TL; DR: Scrum Master Job — 4 Steps to Identify Suitable Employers or Clients
Are you considering a new Scrum Master job? However, you are not sure that it is the right organization? Don’t worry; there are four steps of proactive research to identify suitable employers or clients for Scrum Masters and avoid disappointment later.
I have used those four steps for years to identify organizations I would like to work with, and they never failed me. Read on and learn how to employ search-engines, LinkedIn’s people search, reaching out to peers in the agile community, and analyzing the event markets in the quest for your next Scrum Master job.
The Scrum Master Job Market Is Promising
The reasons for this are apparent, with software eating the world and the pace of innovation accelerating as the market-entry barriers of the technology sector are continuously lowered. Venture capital is also widely available, and startups are gaining an innovative advantage over established organizations. Current tech trends — accelerated by the pandemic — threaten the very existence of many legacy organizations.
Turning this legacy ship around and taking on this wave of innovative competition bow-first is a difficult thing to do for an organization founded in the golden age of Taylorism. With its functional silos and command and control management style, transforming into a learning organization takes time because the organizational debt, acquired over decades, results in a latency that justifies the ship/tanker metaphor in this case.
The long-established practice of legacy organizations countering this effect was to outsource innovation by acquiring promising startups. The problem with this is that such startups’ valuation has skyrocketed in recent years. In contrast, the financial prowess of legacy organizations has diminished (in many cases) simultaneously. The decade-long window of opportunity in outsourcing disruptive innovation is closing.
Apart from striking the colors and admitting defeat, the only alternative is to change the legacy organization by transforming it into a learning organization. However, with the ensuing difficulty of refocusing everyone on creating hypotheses, running experiments, and embracing failure while abandoning the command and control management style at the same time, legacy organizations have tended to give autonomy, accountability, and transparency a try at the team level. This autonomy is mostly awarded within the product delivery organization in charge of creating software or other technology-related products and services.
Ultimately, whatever the motivation, most organizations acknowledge that the old way of innovating products is no longer viable — at least not in the digital sector. With the desire to be agile or develop software in an agile way, we now observe the massive demand for Scrum Masters — with most of this demand fueled by recent converts. In “Crossing the Chasm” terms, Scrum has become mainstream; the late majority is starting to adopt it.
Therefore, looking for a new Scrum Master job, we need to answer two questions of ourselves:
- Do I want to work for a developing agile organization (of the late majority) where my work will likely be met with resistance at multiple levels?
- If I don’t want to work for a developing agile organization, how do I identify an organization that established agile practices compatible with my mindset?
The two questions are relevant to applying to available positions and identifying suitable employers or clients for a proactive application.
How to Get an Idea of an Organization’s Maturity Regarding Scrum or “Agile?”
While it is impossible to assess an organization’s agile maturity solely from the outside, there is the possibility to acquire enough of an understanding of its agile practices this way. That understanding would allow for asking the right questions at a later stage, for example, during an initial job interview. Or, you may conclude after your research — thus early in the assessment process (see below) — that the organization is not compatible with your expectations of a future employer or client. (Consider the popular saying: There is no job interesting enough that you just couldn’t walk away from it.)
The good news is that all organizations that genuinely embrace agile practices are usually openly talking about their journeys (unless they need to honor compliance rules) and are transparent and actively supporting the agile community. The reason for this support is simple: Being transparent and supportive is the best way to pitch the organization (and its agile culture) to prospective new team members; the war for talent is even more imminent for agile practitioners.
The necessity of critical information is the basis for all research activity during the three distinct phases of your assessment process:
- Proactive research
- Job advertisement
- Job interview.
Scrum Master Jobs: Phase 1 — Proactive Research
The proactive research comprises of four elements: Search-engines (Google, Bing, Youtube), LinkedIn people search, reaching out to peers in the industry or communities, and analyzing the event markets:
Source 1: An Opportunistic Search via Google, Bing, or Youtube
As a first step, always search the organization’s name in combination with a variety of agile-related keywords, such as:
- Scrum Master
- Product Owner
- Continuous integration
- Continuous delivery
- Design thinking
- Lean startup.
Tip: Use additional search parameters to narrow down the search results. For example, the query “scrum master” site:age-of-product.com will return all articles on Age-of-Product.com that include the term “scrum master.” (Learn more about advanced search on Google.)
The purpose of this exercise is to discover an organization’s use of agile practices and the associated fluency level by answering questions as:
- Scrum, Kanban, XP, Lean UX, Design Thinking — What are they practicing?
- Are the current Scrum Masters or agile coaches working at the organization?
