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A unique profession: Scrum Master

What do people think you do when they hear this job title? ​“The position has become increasingly more common in recent years, but many people still think I’m a project manager, although that isn’t entirely true.”

What exactly does your job entail?
“As a Scrum Master I supervise a development team during the development of a software product. We don’t predetermine exactly what the end product needs to look like. However, the budget, the resources and the time available to us to realise the product are fixed in advance. I start looking into what the end user wants together with the team. I therefore don’t decide what they are going to develop, but I help the team to organise themselves in such a way that the product can be realised within the right timeframe and with the available budget. This is therefore not classic project management, as you’re mainly dealing with people. My job is actually a human answer to a traditional project manager.

How did you end up doing this job?
“I rolled into it when I was working as a Project Manager at my previous employer. A customer wasn’t happy with what we had supplied, but we were fortunately in a position to talk to them about this very openly. The company resolutely opted for a flexible way of working, which resulted in products being introduced to the market much more quickly and allowing us to fine-tune them with the customer in the meantime.”

What do you find most appealing about this work?
“I love the human aspect of this job. You are almost constantly discussing things with people. This may not seem very efficient, but paradoxically it’s actually incredibly effective, as it allows you to achieve the desired result.”

Tell me something not many people know about your job?
“Companies sometimes tend to forget that scrum demands a major cultural change. A scrum team works in a very independent manner and a manager’s role is subsequently questioned. This is quite an adjustment, especially in large companies with a cumbersome structure. Yet changes like this can sometimes effectively start on a small scale. I once worked on a project for a major customer as part of a team of juniors. The working method was very traditional here: everyone was quietly sat at their own desks and communicated with their colleagues via a chat system. They were quite curious about what we were discussing every morning, why it always looked like we were enjoying ourselves and what the point of that large board full of post-it notes was. We noticed they had started copying our way of working after a month: there were spontaneous face-to-face meetings and the walls were suddenly full of post-it notes. Another three months on and the company was functioning entirely in line with the scrum method.”

What do you need to be good at in order to do the job you do?
“You need to have an affinity with people and be able to bring a team up to a higher level. We call it continuous improvement. Acquiring the Scrum Master certificate isn’t all that difficult anymore. But my fear is that marks the decline of scrum. You don’t just become a good people coach overnight, you really do need the right people skills for this.”

Which aspects are less interesting, or which ones don’t you enjoy as much?
“There really are no downsides to this job for as far as I’m concerned. Realising something together and forming part of a team is simply very enjoyable. Of course there may be some friction at times, which is to be expected when you’re working with people. But that’s what makes it so interesting. And if you’re honest and transparent towards everyone, you’ll get plenty in return.”

What were your career aspirations when you were young? And how does your job fit in with this?
“I don’t remember having a specific job or career in mind, but I do remember thinking my dad’s job was great. He worked as a chief technician at the VRT and gave his people plenty of freedom, but asked them to take responsibility for their tasks. So you could refer to him like a type of Scrum Master avant la lettre. I therefore quite fancied the idea of ‘being my own boss’. But like a servant-leader, just like he used to tackle it back in the day.”

What is the Scrum Master’s position within the team?
“As a Scrum Master I form part of the scrum team and help to ensure the team achieves its scope within the time available. If they get stuck on something, or if any problems arise, I do my best to resolve any such blockages. But I often ask them to reflect on things themselves too. The timely delivery of a product is everyone’s joint responsibility.”

What salary level can you expect in this job?
“Scrum has recently become the most popular and effective way of tackling IT projects, which means many Scrum Masters are young people. A starting out Scrum Master can expect a salary of around 2,500 euro, but this can easily go up to 4,000 to 4,500 euro as you gain more experience and develop into a real agile coach. In the IT sector, and especially at IT Consultants, the package will usually include a company car, a mobile phone and collective insurance too.

Does your job allow for a good balance between your work and private life?
“Time is a fixed factor where scrum is concerned. We therefore won’t be working through the night or weekends in order to realise a certain scope. Our normal working hours are 9 to 5, although it goes without saying occasionally needs must. I do sometimes take conflicts or problems home, but my time in the car – I commute between Hasselt and Brussels every day – is usually sufficient to mentally process my working day. Working from home is somewhat harder as a Scrum Master, as this job really demands for you to continuously talk to people and work in the same place.”

What is your future dream from a professional point of view?
“I would like people to become more familiar with the scrum approach and prepare companies for more agile working methods. These days we all live in a bol.com society: place an order today, have it delivered tomorrow. Customers want products at a good price and they expect a fast service too. The traditional corporate structure – from a boss above a boss, above another boss – can’t satisfy this way of working, whereas scrum allows you to effectively and flexibly respond to this. In addition, scrum is a very enjoyable and human way of working together. I therefore hope organisations will start applying it more and more widely, also in departments other than IT. Which is actually already starting to happen.”

What is the best career advice you can offer others?
“Your career will span many years, so make sure you opt for a job which makes you feel energised, something which will really stimulate all your senses. And definitely don’t get pushed into doing something you don’t want to do.”

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