You’ve put in the work and you’ve secured your very first job as a scrum master. Congratulations! Now what? Your first scrum master job is an exciting time for growth and change – for yourself and for your teams. It can also be scary, stressful, and mystifying. If you’re experiencing all of these feelings, you are not alone. Here’s what you can expect in your first scrum master year.
You’ll Stick To The Rules
I clung so tightly to the Scrum Guide, there were holes in it by the end of my first year. I had a paper copy of it at my desk, ready to be rifled through multiple times a day. If it didn’t say it in the Scrum Guide, it wasn’t going to happen on my teams. Managers at daily scrum? Absolutely not! Our retros better stick to the format of “What went well? What could be improved?” — or else.
These days, I still see the value of the Scrum Guide and I refer back to it often (on the web, not paper). However, I’m more interested in the “why” behind our practices. I’m less focused on the “how” and more focused on the results. If it serves the team, we can be flexible in our techniques and borrow practices from outside of scrum.
It Can Be LonelyYou might be the only scrum master around for miles. People may not understand what you do. I’m here to say this part will never change. It’s crucial for you to find a community. They will be your teachers, mentors, and emotional support. If one doesn’t exist for you at work, build a community of practice. At Dolby, I looked forward to meeting with other agile enthusiasts on a regular basis to share challenges, speak to interns, and bring in outside speakers (like Chris or Season!) to the company for Q&A sessions. If you don’t have a community at work, find one outside of work. Scrum Professionals is a great place to meet fellow agile enthusiasts, get help, and let off some steam.
You’ll Feel Like A Dumping Ground
This is another one that may not change after your first year. As a scrum master, we hear a lot about what’s going wrong, not as much about what’s going right. When you’re new, it’s easier to take things to heart and feel like a failure.
I used to keep a list of nice things people had said on my Trello board — a “wins” list. It had screenshots of when people had sent me messages saying “that was a great meeting,” or “I’m glad we have you.” It helped me feel confident and remember my value.
You’ll Feel Compelled To Fix Everything
As a result of always hearing about what’s not working (or maybe being inclined to focus on it in your first year), you will feel the constant need to spring into action and make things right immediately. Don’t. Because you can’t. You’ll burn yourself out. Work on adopting the perspective of seeing opportunities for improvement, then prioritize where to focus your efforts.
You can’t fix everything, and you shouldn’t. A good scrum master is someone who helps the team help themselves. Remember that you facilitate change, not take charge of it. We’re here to build self-managing teams. We can’t do that without stepping back and letting the team feel some pain once in a while. It’s good for them, and it makes them stronger. As you gain more experience, you’ll find yourself stepping back more and more, and becoming more comfortable knowing when not to jump in.
You’ll Feel Like You Have No Idea What You’re Doing
And you probably don’t. Impostor syndrome, thy name is brand-new scrum master. It is not your job to have all of the answers. But for your first year, it will feel like it is.
I remember reviewing with a team that our sprint would end with that day’s retro and start the next day with planning. An icy panic slithered into and pierced my heart when one of them asked: “What are we supposed to do with the time in between?”
“My God!” I thought, “What are we supposed to do with those couple of hours? This isn’t in the Scrum Guide! They’re all looking at me? What should I tell them?” I don’t even remember what I stammered out those years ago. But today’s answer would be: “Whatever you want.”
Sometimes, Things Will Just Work Out
We all have that feeling of looking back at our past selves and cringing. I find it especially hard to think about my first year as a scrum master and how much I would do differently now. Still, there are things that worked out rather well. I supported a team as they pivoted toward Kanban, and found that it fit them better. I had team members rotate leading retros and they ran away with it, creating wildly imaginative themes for each one.
My advice to first-year scrum masters is this: enjoy this time. Treat yourself with compassion. Being a scrum master doesn’t necessarily get any easier, but it does feel very different with each year of experience. This is your time to learn, grow, and make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up about it. And if you need a little help, come see us at our weekly office hours.
> “However, I’m more interested in the “why” behind our practices.”
Have you read the book “Principles of Product Development Flow” by Donald Reinertsen? I am re-reading it now. It does so much in explaining why so many of the practices of agile frameworks and scrum in particular improve productivity and effectiveness.
> “As a scrum master, we hear a lot about what’s going wrong, not as much about what’s going right.”
Generally speaking, I find that we Americans are quick to point out what’s wrong and to complain, less quick to point out what’s going well and to compliment. Years ago I attended a software conference where one of the speakers said, “when somebody does something right, applaud like crazy.” I find that striving to do that really keeps up my own spirits.
> “A good scrum master is someone who helps the team help themselves. Remember that you facilitate change, not take charge of it.”
I’m slowly becoming aware of looking for a good balance between, on the one hand, taking initiative and taking charge, on the other, falling into the trap of becoming a nanny.
Love the picture of the labyrinth. There’s an outdoor labyrinth at a church in our neighborhood that I’ve walked quite a few times as a meditative exercise. A good kind of solitude.
Thank you for writing such a nice blog piece.