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Grow your own Scrum Masters

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

In this post, I hope to walk you through one company's solution to making sure they had the right Scrum Masters in the right roles at the right time as they scaled their Scrum adoption.

Grow your own Scrum Masters

To start, how did you find yourself here? Are you currently trying to hire for Scrum Masters? Or do you work for a company that has a shortage of Scrum Masters? Take comfort in knowing, you are not alone. Many companies are struggling primarily because the Agile world has a lot of titles and not 100% clarity on what each one means. I have worked with companies that advertise for Scrum Masters when they really want Agile Project Managers. Or companies that advertise for Scrum Masters when they really want Agile Coaches. Finding the right skillset for your company's is hard.

This company had such a problem. They were attempting to scale the Scrum Framework across all of their product teams. The decision was made to adopt scrum and all of the teams were formed...minus Scrum Masters. Pretty quickly they realized that you cannot run a Scrum Team on training alone. Two day courses do not prepare someone for the real world of adapting development processes to the framework. What could the company do?


The Expectation: In 6 months, have a senior Scrum Master hired for each of the company's 6 main offices.

The Reality?

A year went and the mission? Not completed. It was also starting to become expensive.

Approximately 110 Scrum Masters were interviewed and only 4 were hired.

The average cost of just the 1st interview = $6,000 (recruiter $ x # of hours spent scheduling & interviewing).

That number increases as your applicants progress through the pipeline. (ex. Meeting with VPs, full squad exercises, etc). For the company, in my example, the total average cost of getting an offer letter out the door ranged from $14,000-$18,000

The Problem

So what was wrong with us? We had 110 applicants and only hired 4? We did a retrospective on what was happening and identified 3 root causes.

1. We wanted Scrum Masters NOT ScrumButs

A "ScrumBut" is someone who is okay bending the framework to meet the needs of the squad. This company wanted Scrum Masters who would adhere to the framework and if the squad was struggling, do deeper analysis as to why WITHOUT compromising the framework. A lot of applicants came from more Agile Adoption backgrounds where different frameworks are used and combined based on the needs of the squad.

2. Cultural fit was tricky

The company was unique (actually, every company is unique). This company needed people who thrived in fast-paced, uncertain environments. A lot of our applicants preferred structure. They wanted to be assigned a team and that was their entire focus. They may have been A+ Scrum Masters, but would they fit with the teams and the company culture?


3. What exactly was a "Good Scrum Master"?

Since we didn't have any Scrum Masters out of the gate with the Scrum adoption, those stakeholders doing the interviews weren't exactly sure what they were looking for in a Scrum Master. Often our results would be split down the middle, especially after the full team portion of the interview. Half of the group were YAY and the other half were NAY. In doing a deeper dive with these groups, it became clear...they had no idea what a "Good" Scrum Master meant.

These root causes made us re-examine how we were hiring and determine we needed to try something different. We needed to experiment...

The Hiring Experiment

An Apprenticeship Renaissance

Why experiment with an apprenticeship?

  • We feel like a good Scrum Master comes from hands-on experience.

  • We could guarantee the level of Scrum Training that fit the needs of our company.

  • We could open up our applicant pool.

Our experiment was started with internal candidates. This had added benefits:

  • The cultural fit was already proven.

  • Internal candidates were already knowledgeable on the products and users.

The Apprenticeship Structure

Our Apprenticeship is based on Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals By Benjamin Bloom, specifically his Learning in Action.

Step 1 - Application & Prep

This covered the first phase of the taxonomy: Knowledge (recall information).

Interested applicants were required to submit an essay to the Scrum Master chapter, outlining why they were interested in the role, what they hoped to get out of it and any Scrum experience. Senior Scrum Masters would interview the applicants and go over the program with them. We then provided the applicants with training we felt would prepare them for life as a Scrum Master in the company and ended with an assessment to determine whether they were ready to take on the role of an apprentice.

Step 2- The Apprenticeship

We partnered Scrum Master Apprentices with senior Scrum Masters (mentors) in order to provide guidance and training. The apprenticeship was assigned to a team for a 10 weeks (five 2-week sprints) program.

Continuing with Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals by Benjamin Bloom, specifically his Learning in Action.

Sprint 1 - Comprehension (understand and translate concepts into own words)

- The Apprentice shadowed their Mentor during events and observed their assigned team; getting to know the members and how they currently operated.

Sprint 2 - Application (use concepts)

- The Apprentice ran their team events with the Mentor observing and offering assistance/advise/support.

Sprint 3 - Analysis (Can split concepts into parts and understands the structure)

-The Apprentice started to research into the team's history by looking at past retrospectives or deliveries. In addition they started to identify potential improvements for the team going forward.

Sprint 4 - Synthesis (Produce something from different elements (e.g a report))

-The Apprentice was asked to create some kind of reports or data to help the team understand how they were doing. Velocity tracking, quality tracking, etc.

Sprint 5 - Evaluation (Make judgments, justify a solution, etc.).

-Using what they learned from Sprint 3 & 4, the Apprentice was asked to create a plan for what they would do with the team going forward if they were to remain their Scrum Master.

-We also gathered feedback from the team itself on the Apprentice and their impact on their process and as a team member.

Step 3- Conclusion

At the end of the 10 weeks, the Apprentice met with the hiring manager and their mentor to review their final evaluation and the feedback from the team. From there we would either extend an offer to join full time as an Associate Scrum Master or we would tell them "Not Yet" and provide concrete things to improve. We never wanted to say "No" to our apprentices, we believe that if someone wants to become a Scrum Master, we should encourage them to continue to learn and improve towards that goal.

Apprenticeship Results

Individual Results

  • Provided career path for motivated individuals in the company.

  • Try before you buy method ensured candidates would be happy in the role.

  • Intrinsic motivation linked to enjoying the sense of greater responsibility for both apprentice and mentor.

Team Results

  • Teams ramped up on the adoption of the Scrum Framework improving their processes.

  • User focus & Quality increased on teams because they had someone there reminding them of the goals.

  • Team Scrum happiness increased regardless of whether the Scrum Master was an Apprentice or full-time.

Company Results

  • External hiring of Scrum Masters improved (we knew what a "good" Scrum Master looked like).

  • Increase in happiness at company metrics (based on Team Health Surveys sent quarterly).

  • Increase in Scrum adoption at the company (Business Units started asking "how do we become Agile?).

Was it all awesome?

Total transparency, the cost to run an apprenticeship for this company was on par with what it took to hire an external candidate. But of the 4 Apprentices we had, we made offers to 3 and this only took the company 10 weeks instead of 10 months.

What's Next?

The company is looking to expand this model to external hires and offer paid apprenticeships to candidates that may have never held the title "Scrum Master" but have all of the qualities and desire to become one.

What did we learn?

Try it! You might like it!



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