Mission Impossible: Hire Scrum Master

It’s already 12 months since we opened a Scrum Master position at PandaDoc. And hired only 7 people (on the day of publishing this article, 2 of them accepted their offers but have not started working yet). Fair to say: I did not think it would be so hard to find a proper candidate.

This article is the result of our 360+ days of interviews. The goal is:

  • To bring you the understanding of current state of ScrumMastership at Eastern Europe region
  • I want share insights with potential candidates so they can see an area for improvement

Statistics

Down below is the 6 month stats for recruitment (after that we split one position to multiples and it’s hard to combine everything into one track)

We had 161 applications so far, only 43 were approved for the interview. Here is some stats by sources:

Whats interesting that only one (!) candidate came from DOU.ua, that is the biggest IT portal in Ukraine.

The recruitment funnel looks like this:

4 out of 5 candidates we hired were recommended by our colleagues. This means personal network works best (at least for us).

As you see from the funnel <5% of the candidates got an offer. Let’s see why the rate is so low. I prepared 5 Top reasons why you would not be hired as Scrum Master.

Top 5 reasons NOT to be hired as Scrum Master

There is no single reason here, any interview is the mix of points described below. None of them is a problem by itself, but combination creates the coctail that makes SM role absolutely useless to teams and an organisation. Everything I mention below is NOT something bad, but these are not the skills we are looking for in SM. Read carefully what SM does according to Scrum Guide before you continue with the article:

So, lets dive deep into details.

Project Manager Mindset

Most of Scrum Masters who came to an interview were from outsourcing/outstaffing and had an imprint of their organisations. In outsourcing it’s very important to have strong project managers who can control teams and a client, be a king of fireman. Usually teams need strong guidance from someone senior.

Here is how the market of outsourcing see SM position, fully linked with Project Manager Role (see 2 positions titles).

Scrum Master is a “cool word” in trend of Agile/Scrum, but inside it’s pure PM. Here is example of content of one of SM position:

This brings an interesting pattern: companies hire the ones, who are not SMs, then these candidates think that what they do is actually SM duties. The new terminology for the old jobs.

Most of SMs are Team Managers

A lot of candidates thought they responsible for managing team, their performance and tasks. For the question “how do you work with your team?” they answered:

  • Keep track on individual performance
  • Push them to commit to sprint goal
  • Create reports on delivery and performance for upper management
  • Assign tasks, manage work pipeline
  • Collect reports from team members during Daily Scrum
  • Create roadmaps and delivery plans
  • Provide estimations to clients
  • Keep communication between client and team

Such approach will not help strong, independent, self-managed teams.

Richard Hackman’s model

So people are stick to build manager-led teams. In this mode they will not be able to build self-management teams. And this is very easy to verify, we just ask question:

What can you do as a Scrum Master for the teams who can manage all the stuff you’ve just told us by themselves?

Most of the candidates cannot explain their applicability to a team if management is out of scope. So they cannot suggest any new expertise they could bring to their teams.

Absence of Product Mindset

We are a product company and think that we can build a great product only building great Product Teams. This means we are focused on customer. And here is the problem with candidates begins:

Most of Scrum masters we interviewed believe their teams need to satisfy internal stakeholders

A lot of them never saw the real customer who use the product they built, locked only inside their company. Most of SMs we interviewed worked with a teams of mercenaries: they build whatever they are told to build.

Usually when we ask the question “how does your team work with scope and product” we hear:

  • Our BA prepares scope and explain it to teams
  • We engage some team members to refinement, they will tell details to rest of the team. Rest keep working on tasks
  • Client gives us specification and we break it down

But the biggest problem of most candidates is inability to apply incremental delivery. They all work in large milestones with fixed scope and fixed dates, thinking that Scrum is an iterative planning framework, but not delivery.

We expect SM to be able to teach our teams incremental delivery, be able to explain what this is and what the benefits of fast feedback cycles are.

Unfortunately most of people do not know how to build in small pieces, they are thinking in long-developed scope, how Scrum helps work with Cone of uncertainty and what is the benefit of such approaches to a company. So, actually they are not able to apply Scrum by itself as they don't understand what it is built for.

Experience only on Team Level

Another sad but true fact is that most of SMs have experience of working ONLY on team level, never have access to key stakeholders or ability to influence organisational decisions.

Most of SMs working only with teams for years

Here is the thing: if you work with your teams daily and do not play mother/father role for them, you can accomplish most of SM duties on team level by themselves in 6 month maximum.

Scrum Master Engagement in time by LeSS https://less.works/less/structure/scrummaster

As most of company’s top managers think SM is a team role (I have no idea why and from where this came), they will never grow strong teams. Most of Scrum Masters spent years inside one team doing next staff:

  • Facilitating events
  • Helping with backlog
  • Coaching PO (btw most of the people cannot explain what they are actually doing when they coach PO)
  • Collect statistics and provide feedback

YEARS doing this. And they became secretaries for their teams. They cannot explain how they helped organisations to grow. What did they changed on organisational level?

They are just useless on an organisational level, do not have any change management skills and have never developed themselves in this area. We believe that an organisation can change only when SM contributes to its development.

Here is a copy-paste from Scrum Guide about the role of Scrum Master for an Organisation. The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

  • Leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact an empirical approach for complex work; and,
  • Removing barriers between stakeholders and Scrum Teams.

And this is not limited to. It’s just the guides.

But going deeper: such SMs are not really helpful for teams either. Instead of growing them they usually start playing the role of a parent for their teams becoming a scrum-mom/scrum-dad.

In this case neither organisation, nor teams have any benefits.

They just do not learn

Last but not least. People do not learn. When we ask “what did you learn during last year?” the average answers are:

  • I read a couple of articles
  • I saw lessons on Youtube channel
  • I visited CSM class

Well my dear SMs, it’s not enough. Cause you need to be a couple of steps ahead of your teams/company in self development and knowledge.

Scrum Master must be a couple of steps ahead in self-development then the company he/she works for

There is a good article about developement of Scrum Master role.

This is important to understan for everyone who hire a SM — your SM should be better than your company is today. In other case SM will be useless for you.

Scrum master should learn every day trying to fulfill the knowledge gap required to the company. This also brings the question: does your company understand what knowledge gap SM should cover really is?

Conclusions

Finding a great SM is hard. The market today produces Scrum Masters in a very limited amount :) I believe the problem is in companies, who do not understand what they can achieve with this role inside if it’s properly played.

Overall I think most of the candidates on the market today are Project Managers, not Scrum Masters. A I wrote, as of today, we hired 7 candidates, 4 of the from product companies and 3 from outsourcing.

Will be happy to get your observations about the market in the comments!

Meanwhile, we are still hiring:

--

--

--

Agile Coach, Trainer, Head of Agile Practices @ PandaDoc

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Hello Medium Community, I am Miki Szeles from Hungary

Hands holding the word hello — Hello Medium Community — I am Miki Szeles from Hungary

Specialized IT Consulting

Creating a Score System in Unity 2D

Collision Domain vs Broadcast Domain | Computer Network

Angular 101 — A Technical Understanding OnWhere It Fits in Application Development

Why Google Cloud Anchors doesn't deliver on the hype

Weekly Dev Update #09

Modern Flutter Plugin Development

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Evgeniy Labunskiy

Evgeniy Labunskiy

Agile Coach, Trainer, Head of Agile Practices @ PandaDoc

More from Medium

How to get results effectively in your engineering side job with Agile practices

Spider-Man: Agile Way Home

Take it to the team

Who uses agile?