My journey as a Scrum master, from first steps to really understanding the role

Three years ago, I started a new and exciting career: I made my first steps in becoming a Scrum master. It was difficult at first, because it required a shift in my way of thinking. However once I understood the basics, all was well.

…or was it?

Initially, when I first learned about Scrum, my thought was: ‘This is great. There is nothing revolutionary to it! This is nothing more than common sense!’ And I still believe that.

Getting started as a Scrum master

Scrum is about opening up the development process to customers. It’s about having regular check-ins, showing them the latest state of the product every few weeks, instead of hiding and working for months without receiving input from the people who actually use the product. Scrum is also about making people awesome.

From an employer’s perspective, it’s about making people’s work life less terrible: clarifying issues, preventing overwork, adjusting employees’ work processes to their respective working style. From a company’s perspective, it’s about creating a product that solves the everyday issues of their users: looking at problems from a users’ perspective, delivering early and often, and adjusting the product as you learn more about a company’s users and their needs.

It all sounds so simple - it should be common sense. And I, as the Scrum master, am the driver of this change. So I went off. I evangelized about Scrum, conducted retrospectives, had one-on-ones, learned about coaching, promoted workspace security, learned about other approaches like lean and kanban and UX und all the other methods.

What the Scrum master role is really about

Three years and sixteen teams later, I realized what Scrum mastering is really about. My real job is about making problems visible. It’s about removing the blinders that can develop when people stop challenging the status quo. It is about shining a light on what needs to be fixed, even thought it may appear to be working. My job is to make the obstacles so obvious that people cannot ignore or work around them anymore.

If I could go back in time and give my past self some advice, it would be this: do not go and try to sell an idea. Instead, go out and ask the uncomfortable questions. Try to make people think. People may dislike it, but that is fine. That is where my role as a troublemaker comes in. Some people might actually dislike the questions so much that it will motivate them to discuss it.

When obstacles have been made painfully obvious, people cannot work around them anymore. Sometimes they might decide it’s simpler to work around an obstacle than to conquer it, but at least they will have an awareness of the obstacle. However, most of the time people will be motivated to drive change. That is my actual day-to-day-work: seeing the impediments that teams and companies face and talking about them. A lot.

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