Knock Knock…Can you make me a Scrum Master?

One fine day, my co-worker asked me a question — Can you make me a Scrum Master?


Vikas Agarwal

3 years ago | 8 min read

One fine day, my co-worker asked me a question — Can you make me a Scrum Master?

He had five years of working experience. I knew him for the last six months as a QA engineer. Before being a QA engineer, he was a functional analyst.

For a moment, I thought of having a career conversation with him. He, himself, might be capable of becoming one. He might have all the required traits. He might already know the rules of the game. The next second, I thought of asking —

Why does he want to be a Scrum Master? Why leave QA? Where does he want to see himself in the next three years, five years? What motivates him the most?

But then I hesitated and asked myself —Can I make him a Scrum Master?

  • If I have to hire a Scrum Master, whom should I hire?What should I be looking for in that person?
  • Should I be looking for a person already experienced as Scrum Master?
  • Will I be able to train an amateur to be a Scrum Master?
  • Should I ask him to read the Scrum Guide, get a certificate, and start his journey as a Scrum Master?
  • Should I create a job position and name it, “Scrum Master trainee”? But, as a trainee, will he be able to uphold the value of Scrum?
  • Or is there more than this? Is Scrum Mastery an acquired skill? Or is it something that you just read about it and put in place? Or both?

I decided to reread the Scrum Guide!

The Scrum Guide mentioned “Scrum Master” 35 times, including the table of contents. Let me call the role ‘SM’ from now on.

Let me go through a few relevant statements from the Scrum Guide to seek answers to whether I can make him a SM or not.

Promoting and Supporting Scrum

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash
Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

“The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide.” — The Scrum Guide, 2017.

In the above statement, “Promoting” and “Supporting,” Scrum are the two keywords. One can promote and support Scrum by communicating the theory written in books and articles. Others can quote real project examples. Both approaches will work. With expertise, SM will be more adept at managing the challenges that the Scrum team might face.

With mere theoretical knowledge and no hands-on experience, it could be a little challenging for SM to uphold Scrum values. The SM may become a “Scrum Police”. This dysfunction may, in turn, fail the implementation of the Scrum Framework.

Let us proceed to the next statement from the Scrum Guide.

Servant Leadership

“The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team.” — The Scrum Guide, 2017.

Let us try to understand if servant leadership can be taught.

Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term “Servant Leadership” in 1970. He has explained Servant Leadership in his essay The Servant as a Leader. The essay describes some of the characteristics and activities of servant leadership. It discusses how servant leadership can make a difference in society.

Larry C. Spears mentioned the ten most essential characteristics of Servant Leaders. — in the Journal of Virtues and Leadership.

These are — Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people and Building community.

Servant Leadership is a personality trait. It is an attitude, a style. The ability to be a servant leader matures with experience. People can grasp the concept of servant leadership. But, the display of servant leadership is way above just reading articles about it. The theory is good, but experience is what you need to be a great servant leader.

For example, A Servant Leader will listen to every team member and ask the under-performant — “how can I help so that you can become great and start performing”. Rather than being a team boss and saying — “come to me with a solution and not a problem”.

Will we be able to teach Servant Leadership? Will our “wanna-be SM” be able to learn it? Or does he already have it? We may assess the skill.

Now, let us look at what the Scrum Guide says about SM’s “service to the Product Owner.”

Product Planning in an empirical environment

Photo by airfocus on Unsplash
Photo by airfocus on Unsplash

“Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible.”
“Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items.”
“Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management.”
“Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value.”
“Understanding product planning in an empirical environment.” — The Scrum Guide, 2017

An amateur SM can understand the product domain. SM can even help their team understand it. SM can also learn the tools and techniques to manage the product backlog. SM can learn the formula of 3Cs (Card, Conversation, and Confirmation). An SM, with no hands-on experience, will also be able to provide value.

Ron Jeffries gave 3Cs formula for writing user stories.

With the help of this formula, they can collaborate with the Product Owner to write better user stories.

But “understanding the product planning in an empirical environment” may become a challenge for SM, if the Product Owner does not have sufficient experience to handle it.

An inexperienced SM may not be able to offer much to it. But will not having this understanding create any bottleneck? Maybe not. It could be that the Product Owner has good experience to perform product planning.

