There are many companies these days providing Scrum training. The training is mostly standardized and typically two or three days. Companies consider switching to Scrum and send a few people to a Scrum Master training. Next, the trained folks become the “evangelists” and are expected to start “doing” Scrum. Sometimes with help from a coach, but still very often without any help. The question is whether a Scrum Master course is enough to become a great Scrum Master. Does it enable you to implement Scrum in your organization? Of course not!
Mastery with little investment
Some of the video explanations on scrum.org claim that you will master Scrum after following their course. Really? I love the sound of this. With little investment I become proficient in Scrum, can respond faster and better to changes, deliver faster with high quality and all of this is also going to be much cheaper to do so. Who doesn’t want that?
Claiming trainees master Scrum in two days is excellent marketing. Some agile folks call these fresh Scrum Masters ‘two-day wonders’ for a reason. Who can master anything in only two days? You don’t need to be a genius to understand that it takes far more than two days to master what Scrum is and how to apply it in your context.
I had my Scrum training a long time ago (2003 or 2004) from Ken Schwaber, co-founder of Scrum. He just had finished his first manual, which was hundreds of slides, pages, and templates. I was among the first 200 people worldwide that received a lifetime scrum license after the training. Today, you can read the scrum manual in about an hour and have a similar level of understanding as anyone joining a two-day scrum training. You can pass the online exam without ever going to training.
Most scrum courses address only the fundamentals. The quality of the training is highly dependent on the trainer. Classes are often filled with fun exercises but don’t teach you what it means to implement Scrum. You learn WHAT scrum is and what you should be doing and still have no clue about HOW to apply it. The HOW, on the other hand, is precisely what you need in your day to day work and where most two-day-wonders get stuck. Just knowing the fundamentals get most folks into trouble unless they get help from a mentor.
Driving without a permit
A Scrum certification is therefore like passing the theory exam for your driving license. We don’t permit people to drive unless they have also proven themselves to be capable of driving a car. You don’t need miles on the clock to get Scrum Master certification. Someone on Twitter disagreed with me when I made this analogy. In his memory, he had that to proof 10k hours besides passing several essay questions for the CSP certification. With 40 hours a week, this takes five years to meet the 10k criterium. I laughed out loud when someone else remembered his CSP certification differently and provided a link to the Scrum Alliance CPS certification criteria showing that it required two years of work experience in the role.
Proof of experience
I am all for proving real experience. However, how do you do that? Let’s assume for a moment that the 10k hours criterium is a good one. Who can check that? How? Who even keeps a record of such matters? People make up all kinds of things they never did to pass such criteria. Someone with a good network can also make his “career” look plausible even when it is a complete lie. I have witnessed people do this. I think it takes someone with experience to be able to recognize someone else with real expertise. I believe it requires interviews about concrete situations. Someone with practical knowledge in Scrum implementations knows what issues you will run into at personal, team and company level and has multiple options to deal with these issues depending on the context. I don’t think essay questions can capture this. When someone answers an essay question, you miss background and factors influencing a situation. What may be the right call in one context can be the wrong one in another.
Agile Happy Meal
Companies tend to fall into the Agile Happy Meal trap with fresh Scrum Masters. Joshua Kerievsky describes the Agile Happy Meal in one of this videos. I have seen quite a few companies do early cherry-picking of practices that seem doable and leave out the harder ones. However, with just two-day-wonders, there is no foundation to make the right decisions or do the necessary change management to become successful at this. Too often the result is that after some time companies conclude that scrum doesn’t work for them, because they fail to get the marketed results: faster, cheaper and higher quality.
So, what should you do
It is easy to learn the basics of Scrum, but it is tough to implement for many reasons. So, if you seriously consider a transformation to Scrum, please understand that a two day Scrum Master training is insufficient.
For a successful transformation the preferred option is to get a professional mentor; Yes, a mentor not a coach. A mentor has the experience to show you on the job how to do what you need to do in your context. That’s the next level after coaching.
An autodidact may wonder why he can’t figure this out on his own. He probably can and have many time-wasting learnings others already had. Most pitfalls, mistakes, anti-patterns, you name it, are already known. Remember, Scrum has been around for some time now.
Some additional recommendations:
- Make sure you want to transform to Scrum for the right reason. Don’t do it, because it is popular and you are afraid to miss out on something. Scrum isn’t for everyone and also not the best option for all types of work. A mentor can tell you if you have the right conditions for success.
- Start small. Start with a pilot project that is not on your highest priority list or failure-is-no-option list. Expect things to go wrong. Your team(s) should be allowed to fail and start over. If you cannot afford this, don’t even start. Consider starting another time with more favorable conditions.
- Start by the book. No cherry-picking up front to make sure everyone starts from the same baseline. Give your team a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t before jumping to conclusions.
- If it is hard, do it more often. It will get easier. Don’t be tempted to give up when you don’t get it right the first time. Iterate experiments. Try something slightly different, but only change ONE thing, so you know what change made an impact (positive or negative).
- Whoever joins a course should already be really excited and be prepared to invest beyond it. Read, experiment and learn.
- Read, read and read more. There are quite a few excellent books available that can help you learn and experiment faster. In other words, experiment, experiment, and experiment even more.
Hope you enjoyed reading this and stay tuned if you what to learn why transitioning to Scrum can be hard, how you can find the right mentor to help you and what known challenges you most likely run into. I will write about these topics in follow-up blog posts.