
I was reminded of this recently when I stumbled on the mini interview I had done with one of the NewVoiceMedia Scrum Masters, Will Jacobs. At the time Will was a part time Scrum Master, and Part time developer. Re-listening to the interview I was reminded just how interesting it was to me to compare the role of a full time Scrum Master with that of a part time one.
(If you are interested in what Will said in March, here it is. It is about 11 minutes long.)
And then I had a really great idea!
Will has now hung up his developer hat, and stepped up to be a full time Scrum Master. I could re-interview him!
In addition, there were several other Scrum Masters at NewVoiceMedia who had previously been part time Scrum Masters (either at NVM or at other companies). I could interview them too!
It’s taken a while to bring this cunning plan together, but here it is, a brief interview with some of the NewVoiceMedia Scrum Masters. I hope you enjoy it 🙂
Will Jacobs has been at NewVoiceMedia for several years. Initially a developer, for the last couple of years Will has been the part time Scrum Master for his team too. A few months ago he went the whole hog and became a full time Scrum Master for 2 teams.
Raji Bhamidipati has also been at NewVoiceMedia for several years. Most of that time she was a tester, and often spoke at testing conferences. A little over a year ago Raji decided that Scrum Mastery was her next big challenge, and transitioned to being a part-time Scrum Master for her team, and finally a full time Scrum Master. She has the additional challenge of being a permanently remote Scrum Master.
Martyn Frank has joined NewVoiceMedia in 2016 as a full time Scrum Master. Before this, he had been a developer, and later worked as a part time Scrum Master and developer at his last company. He has just picked up his second team at NewVoiceMedia.
These talented Scrum Masters kindly agreed to answer half a dozen questions for me, specifically for this blog.
You haven’t always been a scrum master, previously you’ve been a Developer or Tester.
What was it about being a scrum master that first made you think about it as a career?
As a tester, I had the experience of working with some not so great scrum masters and then some really good scrum masters. This stark difference in a scrum masters ability made me wonder why some found it hard. From then on, the more I thought about what it takes to be a Scrum Master, the more it felt like a calling. Having the support of my peers helped make the transition easy.
I was still fairly new to the agile process and wanted to learn more about it, and this seemed like a good way to do it! I also figured it would be a good way to meet some different people within the business, and would give me some insights into the hidden side of how “stuff” happened day-to-day. And of course, new is (usually) challenging, and challenging is (usually) good!
What have you found has been the hardest part of being a scrum master so far do you think?
Learning to get my job satisfaction in a different way. As a developer I got to move tickets across a board and see features released, satisfaction as a Scrum Master is much more subtle. I had to learn to believe that what I did made a significant difference.
As a member of a feature team it is easy to measure you work or performance. I find it extremely hard to do the same as a Scrum Master. How does a Scrum Master know that they have done a good job? I know, I know, the answer is to look at how the team are progressing. But personally, I find it hard not being able to know if I am doing a good job.
Getting to the idea that the currency of a scrum master is pure knowledge; and as a result, figuring out where to find the value and satisfaction in the work. It’s harder to put your finger on which actions you took to make a positive difference, since there’s no tangible “deliverable” for a scrum master.
I come from a place where I can see the direct result of creating and delivering features, so it’s a very different mindset. In one way, this is where the communication skills part of the job come in – the feedback you get (and seek) is how you find out whether you’re on the right course.
What has been the biggest surprise about being a scrum master? Was there something you now find yourself doing that you had never even imagined before you came into the role?
I find myself having important conversation with more senior roles . It is not the conversation itself that surprises me, but the fact they take what I say seriously.
The biggest surprise has been, and continues to be how I am changing as a person. For example, I now consider methods of convincing the other person well before I start the conversation.
There’s a variety of subjects that I found I needed to know about that would not have occurred to me – from communication skills, behavioural psychology, and conflict resolution, to large scale agile philosophies such as systems thinking. It’s not just about running retrospectives!
I know you have had some experience doing a dual role with your scrum mastery.
Do you think scrum mastery is better as a full time role, or is it ok to do another role in the team too – like a tester/scrum master or developer/scrum master?
I believe it depends, what is the experience of person with the dual role? what is the experience and maturity of the team around them? I can say without a doubt it has it’s challenges, repeatedly asking yourself if you are acting as a Scrum Master or Developer in conversations can get tiring. In the right circumstances with the right people I do believe that someone with a dual role can do as good a job as a full time Scrum Master.
My experience of being in a dual role has led me to believe that being a scrum master is better as a full time role. Merger of different roles and responsibilities is never a good thing. I felt that I was not able to do justice to either of my roles. This frustrated me and resulted in not being a happy person.
For me, there are definitely drawbacks, but if you can find a balance, it can certainly work. I found it difficult to balance the two roles within a single team, and to decide which “hat” I should wear in any given situation. Whether it’s better to be a full-time scrum master depends a lot on the context; but I think it’s fair to say that a pure scrum master would be able to work at a level that transcends individual teams, whereas a Johnny Two Hats like me will likely find different (better?) ways to improve the team they’re on, as they’re fully engaged in the process that team uses.
Scrum Master is not a great title – even if you ARE doing scrum (which at NVM we aren’t). What would be your preferred name for what you do?
I agree it is a terrible name. Agile Lead better describes the role. This has a natural transition to Agile Coach with more skill and experience.
I agree, I always felt that Scrum Master was a stupid title. I would personally like to be called ‘The Agile Yogini’ 🙂
I’ve been called a few names that are about as relevant as “scrum master”!
The problem is that it’s so difficult to nail down all the things that the job entails, so “scrum master” is as descriptive as any other pair of words really! Hmm… Agile evangelist? Emperor of the process? Team shepherd? Improvement catalyst?
For me, what the job boils down to is being the grease between the cogs of the various systems you’re working in (be they at the team, community, department or enterprise level), and ensuring that things keep running smoothly; however, “agile grease-monkey” isn’t the most desirable job title!
What one question do you wish I’d asked here, but didn’t?
And….What would you have said if I had?
I wish you’d asked: What were the benefits of being in a dual role?
Hmm, can’t think of any!
Well – as I mentioned, it’s difficult to describe what the job is, especially to someone unfamiliar with agile – so what about this: “How would you describe what you do using the ten hundred most common words?”
The answer would be something like this: “I help teams find ways to go faster, do more in less time, learn new things all the time, and be more amazing!”
How would you have answered those questions? Were there any surprise answers?