What you need to know to become a scrum master in Australia

If your preferred agile framework is scrum and you are a good mentor with good management and communication skills, scrum master could be the next step in your career.

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The scrum master role’s popularity has grown in the last few years as part of the overall rise in the the use of agile methodologies that have been put into product development and software engineering, notes Peter Noblet, regional general manager of Australian tech recruiter Hudson. And LinkedIn shows the product owner role is the No. 12 emerging technology role in Australia, and acting as a scrum master is a key part of doing or supporting that role.

The scrum master role is responsible for promoting and supporting scrums, which are the most used of the agile methodologies, by helping everyone understand scrum theory, practices, rules and values. The word “scrum” comes from rugby, and it means the team arrangement to move the ball forward. In agile development, it is esentially the team playbook process for advancing a project with regular checkins and cadence.

A scrum team usually consists of a product owner, the development team and the scrum master who will work in a self-organising manner, according to Scrum.org, one of many organisations that promote scrum practices and also provides training and certification.

Career websites such as Seek don’t offer specific details on the role itself and, although there are scrum master job ads, when searching for it, project manager roles come up or the role itself may be a combination of both.

Related video: The scrum master role over the life of a project

Watch this instructional video to understand how a scrum master can help a team learn agile development and follow a scrum process to develop new applications.

To understand better how to become a successful scrum master, Computerworld Australia spoke to five scrum masters. All five says that although they did not plan to become scrum masters that is where their careers led them—and they are very pleased with it. Some started as developers, whilst others found themselves in a project management role which led to the shift.

Getting started as a scrum master

For Paul Snedden, the scrum master for Big W X, it all started when he was a business analyst for a not-for-profit organisation and his boss asked if he wanted to get more involved in the business transformation.

“When she told me she wanted me to run the daily standup, I was scared, because I had no idea what a standup was and had even less idea of how to run one. It was a bit of a baptism by fire, because the team itself had been working together for about a year already, but they were really happy to have someone come in and help to focus the mirror back on themselves and help them to discover better ways of working together to achieve great outcomes for our customers,” Snedden says.

University of New South Wales scrum master Jasin Mehmedbasic tells Computerworld Australia that back in 2010 when he was then a team lead at another organisation, he was sent to work with a development team that wasn’t performing well. He asked his superior if he could apply scrum techniques, which helped the team complete the project successfully.

After that, Mehmedbasic was given three other projects. “That was about the time I realised what my mission in the IT industry would be: to promote agile and use the scrum framework to help organisations that struggle with the efficiency and effectiveness of their software development teams.”

For Wendy Pearce, who is a contractor scrum master for Coca-Cola Amatil, it started as the scrum team she was working in at the time at NBN Co didn’t have a scrum master, so the team rotated the role.

“I was still a developer at this stage, but I had the opportunity to facilitate retrospectives, reviews and standups. Plus, at sprint planning we did the estimates, so I had a voice for the first time. It certainly increased my buy-in and I could see that Agile increased everyone’s productivity,” Pearce recalls.

The skills needed to become a scrum master

Possessing emotional intelligence and empathy and being a people person, a good listener and a team leader are all skills necessary to be a successful scrum master.

Johanna Hurtado, who was recently a scrum master for the Iconic, says that being a good listener is an important soft skill as it helps to solve conflicts and recognise issues and achievements across a team. She also lists being proactive, coaching and encouraging and being positive. “As the team is immersed in the technicality of their job, it is important for the scrum master to bring a positive energy that inspires the team.”

Peter Ling, a scrum master at PM Partners, says the role of scrum master is to facilitate the scrum process. “I guide and facilitate the ceremonies and the structure of what scrum is. My role is to really guide a team through setting up the scrum ceremonies, running and ensuring that the values supposed to be realised in those ceremonies are realised.”

Understanding the agile principles well enough to explain to the team, the product owner and the organisation why in agile things happen the way they do is also highly important, Mehmedbasic says.

Robert Beckley, regional director of recruiting experts at Hays Information Technology, says that when hiring scrum masters they look for certifications and the tenure of a candidate’s experience as hiring managers often want to see that a candidate has worked throughout the project life cycle, from inception to delivery.

For those looking to get certified, there are a few options: Scrum.org’s resources, ScrumStudy’s entry-level free certification, and Udemy’s practice courses for taking the Scrum.org test.

Lessons and tips from scrum masters

One of Hurtado’s tips for becoming a scrum master is to get familiar with different agile frameworks and try to implement them at your work to see which works best. “For people who do not have any experience using scrum or being in an agile culture, I would recommend to start getting familiar with the concepts and getting the scrum fundamentals certification and participating in different agile meetup groups where they can network and learn and then practice at work,” she tells Computerworld Australia.

Snedden’s suggestion is to not be shy to ask questions or get involved. If you are in an organisation with scrum masters, talk to them. “A lot of organisations believe that a scrum master is a fancy term for a modern-day project manager. That couldn’t be any further from the truth,” Snedden says. “My biggest responsibility is to my team and their happiness, because a happy team is a productive team. How that gets manifested is vastly different from the old days of command and control PMs who cared more about their Gantt chart than they did the health and happiness of the team itself.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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