Hackathon Book – Complete First Chapter

3 minutes

Be A Scrum Master

A couple of weeks ago myself and 5 of my colleagues thought we’d attempt the biggest and boldest non-tech hackathon in the history of NewVoiceMedia.

We decided to write a book and publish it.

This is the first chapter, and its not a coincidence that this is one of the chapters I wrote 🙂 .

I hope you like it.

If so, there’s a link to download the entire book for free at the bottom of the post.


What To Tell Your Mum You Do For A Living

We’ve all been there. Your family all get together and after a couple of drinks someone looks across the top of their 3rd glass of wine and asks: So what exactly IS it that you do? What do you say?

This question is even tougher to answer if your family don’t work in I.T. as they have no starting point on which you can build out their knowledge.

Why is this question even important?

Sooner or later you will need an answer for a manager or senior executive who has never come across agile before. Or perhaps, worse than that, they may have an inaccurate view of what agile working is all about. You will have around 2-3 minutes to make your case well.

You will need to be clear and succinct. You will need to take someone from zero understanding, to a reasonable starting place. In 2 minutes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may we remind you of ‘The Elevator Pitch’

The idea of an elevator pitch is common in the sales and marketing worlds, and the concept is exactly what we need here. Can you, in 2-3 minutes, convey the essence of what a Scrum Master is or does to someone who has never heard of one before? One approach is to practice trying to convey this idea clearly to your mum*.

If you can help her, as a lay-person, to understand, the same pitch will probably work for a CEO.

We need to start from the beginning. What we need is an every day analogy. It worth saying that there is no single correct answer.

It is also worth saying that there are some things we really want to avoid saying. Lets start with a couple of those.

For instance, you may have heard people describe being a Scrum Master is a bit like being a parent. This is frankly rude and condescending. You are working with super-intelligent and skilled software engineers, testers and product owners. They are not equivalent to little children.

You are also best to avoid comparing a Scrum Master to a project manager. In any way at all. No. Just don’t even start with that one.

If you start at a place the Executive already recognises, such as a Project Manager, they will not hear any of the qualifiers with which you follow it. You have pointed them at a schema, a mental model, that they recognise, and they will stick with it. Sadly, your pitch is finished and you missed your chance.

So what could we say instead? Whatever you say needs to be in your own words, so don’t skip ahead here looking for the bit you just need to memorise. Instead, here are some ideas you might like to think about and weave into your own elevator pitch.


Scrum Masters:

  • Help each member of the team to be the best version of themselves.
  • Help each team member contribute their best version of themselves and their skills, along with the other team members, to work in harmony.
  • The Scrum Master here is the oil in these gears – of no real use alone, but invaluable in keeping the machine healthy and running smoothly.
  • Are the agile expert for the team.
  • Coach the team in process, practices and anything else they can help with.
  • Spot waste within the current processes.
  • Shine lights into the darker corners where others are keen not to look too carefully.
  • Help people to do the ‘right’ thing rather than blindly follow a process.
  • Maximise the time a team member spends doing what they love, and less thinking about how they should be doing it.
  • Help the team to build great habits, both as individuals and together as a team.

What our ‘mums’ really said

Whilst writing this chapter we had a chat about what our own families thought we did. Here are some quotes** from the families of the Scrum Masters who contributed to this book:  

Similar to a project manager, but more hippy.

When quietly asked by my dad if she knew what a Scrum Master actually did, my mum replied “well, you can google it, but you’ll be none the wiser”.

You talk to people and help them do their best work. (10 year old)

Listen patiently to the team and delegate as appropriate.

You all just stand around talking to each other about post its, drinking coffee, wearing check shirts and converse.

And finally…..

A project Team Lead?

[Doing what?]

Put together time lines and give them to other people to finish on time.

[No, but I sometimes help people predict what might be finished by a particular date, and ask them to find the most most useful parts to do first]

Like a pre sales engineer, manage people’s expectations?

[Mmm, someone else is managing expectations. The actual job title is Scrum Master]

What’s that? Some kind of Jedi?

*other family members are available and can be substituted

**There was a common theme amongst our family members – many refused to even try and understand it, instead finding all attempts to explain, utterly hilarious. That’s families for you!

If you enjoyed this chapter and would like to read the rest, you can download it free here.