Thoughts and Recommendations on Scrum Master Training

This is not a plug for a Scrum Master training course… I was recently asked to provide some thoughts and recommendations on Scrum Master training for a person who was new to the Scrum Master role. This particular individual knew the basic mechanics of how to do Scrum but needed to take the performance of the team to the next level. I want to share my recommendations with you because I think this is a fairly common situation.

  • The biggest problem is that many people don’t understand the full scope of the Scrum Master role. They see it as a passive facilitator role and all you need to know is the mechanics of how to do Scrum. If that’s the way you see it, you can get the standard CSM certificate and call it “done”; I think it is much more than that. (See my recent post on the Scrum Master role):http://managedagile.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/scrum-master-role
  • I thought that the standard Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course would be a waste of time and money for this individual unless it is taught by someone really good who goes beyond the basics. Most CSM courses only cover the basic mechanics of Daily Standups, Sprint Reviews, Retrospectives, etc. and that’s a very small fraction of what a good Scrum Master needs to know, in my opinion.
  • However, I did think it would be worthwhile for this individual to take an assessment of Scrum Master knowledge without going through the standard CSM course – an assessment exam is relatively inexpensive ($100) and that exam will help validate that the individual has the basic Scrum Master knowledge or not and will help to highlight any areas of weakness. Here’s a link for registering to take the Professional Scrum Master Self-Assessment:http://www.scrum.org/Assessments/Professional-Scrum-Master-Assessments/PSM-I-Assessment

What is needed in many cases is an Advanced Scrum Master training course, but there are very few of those offered. Standard CSM courses are available all over the place, but very few people offer an Advanced Scrum Master course that goes beyond the basics because so many people seem to be content to get the CSM certificate and call it “done”.

A good Scrum Master, in my opinion, is passionate about Agile and doing it with a level of excellence. He/she should be somewhat of an evangelist to help others thoroughly integrate Agile/Scrum values, principles, and practices into the way that they work. That’s what is needed, in my opinion. There are many situations like the one I was in where the company was doing the “mechanics” at a basic level and what’s needed is to go beyond that basic level to really dramatically improve the performance of the team. In that kind of situation, you’ve really got to become somewhat of an Agile “zealot” to do it well and one CSM course is not likely to do that.

It requires a strong commitment to ongoing learning and development to become a really good Scrum Master. Essentially, you need to commit yourself to becoming an “Agile Expert”. There are a lot of regularly scheduled Agile events sponsored by Agile groups throughout the world where people share knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work in the real world. Don’t forget that Agile is based on very empirical knowledge… beyond a certain point, there is no textbook that I’m aware of to tell you exactly what to do.

Another course and certification that I think is worthwhile to consider (but not necessarily the first thing to do) would be to get the PMI-ACP certification. ACP stands for “Agile Certified Practitioner” and is a new PMI certification designed primarily for project managers who work in an Agile environment. I have that certification and I think it is worthwhile. Here’s what I like about it:

    • I think the PMI-ACP exam is more rigorous than the CSM exam and the certification has some more rigorous experience requirements that the CSM certification doesn’t require
    • The PMI-ACP certification takes a broader view of Agile not limited to Scrum and covers other related knowledge areas such as Lean and helps you see the “Big picture” of what Agile is all about; where CSM is really focused on Scrum and the mechanics of how to do Scrum

Both have value…you do need to know the mechanics of how to do Scrum, but it’s also worthwhile to see the “big picture” of Agile as well to better understand the principles and practices at a higher level. You will find information on the PMI-ACP certification here:

http://www.pmi.org/Certification/New-PMI-Agile-Certification.aspx

I think certifications have value if they’re used in the right way. Some people seem to use them to “punch a ticket” and call it done. I see certifications as part of a program of ongoing learning. They can be useful to calibrate what you know and don’t know, particularly if you do a lot of self-study as I do; but getting a particular certification should rarely be an end in itself.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts and Recommendations on Scrum Master Training”

  1. I believe a top-performing Scrum Master has to be *much more* than the Agile Expert: business and technical domain knowledge can be very valuable to a non-senior team in two dimensions.

    Business domain knowledge enables the SM to coach the Product Owner and to help the PO organize, groom, and prioritize the product backlog. All PO’s are not created equal, and newly-minted PO’s often appreciate a steadying hand.

    Technical domain knowledge can be useful in helping the team in planning and estimating. The SM, with a detailed knowledge of the business domain, may be able to contribute to the technical discussion in a way that the PO can’t (either by absence or by lack of knowledge).

    The downside of a strong Scrum Master is the possible impact it could have on the egalitarian aspect of the team. The SM can’t take the role of the “leader” or pack the Retrospective’s agenda with his or her issues. The answer is the SM should be a full member of the team and not just the Agile expert or the person who organizes meetings.

    1. I agree that it is useful for the Scrum Master to have some technical and business domain knowledge, but business domain knowledge is really the Product Owner role and technical domain knowledge is really the team role. I also agree that there is a downside in having a Scrum Master that is too strong and that’s why I advocate the idea of “Adaptive Leadership”.

  2. yeah its a very good article.As a project manager, I use Scrum in my projects. The Guide to Scrum Body of Knowledge by SCRUMstudy provided a complete reference for the Scrum project I am working with. It is a very good book and extremely readable. I really liked sections on risk and quality. The tools mentioned in the processes were very helpful. I highly recommend this book if you are planning to implement Scrum in your organization. You can go through the first chapter available on http://www.SCRUMstudy.com

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  4. I agree that it is better to take the PSM I assesment from Scrum.org than to go the more expensive route of the CSM. I too am challenged when training this audience of experienced practitioners and am developing an advanced Scrum Master course.

    Additionally, for those interested in taking the PMSI I, I have some free sample questions and a paid 80 question practice exam here based upon my experience taking it.

    http://www.agileprojectmanagementtraining.com/agile-exam-resources/

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