As more companies rely on Scrum framework to deliver high-quality products, the demand for Scrum Masters is on the rise.
In fact, if you’ve looked at the job boards lately, you’ve likely noticed employers searching for professionals experienced in Agile. It’s one of the most commonly used software development methodologies in the world right now. There are several ways IT professionals apply Agile principles, with Scrum leading the pack in terms of popularity.
Learn more about this role, including the skills and experience you need to become one, and the Scrum Master salary you can expect to earn.
What does a Scrum Master do?
To better understand the role of Scrum Master, it helps to know the root of the word “scrum.” In rugby, a scrum is when a team puts their arms around each other and pushes together to win the ball, moving down the pitch as one body. Within the IT world, Scrum Teams behave in a similar way: They band together, trust each other and push hard to hit objectives called software development Sprint Goals.
Scrum Masters are classified as servant-leaders, meaning that, while they may be at the helm of a project, their role is to serve the needs of their team. They’re also responsible for giving the team guidance during a Sprint — a project with a clear deliverable and a tight deadline (typically less than a month). Ultimately, these professionals are Scrum subject matter experts who coach their team on how to best run and operate in a Scrum environment and make sure they have everything required to succeed.
Note, however, that the Scrum Master is not a project manager. They don’t give orders, they don’t make staffing decisions, and they are not responsible for the product (that obligation sits with the Product Owner.)
Scrum Master responsibilities include:
- Administration. One of a Scrum Master’s key duties is running the Daily Scrum, an intense 15-minute meeting held during a Sprint. While Scrum Masters don’t take the lead in these sessions, it’s their job to make sure they take place every day. They’re also responsible for keeping the team on track within the allotted 15 minutes, ensuring that any attendees from outside the Development Team don’t disrupt the flow.
- Strategizing. The Scrum Master works with the Product Owner to scope out the objectives for each Sprint. During the Sprint, the Scrum Master helps set daily targets for every team member, all of which contribute to the overarching Sprint Goal.
- Coaching. As Scrum Masters are experts in the methodology, they coach the Development Team to make sure they understand Scrum. They also train the team in self-organization and cross-functionality, so that they can work together seamlessly to produce high-value products in short timeframes.
- Championing. Scrum works best when an entire organization sticks to Scrum Values. Scrum Masters act as advocates, reaching out to other teams to teach them about the methodology, so they better understand the process.
- Clearing the way. A successful Sprint requires a clear path, which is why Scrum Masters need to identify and bulldoze roadblocks, like requests from other departments or frequent emails and phone calls. If other barriers — such as system issues or a team member’s lack of training — crop up, they’re tackled by the Scrum Master.
- Filling in the blanks. If the project requires an urgent injection of resources — like server space or virtual environments — the Scrum Master will organize it. Likewise, if team members are working late and need meals or refreshments, the Scrum Master will order some.
What skills and qualifications do I need to be a Scrum Master?
Scrum Masters must demonstrate an excellent understanding of the challenges faced by Agile teams. Typically, they need extensive experience working in an Agile environment, ideally with Scrum, but Jira or Confluence are also widely accepted.
However, not having a tech background won’t necessarily be a deal breaker for all employers. That’s because for Scrum Masters, soft skills are often more important than hard skills. Because they act as servant-leaders, Scrum Masters must be resourceful, creative and energetic individuals with excellent problem-solving abilities. You’ll need to be a rock star when it comes to communication, organization, problem-solving, strategic thinking and conflict resolution. Your resume should showcase the wins you’ve achieved through collaborating with teammates.
That said, while an IT background isn’t a must, it certainly won’t hurt you. If you don’t currently work in software development, join local coder groups, attend hackathons and participate in the open-source community. You’ll not only learn more about development, you’ll also gain experience in setting up Scrum Teams and completing Sprints.
Scrum Master salary
The Robert Half Technology 2020 Salary Guide reports that the average starting salary for Scrum Masters is $97,750. Keep in mind that your Scrum Master salary will depend largely on your experience level and where you live. Use our Salary Calculator to find out what you can expect to earn in your city and state.
How can you improve your Scrum Master resume?
Hiring managers will home in on any Scrum experience — or at least some history of working in an Agile environment — so highlight this on your resume. And if you currently work on an Agile team, use the opportunity to learn as much as you can from local experts or ask your manager for some one-on-one coaching.
Certifications can also beef up your resume, and there are several designations to choose from, including the Professional Scrum Master (PSM), PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) and Certified ScrumMaster (CSM). PSM and CSM qualifications are available at several levels, ranging from beginner to expert. As a plus, many Scrum qualifications don’t require an intensive study program.
If you have Scrum training but your current group’s manager hasn’t heard of the methodology, you can be the one to recommend and implement it in your office. Seek out other Scrum enthusiasts in your company, set up a discussion group and suggest ways Scrum could improve your organization’s processes.