Some time back, I had the opportunity to read about the growth paths available to a Scrum Master (SM). The thinking behind this was that the SM role for a given Scrum team is not forever. There comes a point in time when the team is able sustain Scrum adoption by itself and the need for Scrum Master assistance reduces significantly. In that case, what does the Scrum Master do keep herself gainfully occupied and grow career-wise?

Mike Cohn in his blog talks about the following options:

  1. Take on the SM role for additional teams and in more complex product environments
  2. Become a mentor for other SMs in the organization
  3. Move to being a Product Owner (in cases where the SM loves what is being created much more than the process of creating it)
  4. Move to a management role (such as manager of Scrum teams, QA manager, Product Manager etc.)

The above list got me thinking about the ease / difficulty associated with each option above in terms of preparation and transition. For instance, options 1 and 2 seem relatively easy for the Scrum Master – they being in many ways, an extension to what she is already doing. In option 1, however, there may be additional learning involved especially in moving to a scaled Agile environment (using frameworks such as SAFe). Options 3 and 4, however, do not seem as easy. Option 3 would require a certain interest/flair in product management and perhaps background as a Business Analyst. Option 4, seems to be the most difficult in terms of mindset, skill and behavioral changed needed. Here are some points on why:

  • Firstly, the scope of a manager’s role is in the context of Scrum teams could be very sweeping. Some (Henrik Kniberg, for instance) would even say, the role is defined by “if it’s nobody else, it’s YOU”. This is in contrast to the well-defined role of a Scrum Master. So, the SM’s mindset has to change first to deal with it – taking ownership for virtually anything & everything!
  • Related to the above, is the manager’s specific responsibility to remove impediments of various types for the Scrum teams. No doubt, as an SM, she would have done that by herself. But now, as a manager, she needs to prepare herself to assist SMs with those impediments that they are not able to address by themselves. That would require much more interaction with senior stakeholders in the organization and be in a position to influence them – a whole new ball game requiring considerable skill
  • The third important point is about the SM “letting go” of the Scrum teams for whom she had been working with so far. Behavioral changes are needed both for the SM and the teams to wean themselves away from each other at an operational level and recognize the new boundaries of interaction given the SM’s new role as a manager
  • Very often, the Scrum Master moving to a management role is likely to be at the boundary of Scrum teams in her portfolio and the organization’s leadership. While she herself may be well-versed in leadership through influence (having been a SM herself), the managers higher up may be very directive in their leadership style (referred to as “command & control” style). This may pose a significant challenge and require the SM-turned-manager to subtly coach the leadership as well as needed. In most cases, this “buffering” responsibility can be daunting for a new manager. Playing the role of a leadership coach even sporadically needs the SM to educate herself on many aspects – mindset, skill and behavior

In summary, Scrum Masters, when they are planning their next career move need to know the role options in front of them as well as know what it takes to transition into them. SMs may still pursue the “difficult” option if they are well-motivated to pursue it. But at least, they would know upfront what the challenges are and be better prepared for them.

Have you had experiences of moving from being a SM to other roles and what it took in terms of preparation & transition? Look forward to hearing about them!