- How many engineers or engineering teams are working for the organization?
- What is the size ratio between the product management and engineering teams?
- Is the organization practicing continuous product discovery?
- Is the organization practicing DevOps?
The initial search results will provide a first impression, directing further searches of blog posts, videos of conferences or local meetups, slide decks, podcasts, or threads in communities. A truly agile organization will leave traces of a large variety of content.
The mere quantity of results, though, does not signal that the organization in question has already passed the test, so to speak. There is no way to avoid checking the content. Here’s an example:
InfoQ — a community news site facilitaing the spread of knowledge and innovation in professional software development — has a rigorous editorial process and focuses on delivering quality content to its audience. Contrary to InfoQ’s standards there are quite a few articles on Medium.com, for example, that could raise eyebrows for scrutiny.
A good rule of thumb when scanning search results is noting the diversity of sources. If you find content only on the company blog, and it has barely been shared or commented upon, it might hint that the content is not relevant enough to be of interest within the agile community.
An Advanced Tips:
- Search for the title of a particular content piece on Twitter and have a look at the search results: who from the agile community is sharing this content?
- Use sites like BuzzSumo for content research. While BuzzSumo is paid service, you can use a few free searches a month for your research. (This is an example for the phrase “Scrum Master.”)
Source 2: LinkedIn’s People’s Search
Another good source for research on the target organization is LinkedIn’s people search. You can list results by search-term and then filter them, for example, by company name and location. (Here is an example of Scrum Masters working for Accenture in North America which lists currently about 2,200 results.)
And while you’re at it, why not reach out to someone listed in the search results who are in your LinkedIn network? Or ask someone from your network who may introduce you to a person from the target organization you would like to interview about their agile mindset?
Please note, though, that internal job titles may differ from your vocabulary and impact the accuracy of the search results.
Source 3: Ask Peers for Help via Reddit, Hacker News, the Hands-on Agile Slack Community & LinkedIn Groups
The archive of HN is of particular interest. It is not just because of the sheer number of available articles or threads there, but also the partly heated discussions going on in the comments. Be aware, though, that ‘Scrum’ as a concept is challenged by a lot of the outspoken community members (namely, independent developers) both on Reddit and HN.
Beyond passively scanning the archives, posting a direct question to peers is an alternative. HN is likely a waste of time, and if using Reddit – choose the Subreddits r/agile and r/scrum for a possibly better outcome.
Note: Don’t forget – haters will hate, and trolls just want to play. Do not take it personally if your search on Reddit or HN is not taking the direction you desired.
You can probably expect more support by asking the 9,000 members of the ‘Hands-on Agile’ Slack community for help. This is a world-wide community of Scrum Masters, agile coaches, and Product Owners that has proven to be very supportive.
Note: You can sign-up for the Hands-on Agile Slack Community for free here.
There are also LinkedIn groups available that focus on Scrum and agile practices — some with more than 100,000 members. After having joined them, post your question(s), remembering to be compliant with the group rules. Expect your first posts to be moderated, though.
Some recommended LinkedIn groups — in no particular order — are:
If posting a question to a LinkedIn group, expect to monitor it carefully and interact with answering members in a timely manner: not interacting with responding group members may be considered rude and possibly lead to being banned from posting in the group again.
Also, try Quora, directing a question to Quora members active in the agile realm as to whether the organization of interest has an agile mindset. (Note: In doing so, avoid asking anonymous questions — which tend to have a significantly lower answering rate.)
Lastly, the two main Scrum certification bodies — Scrum.org and ScrumAlliance — provide access to directories of certificate holders. While Scrum.org’s directory is GDPR-compliant, ScrumAlliance’s directory still allows searching for individuals. For example, searching for “Stefan” in “Germany” returns a list of 756 certificate holders as of 2021-01-25.
In Scrum.org’s case, you need the certificate holder’s email address to gain access to a public profile via the search function. A faster way to access a known individual’s public Scrum.org profile is the advanced Google search, see above.
Source 4: Is the Organization Sponsoring or Organizing Meetups, Barcamps, or Conferences?
In my eyes, supporting public or virtual events is the highest form of a contribution to the agile community by an organization.
There are four different levels of engagement — no matter whether the event is a virtual event or an in-person event:
- Organizing conferences (or Barcamps)
- Sponsoring conferences
- Providing speakers to conferences,
- Sponsoring local Meetups and Barcamps by providing a venue.
Suppose an organization provides this level of support to the agile community. In that case, the talk about this will undoubtedly be on the company blog, an engineering or product-management-related blog, or in a press release in their public relations section.
