Thursday, June 9, 2011

Are Scrum Master Courses really the primary need?

Thanks to Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber who developed Scrum some 15 years ago. Today Scrum is one of the far most used tools among many more tools that have been developed in the last two decades to become agile.

Thanks to Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber for the development of a course to educate Scrum Masters, so that the message of Scrum was disseminated into organizations. Clearly at starting times of Scrum the most important course was the Scrum Master Course, brought onto the market by the Scrum Alliance, called Certified Scrum Master Course or CSM. This type of course really was one of the drivers to make Scrum popular. Some ten thousands of certified Scrum Master are out there.

Still this course is the most requested training for Scrum. But exactly that is what makes me nervous... A Scrum Master is the coach and guide of the team. The goal of the course is to enable Scrum Masters, not team members. My concern: What to do with all these Scrum Masters? Let's play with some figures. Let's assume that the average Scrum team has seven team members and that one Scrum Master can jump-start two teams per year. Eighty thousand Scrum Master - about that number of registered Scrum Masters are listed on the Scrum Alliance site - potentially would be able to jump-start five hundred thousand Scrum team members per year!!! I would say there are enough Scrum Masters running around. If you need one, you probably already have some in your organization. This might be bad luck for all who want to start a career as SCM trainer in these days.

What really is concerning me is that still team members often do not know how to act in their specific environment and good product owners are rare like a shall with a perfect pearl. Reasons are obvious: To succeed as team it needs more then just coping with Scrum. A team developi software needs as well software engineering best practices, tool and environment skills. Teams by now are just in the beginning to learn all this in combination as a multiple functional team with multi-discipline team members. As well a team of managers using Scrum: It needs skills how to decompose a complex problem of their domain into pieces and how to manage these in a backlog. Then what about product owners. I have seen only very few really powerful and empowered product owners - what might be a problem of the organization behind, but without an education path for product owners this will not change. The context of a product owner is complex depending on the organization and product or services a product owner is responsible for. Over all the symbioses of a set of skills, required to be successful in a profession by using Scrum, must be trained in combination. That a path towards agility.

With one word: The today's primary need of training is not a CSM class. The need is on specific trainings for Scrum team members, specific to their environment and tasks. Simple sample: if you want to become a very good ice hockey player, you can not start with learning how to glide on ice and independent from that pushing the puck over a field. You have to learn both at the same time. A training attended by a developer needs a portion of Scrum, of SWE best practices and playing with tools and environment in combination. Scrum product owners need a training that talks about business value and decomposition of complex problems in their business context.

Consequences are as well on the trainer side. Trainers need to cope with the context of the target audience. A trainer not able to understand the code of an automated acceptance test should not train a team of developers. It might be a good idea to ask the requested trainer, before you engage him for a team of software developers, how he would write automated acceptance tests or setup continuous integration. A trainer for a management team acting in a Scrum way needs to understand and handle management problems. A trainer for product owners ideally knows the business domain beside all knowledge about business value, total cost of ownership and value chains - yes an maybe Kanban as well.

So what we need are more specific trainings for different types of target teams and YES for product owners as well. There are some steps to go on this road. I personally see the following steps:
  1. Please STOP sending whole teams into SCM (Scrum Alliance) or PSM ( courses. Only Scrum Masters need this course.
  2. Select a specific training for the team members. Problem is: where to find those courses? My proposal: browse and ask the well know sources on the web, ask your favorite agile consulting partner and shape the specific class with him. This might be more expensive then a standard course, but ways more effective in the end.
  3. Care for empowered product owners. The current species of project managers, product managers and even the keen business analysts or requirements engineers typically carry already a good skill set. Often missing is the agile mindset as experienced project managers shaped their skills in a different culture. Empowered product owners, well established in the organization, are an essential success factor for your projects.
  4. Convince managers that life long learning is a prerequisite for knowledge workers - no matte if you are using Scrum or waterfall to build your products. Convince them to invest into specific trainings and in coaching for their teams.
In my collaboration with and following the discussions in the agile community I recignize that specific trainings for Scrum teams in different context and for product owners by now are a very hot topic an many options pop up.

More on special trainings later... best Rainer