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Is your Scrum Master worth it?

Looking through the latest results of our salary survey, I am struck with a hint of regret. I know that since we started publishing this data last year, recruiters, HR, managers and Scrum Masters themselves have been using this as a source for what people in this role should earn. There is no other salary data available on the role that I am aware of.

So why the regret? Well I am also aware of many people who call themselves Scrum Masters who are nothing more than glorified administrators, and now some of them are earning more than they used to… So this year in conjunction with the salary survey we want to release our view of what Scrum Master should be and how you can evaluate if they are worth the money.

Remember the point of the Scrum Master is to improve the effectiveness and productivity of the team in the long term. If you have one Scrum Master per team of 5 people, and everyone earns roughly the same amount then the Scrum Master should improve the effectiveness of the team by 20% to make their salary worthwhile. Most people know that Scrum Masters can’t be assessed with conventional methods like did the team deliver on time, or is the quality good, but instead of developing new measures they end up not assessing Scrum Masters.

Change Agent

To me the most important aspect of a Scrum Master is that they are a change agent. They should be constantly introducing and inviting change, especially change that challenges the status quo of the organisation.

Assess your Scrum Master: Ask your Scrum Master what changes the team or organisation have adopted in the last 3 sprints, and what their role was in getting that change adopted. Tip: If your Scrum Master regularly challenges you to the point where you think you should fire them for upsetting the apple cart – they are doing their job well 😉

Agile Expert

The second most important aspect is that they need to be an expert on Scrum and agile. If the team don’t understand how to break stories down, then Scrum Master should be able to demonstrate this, and explain the theory behind why it should be done as vertical slices, rather than components. Scrum Masters should also be continuously furthering their own knowledge, and staying abreast of new techniques. They shouldn’t just be learning about Scrum, topics can be anything that might help themselves or their team.

Assess your Scrum Master: Ask your Scrum Master what books, or blog posts they have read recently, and what they learned that they are currently applying.

Master Facilitator

A key skill of the Scrum Master role is facilitation. A major part of the job is facilitating Scrum meetings. Good facilitation makes meetings multiple times more productive. If they can make their teams 25% more productive due to facilitation it covers their salary.

Assess your Scrum Master: Attend a meeting and observe if the following are true:
Does the meeting start on time?
Are the right people in the meeting?
Is everyone prepared for the meeting?
Does the meeting stay on track and finish on time or early?
Does the meeting flow and not appear rushed although a large amount gets done?
Are people engaged throughout the meeting and does everyone participate?
Does everyone know what the next steps are after the meeting and who will share relevant notes?
Are there regular breaks in the meeting just as your concentration was flagging?
Do people refrain from using their laptops and cellphone during the meeting unless specifically for the meeting?
Did these things happen because of your Scrum Master?

Team Coach

On top of that Scrum Masters need to be coaches. They need to help people reflect and grow, and change. A big part of this is the ability to listen and to connect one on one with people, as well as the ability to observe what is happening in an environment. Coaches help teams to change without enforcing rules, because they help the team see why the change is necessary, and help the team agree the change themselves.

Assess your Scrum Master: Ask your Scrum Master what patterns they have noticed in the team which are making them less effective and what their approach is to getting the team to address that pattern?

Master of ‘Getting things done’

Finally it is critical that Scrum Masters are able to get things done. This is part of solving impediments, and helping the team. Anything from arranging new software and hardware to rearranging office layouts and getting rid of timesheets, are all things a Scrum Master should be able to solve. The best ones have an ability to cut through red tape by talking to the right people and making stuff happen almost instantaneously.

Assess your Scrum Master: Set your Scrum Master a mildy challenging task that involves co-ordinating with multiple people, see how long it takes to get solved.

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