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Scrum Master competency ladder

What is the role of the Scrum Master and how does the role grow together with the career opportunities for a Scrum Master? The Scrum Master Competency Ladder shows how the Scrum Master role evolves over time as the Scrum Master grows, as the team that they are supporting grows, and as the focus of the Scrum Master shifts from helping one Scrum team to helping multiple Scrum teams and then helping the rest of the organization become an agile organization.

One way for the Scrum Masters to look at the evolution of their job over time as they grow in their role is the Scrum Master Competency Ladder.

Level 1 – Learn to fly

When the Scrum Master starts working, when they are new to the role, or they start working with a new team, they are in Level 1 and I call it “Learn to Fly”. They are really learning to fly. As their focus is on one Scrum team, they are also helping the Scrum team learn to fly.

Activities at this stage include facilitating Scrum events, coaching the Scrum team on how to adopt Scrum more effectively, supporting the Product Owner in refining the product backlog effectively so that value can be delivered each sprint, and helping the team solve any impediments, and then finally, helping the Scrum team adopt the Scrum patterns, so it can be successful in executing the Scrum process.

Level 2 – Spread the wings

As the Scrum Master grows in the role, they move on to the next level and that is when the Scrum Master starts to “Spread their wings”.

The Scrum Master shifts the focus a little bit from just one team to supporting other Scrum teams and creating a community of practice within the organization. The Scrum Masters connect with each other, share best practices, help to elevate all the Scrum teams. They contribute to everybody’s growth, so not to have just one Scrum team high performing and the others lay behind.

How do you do that? At level 2, the Scrum Master focuses on fostering continuous improvement for the Scrum team they’re working with or the Scrum teams across the organization by partnering with other Scrum Masters. Maybe they cross-facilitate each other’s events so that they can learn new practices and each Scrum team get exposed to different ways of thinking, different ideas, from different Scrum Masters.

They can start coaching the Product Owner on the product patterns to also help the Product Owner elevate and learn more about their own job and their own practices. Product patterns are documented activities that successful Product Owners implement in their daily jobs to drive product validation and development. While the Scrum Master is not expected to be an expert in product management, they can guide the Product Owner in learning more and practicing with new techniques that make them more effective.

Level 3 – Reach for the sky

As the Scrum Master grows in their experience, and as the Scrum teams mature, the Scrum Master can “Reach for the sky”. What it means is that they shift the focus onto the rest of the organization, the leadership, and the overall culture of the organization. Now the Scrum Master dedicates most of their time to working with stakeholders and leaders in the organization to guide the organization in adopting Agile values and principles.

The Scrum Master also helps leaders understand how their role is key to successfully become an Agile organization, and also is key to the success of the Scrum teams. For the Scrum teams to be successful, they need to be empowered and they need to be given the support, the flexibility, the resources to be able accomplish their objectives. And this is the role of the leadership.

At level 3, the Scrum Masters identify and solve cultural impediments, looking for things that are in the way in how the organization typically operates. They coach leaderships on adoption of Agile principles and values. They engage with stakeholders in supporting the Scrum teams. They work with the product leadership, senior management, product managers, other leaders in adopting Scrum patterns and enabling a culture of product thinking throughout the rest of the organization.

The Scrum Master may even facilitate workshops for product people with the customers and stakeholders to bring everybody on the same page, for example, on a shared product vision or an updated roadmap. When I say facilitate, it means that the Scrum Master creates the space where the stakeholders and the product people can actually have the conversation and create that alignment. For example, the Scrum Master may recommend organizing a workshop on “product vision” to make sure everyone is aligned on the vision and top priorities for the product.

That’s how the role of the Scrum Master evolves over time.

I invite all the Scrum Masters to think that your job is not to facilitate Scrum events. At least not only this. Maybe, 10% of your time is spent on facilitation.

The rest is to help the Scrum teams grow, help the organization grow, adopt Agile values and principles more effectively, and help everybody understand how to empower the Scrum teams. The goal is to create Scrum teams that are self-organizing units that can take an idea, test an idea, understand those assumptions behind the idea, experiment, and then possibly update their own plans as frequently as needed with a goal of building a better product for your customers.

The Scrum Master plays a pivotal role in enabling the people on the Scrum teams to be highly productive and in guiding the organization towards delivering higher value products using Scrum effectively.

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