But if the Product Owner is unprepared and does not have much direction, it is SM’s role to guide the Product Owner. SM needs to encourage the Product Owner to explore how to follow the right path to product planning. An amateur SM might not be able to observe this behavior.

Now, let us look at what Scrum Guide tells us about “service to the Development Team.”

Coaching and Facilitation

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“Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality.”
“Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.”
“Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress.”
“Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.” — The Scrum Guide, 2017

As we see, “coaching” and “facilitation” are the two keywords in the above statements.

“The underlying philosophy behind coaching is that we humans have immeasurable resources of energy, wisdom, ability, and genius waiting to be set in motion.

We can create the life we want faster and more easily by partnering with a coach who helps us utilize these resources to facilitate change and realize our potential.” — As mentioned in LifeCoachTraining

Can we measure coaching? I came across the CMI — Coaching Mindset Index.

The Coaching Mindset Index™ (CMI) is a validated psychometric assessment which measures “how you coach” — versus how well you coach. It increases self-awareness of an individual’s coaching style and behaviors and enables you to accelerate your impact as a coach. Leadership with a Coaching Mindset | › showcase › leadership-with-a-coachi…

Coaching is an essential element for the successful implementation of the Scrum Framework.

Will an amateur SM be able to coach well?

What about Facilitation? To “facilitate” assists the team to achieve the desired outcome.

Facilitation requires techniques and skills quite different from those of traditional instruction.

An hour or two of training and possession of a casually prepared company booklet on principles of facilitation are far from adequate preparation for becoming a facilitator.” — What Is Facilitation and Why Use It, R. Dismukes, G. Smith, Published 2017. DOI:10.4324/9781315255576–7

We need experience more than reading articles or books on facilitation.

Job Posting

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Since I was still not clear on responding to the question — “Can you make me a Scrum Master?” I thought of exploring further.

I created a job posting. The job description of the posting was straightforward. It said — “Uphold Scrum, Coach, and Facilitates team. Help implement Scrum Framework across the organization. Help teams to deliver maximum value to our clients”.

I received the following varieties of applications -

  • Applications from people with QA expertise. They are currently practicing the Scrum Framework in their projects. They have some Scrum Master certifications in their kit and looking for an opportunity to become SM.
  • Applications from Project Managers who had been delivering projects but not using Scrum. They have undergone Scrum training. They are waiting for the right occasion to implement and practice their knowledge.
  • Applications from managers whose organizations are in the process of Agile Transformation. They have undergone Agile training and according to them they are ready to play the SM role. But they do not have any prior SM experience.
  • A developer who got so fascinated by Scrum that once she played the role of a temporary SM. She later found that it is her passion.
  • Experienced Scrum Masters.

My search made it clear to me that we have the following types of SM in the job market:

  1. Experienced SM.
  2. Experienced PM (project managers), trained on Scrum and Agile.
  3. Experienced people who have not done project management but have received training on Scrum and Agile

Our guy falls into the third type. And based on my observations on coaching, facilitation, servant leadership, I think it may not be easy for me to make anyone the SM. Well, now it was the time to answer the question. With all this knowledge and data that I had collected, I replied —

“No, I cannot make you a Scrum Master. But, I can assist you in your journey to becoming a Scrum Master.” This is the skill that you have to learn yourself and improve with your experience. I can coach you, but I cannot make you a Scrum Master.

Let us also look at the second type — experienced PMs with Scrum and Agile knowledge. These could be riskier. They have experience as Project Managers with a theoretical understanding of Scrum. This behavior can lead to multiple scrum anti-patterns. And before you know it, the Scrum implementation might have failed.

Few words of wisdom

In his book “Scrum Mastery”, Geoff Watts has mentioned-
“A good Scrum Master grasps the responsibilities of the role. A great Scrum Master grasps the skills and mindset of the role.”

The knowledge of roles and responsibilities of the Scrum Master is not enough. To be a successful Scrum Master, one has to get into servant leadership’s mindset and culture. One has to learn and gain experience to coach and facilitate. One can read the Scrum Guide and millions of articles over the internet.

One can get training and certifications. These certifications may prove that they have the skill to be a Scrum Master. However, for a successful implementation of Scrum, the team needs to understand the spirit of Scrum.


Created by

Vikas Agarwal







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