In the unlikely case that any reference cannot be found, just contact the Public Relations department who will provide the required information.
A. Browsing Conference Sites for Sponsors
Conference sites are a good ground for identifying prospective organizations when considering applying for a Scrum Master position. Check carefully for two things: sponsors and speakers.
Search for sponsors that are practicing agile in their daily operations. Usually, a larger sponsor package will also include a speaking slot at the conference.
Attending such a session — whether in person or virtually — will provide direct access to the speaker and thus a first contact in the inner circle of that organization’s agile practitioners. This tends to be valuable: People departments often rely on the private networks of the organization’s available agile practitioners to identify suitable candidates for job openings as a Scrum Master. (Accordingly, attending local Meetups can also be a worthwhile investment for job seekers.)
B. Browsing Conference Sites for Speakers
Personally, a more promising approach, by comparison, is to search for non-professional speakers who are aligned with an organization that is not sponsoring the conference. These speakers may indicate a suitable, prospective employer or client after already having gone through the selection process for speaking proposals and vetting of their contribution for originality.
The same approach can apply to contributions at Barcamps, although a disadvantage is that the critical information is only available during an event. While the speaker list of a conference is available in advance to stimulate ticket sales, it is the nature of a Barcamp that the schedule, and hence the speaker list, is available only on the day of the Barcamp. If you are already planning to attend a Barcamp, it may just be an inconvenience and not a concern. Timing is crucial, though, so please keep in mind that tickets for Barcamps are often sold out within minutes. (For example, the 600-plus tickets for the UXCamp Europe were regularly gone in a few minutes until the organizers switched to a lottery.)
There are numerous conferences regarding agile practices, so here are just some of the listings:
For an additional listing of agile conferences, check TechBeacon’s list for 2021.
Lastly, the big conferences are often considered must-attend events — useful, for example, to gain or improve professional visibility within the agile community. Alternatively, smaller conferences often prove to be more effective by providing information that helps identify a suitable, prospective agile organization. The larger the conference, the more possibility of noise camouflaging that information.
Please note that due to the pandemic, many more virtual conferences are currently being created with excellent speaker line-ups at relatively affordable costs without the need to travel. For Scrum Master job seekers, this is a good opportunity to amplify their outreach.
C. Browsing Meetup.com for Organizers
Meetup.com is a great site to discover which events of the agile community are happening locally and who is organizing them.
There are thousands of meetups worldwide, covering the topics of agile frameworks and practices, software engineering, and product development in general. Since the pandemic, many Meetup groups switched to virtual events, attracting more members from outside their original reach. For example, the Hands-on Agile Meetup community has grown from about 1,500 members in March 2020 to more than 2,500 members in January 2021. The new members from all over the globe — from Vietnam to Brasil to the United States — added tremendous expertise and diversity, making the events more inclusive and a much better experience for everyone. Therefore, Meetup.com is an excellent place to look for answers and peer support.
Metaphorically, the low-hanging fruit is, of course, an organization that leaves a footprint in the Scrum community by organizing its own events. A good example of this category is Berlin-based Zalando, Europe’s largest online fashion retailer. A quote from its Senior Manager of Corporate Communications:
Over the last year and a half, we have doubled the technology team from around 800 in 2015 to over 1,600 currently. In addition to changing our business model, we also implemented a unique culture within the technology team called Radical Agility: This has seen monthly technology applications grow from 500 to over 2,000 and allows us to ensure that we are hiring only the best quality.
Zalando is hosting several events relating to best engineering practices, as well as agility-related events, every month on their own campus. If you want to work in an agile organization in Berlin, Zalando is certainly an organization worth considering.
Besides spotting the Zalandos of this world, the other benefit of analyzing a local event is identifying the independent organizers in the community. Most often, these are peers dedicated to the agile cause who are giving back to the community. Given their extended networks, they are usually highly knowledgeable regarding the agile fluency level of local organizations and may know other peers that might be supportive of a quest. Reaching out to them by attending their normally free events is, therefore, a good strategy for gathering information. (This approach works both in-person as well virtually.)
Conclusion: Scrum Master Job — Identifying Suitable Employers or Clients
Suppose you are looking for a Scrum Master job. In that case, it is possible to understand the agile mindset of an organization in advance by applying the research approaches sketched above. Investing a few hours in advance may save you from a later disappointment when your Scrum Master job may turn out to be vastly different from what was pitched or promised to you before.
Please stay tuned; we will also analyze Scrum Master job advertisements and turn to trial-work and the recruiting process in later posts.