I loved my time as a scrum master. It was an interesting and rewarding role.
But being a scrum master mostly sucks.
Here are 10 Reasons Why Being A Scrum Master Sucks*
(Why not join in the conversation around this article over on LinkedIn – with 12k+ view and counting – there’s lots of interesting comments)
1. You spend more money than you earn on stationery
Post-it notes, sharpies, blu-tack, index cards, pens, pencils, stickers, badges, dry wipe markers – the list is endless. You’re not able to walk past a stationery shop without at least looking in.
You spend more time working out which stationery to use than actually doing the job. You buy a Moleskine notebook just because it feels “right” and then proceed to fill it with bad handwriting and stationery shopping lists.
You justify the expense. You tell yourself that it will make you more productive. It doesn’t.
You spend time making your Kanban boards neat and tidy. You chastise the team for using the wrong colour sticky note. You apply dot voting at every conceivable meeting. You even end up buying a special stationery portable toolbox.
You become (or already are) a stationery freak.
2. If you do your job well people think you’re not needed
As soon as you start to do your job well and the team start trucking along you’ll soon have questions asked about how useful or relevant you are to the team. The team seem to no longer need you. The process is working. You’ve outstayed your welcome.
So the team go it alone. Then they realise the value someone doing the role of Scrum Master adds. So they rotate the role around their team or plead for you to come back. The more impressive your ability to get the team trucking, the more questions are asked about your usefulness. That sucks.
3. You’re constantly having to learn more about humans
Your job as a scrum master is to help the team work well together. This is hard. Humans are strange and unpredictable. They have feelings, emotions and relationships. They don’t act the same way all of the time. This is annoying.
This leads good scrum masters down the path of self awareness and self learning. They seek out knowledge and self understanding of how they interact, how the team interact and how to help teams perform well.
Good scrum masters learn about motivation, communication, behavioural economics and a whole host of other social science related work. This leads you to try and understand more than is humanly possible. But you try. Then you get a headache, then you realise how little you know, then you have to lie down, then you realise that being a scrum master sucks.
4. Your obsession with process bleeds in to your personal life
When you’re really on top of your game you start to see “process” everywhere. You start to visualise processes, map these processes out, improve these processes and then automate these processes. This is fine – but you start to try this in every aspect of your personal life, from your children’s teeth brushing routine to your food shopping.
You start to annoy everyone in your life with your constant process analysis and you start to alienate the very people you’re trying to help by improving the “process”.
It becomes an obsession and you can’t help yourself. It now sucks to be you outside of work.
5. You end up having to do everything that unblocks the team
Eventually you start to do everything possible to unblock the team and keep them trucking. You take the servant leader to heart and start making your team drinks, cleaning whiteboards and offering to drive your team around. You get lunch for the team and buy them cakes every day.
Fairly soon your team can’t even function as humans without you. At which point it sucks even more to be a scrum master. Not only do you have to look after yourself, but now also the team.
6. You’re always having to justify why agile works (even when it is working)
Even when software is going out of the door, your customers are getting features and the team are happy, you’ll still have to justify why agile works.
It’s just part of the job – constant and unwavering defense of agile – at all times, always.
7. You have to stop people trying to increase velocity by x% month on month
After you first release your velocity point metrics you have to start defending against claims that the velocity is not increasing very much sprint on sprint.
“It was 10 last week and it’s 10 this week. It was 12 the week before that and 9 the week before that one. Why are you not getting better? Why is velocity not going up?”
8. You’re always having to re-invent fun ways of engaging people in doing a retro
It sucks being a scrum master especially when you turn up to the retrospective to find your team sat there looking sad…and angry….and bored.
It sucks constantly having to come up with new games to play in a retro to get people even mildly excited about talking about what went well during the sprint.
9. Your artistic talents are constantly being “criticised”
At every possible moment in time you will want to draw something, it’s a natural urge for scrum masters.
You’ve already heavily invested in books about sketch-noting. You’ve bought Moleskines and Sharpies and now you’re keen to show off your artistic talents.
The problem is your drawing still sucks. And now you can’t help yourself but to draw at all opportunities. So you’re artistic talents are forever attracting critique, comments and ridicule. Every whiteboard in the office has one of your bad drawings on it. Documented evidence that it sucks to be a scrum master.
10. Your reading list is too long
If you’re serious about your career then you’ll take self learning very seriously indeed. At some point you will have at least 2 million books on your reading list, 3000 RSS subscriptions and be following 4 million agile experts on Twitter (yes there are that many…possibly). All of which will mean your head hurts constantly and you feel like you’re missing out on stuff. You’ll feel stupid. You’ll feel like there’s always too much to learn.
11. You have to get used to people calling you names
As you progress in your career you have to start embracing the fact that people will call you names. Don’t get me wrong – people are not being malicious – they just find it funny to come up with names for someone who isn’t really needed on the team anyway.
Expect some of the following:
Scrum Dawg Millionaire, Scrummy, Scrumling, Servant Leader, Scrum Rockster, Scrumstar, scrummer, scummy and a whole host of others.
I blog at Cultivated Management where I help managers unlock the potential hidden in their team through modern, person-centric management and a focus on better communication.
* It doesn’t really suck to be a scrum master. In fact, it’s an amazing career to head down. This is a “fun” post.