shutterstock_1028183860.jpg

Scrum is a type of project management with a well-defined set of rules to create a product, usually a software app. The idea is to complete tiny parts of the app within two-week sprints. (Some teams might choose longer times for sprints, but two weeks is the most common.) This is done while carefully tracking the progress of all the small parts of the software.

Scrum is technically a way of accomplishing Agile development. Agile itself is really just a philosophy without a carefully defined set of rules; Scrum in term is a set of tools to make Agile happen.

Scrum specifies a set of people who work on a product: The developers who are actually doing the coding, plus two other people: the product owner and the Scrum Master. (Note that in small organizations such as startups, one person might be responsible for both product owner and Scrum Master; and in really small teams, that person might even be a developer, too.)

The Scrum Master is the one who most understands Scrum, and helps guide the team in using Scrum to quickly bring a product to fruition. The Scrum Master implements the Scrum and Agile process. In other words: The Scrum Master is an expert in Scrum who makes the Scrum process happen.

However, the Scrum Master does not run the team. The Scrum Master is not the manager of the programmers on the team or their boss. For example, while the Scrum Master might facilitate a meeting with the developers to decide how to implement the feature, the Scrum Master does not make the final decision on what languages to use, or how to code a particular function or class. Instead the Scrum Master helps run the meeting, helping guide the developers into making the best technical decisions.

We’re going to tell you the skills you’ll need to start developing ASAP in your journey to become a Scrum Master.

First: Learn Scrum

Of everybody on the team, the Scrum Master needs to be the most intimately familiar with the entire Scrum process. Developers typically aren’t experts in Scrum, and arguably don’t need to be. The Scrum Master, on the other hand, is the member of the team who is the Scrum expert and who teaches Scrum to members of the organization and team.

Where do you learn Scrum? There are many training courses, but a great place to start is the Scrum Guide, which was written by people who originally started Scrum. And although there’s no central Scrum organization, Scrum.org is the closest you’ll find to one, as it’s also run by people who originally started Scrum.

As a side note, since Scrum is an implementation of Agile, you’ll also want to learn as much about Agile as possible.

Learn the Boards

The official Scrum methodology includes a way of organizing tasks on a board, either physically or digitally. Each task is essentially a Post-it Note with the name of the task and information about the task written on it. As the task moves towards completion, the Scrum Master will physically move the Post-it Note from one column to another. These columns have names such as Backlog, Todo, In Progress, Done.

However, a lot of teams have decided the original definition for a Scrum Board doesn’t work as well as they need. Instead, they prefer a different type of board called a Kanban Board, which is technically a different methodology for developing products, including software. There are similarities, but Kanban is a bit more detailed.

Learn both. You might want to use either in different situations, and having both on your resume will open you up to more job options.

Learn the Terms

From our experience, there are a few Scrum-related terms that people seem to struggle the most with, primarily because they’re English terms with slightly different meanings from the lay definitions; so let’s clear those up right now with definitions that make sense.

  • Artifact: An artifact is the name given to something that is “produced” conceptually during the process. It’s a bit abstract, because it doesn’t refer to actual code and software being produced and delivered, but rather the processes that take place (including, for example, the items that appear on the board, and so on).
  • Increment: This is also known as a Sprint. It’s the two-week period during which the development team finishes a set of items on the board. (It can be more than two weeks, but two weeks is the norm.)
  • Backlog: This is the set of items that need to be completed. This isn’t a negative term in the sense of, “We’re behind because we have a backlog.” It’s neither negative or positive; it’s simply the items that aren’t finished.

Learn the Tools

Here you will find some overlap with the Product Owner role. You need to learn the software tools of the trade.

At a minimum, these tools provide the virtual version of the Board. You can create notes and and move them from one column to the next as you progress through development. But some offer much more than just boards, such as document handling and more.

The most common such tools are Jira, Trello, and Asana. They all work similarly, so our advice is to first learn one, and then start learning the others. (Trello and Asana seem to have a shorter learning curve.) But learn as many of these tools as you can. You don’t want to be held back from a nice job simply because the prospective employer uses one tool and you only know a different one.

Learn People Skills and Communication Skills

Can people skills be learned? It’s hard to say, but as a Scrum Master, you need to have “soft skills” such as communication and empathy. You’ll most likely be running the daily meetings called standups, in addition to other meetings. It will be your job to keep the meetings running on track, make sure all stakeholders voice their opinion, and handle the usual complaints and crises.

You’ll also be communicating with upper management on the progress of the project. If the project is running behind, you need to let management know, along with a plan for getting the project back on track (even if it means removing some features). As such, you will want to be a good communicator who can confidently bring difficult news to stakeholders.

Learn How to Run a Productive Meeting

Your job (but not your only job) as a Scrum Master will be to facilitate meetings, including daily standups. Daily standups are short meetings that last maybe 10 minutes where each person on the team describes what they completed yesterday and what they plan to complete today, and to bring up any roadblocks.

The Scrum Master might suggest two or three people have a separate discussion after the standup to work through a roadblock. The Scrum Master does keep the meeting on track, making sure the developers don’t get sidetracked trying to solve a problem during standup. To do otherwise would waste other developers’ time.

Learn General Project Management Skills

Teams need project managers to function differently in an Agile setting compared to how they functioned back in the old “waterfall” approach to software development. But that doesn’t mean the old ways are dead. Project management is a complicated field with a long history, and you’ll need to become familiar with it and how it relates to Agile development.

Get a Certification

Your goal is to learn Scrum, Agile, and at least part of Kanban, specifically its boards. The best place to start is through a training program, preferably one that leads to a certification.

We don’t play favorites here with the different certification organizations; instead, you’ll want to do a Google search and find out who provides Scrum certifications. You only need one! But make sure it’s a reputable source with a clear, objective history of graduating people who go on to get good jobs.

For learning Kanban boards and Agile, you can seek out the usual suspects in the online training world. They all offer courses with varying prices. And don’t forget the tools we mentioned earlier; they all have free versions that give you plenty of ways to practice.

Conclusion

Because Scrum has become so popular, Scrum Masters are highly sought after. Plan to take time learning and growing into the field; no career gets launched in only a few days.

Also, understand there might be overlap or even confusion among employers on the difference between a product owner and a Scrum Master. Read the details of the job carefully to make sure it fits what you want to do.