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Transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master

Transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master

Anthony Mersino

August 1, 2018

12:00 AM

Article at a glance
    • Transitioning from a Project Manager to a Scrum Master requires a shift in mindset, emphasizing team empowerment and a focus on Scrum principles.
    • Five tips for success in this transition include: avoiding trying to fulfill both roles simultaneously, embracing the necessary mindset change, mastering Scrum principles through training and certification, prioritizing team well-being over tasks and status, and practicing Scrum to gain experiential knowledge.
    • Additional resources for project managers making this transition include Lyssa Adkins’ book “Coaching Agile Teams,” Tom Cagley’s blog on software processes, and Mike Cohn’s writings on agile and Scrum.
    • PSM and CSM certification courses are available for those seeking formal training in the role.
    • It’s essential to acknowledge that some skills that served well as a project manager may need adjustment for success as a Scrum Master.

Being a Great Scrum Master can be Learned

In my related post, I argued that most Project Managers make lousy Scrum Masters. It’s not on purpose, it just happens that the skills that make them great project managers actually hinder them from being great Scrum Masters. However, I believe that any project manager can learn to be a great Scrum Master.

I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s Mindset book and the idea of the growth mindset. Dweck contends that everything can be learned. I agree, and I believe that anyone can the soft skills needed to be a great scrum master. I think in addition to overcoming their need to control, project managers need to change their mindset or worldview. The following table shows some of the shifts in thinking that will be needed to be a great scrum master:

Project Manager Thinking vs. Scrum Master Thinking

I know what is best The team knows what is best
I need to make decisions The team needs to decide
I focus on status I focus on team health
I see myself in the middle of everything I see myself as an outside observer and supporter
I am the connector and translator I am the enabler

Tips for Succeeding as a Scrum Master

I know that all great project managers have the potential to be great scrum masters. I did it! Here are five specific tips for how to do that:

1. Don’t try to be both Project Manager and Scrum Master

There is a unfortunate trend to hire people who are “project manager/scrum masters” or to expect one person to play both roles. Don’t do it! Trying to do these two jobs at the same time will be difficult for you and confusing or upsetting to your team members. It will be too hard to separate one from the other and to be good as a scrum master. Instead, focus on learning and mastering the scrum master role.

2. Focus on the mindset change

Be open to change and let go of old ways of thinking. Recognize your desire for control and relinquish it to others.

3. Master Scrum

I probably sound like a broken record on this, but to be effective as a scrum master, you need to train and coach others on scrum. You can’t do that if you haven’t mastered it. Get the Scrum Guide and read it. Many project managers don’t bother – be different. Dig in. Join a training course and pursue certification as a Scrum Master (we offer public courses monthly).

4. Let Go of Tasks and Status

Project managers often get distracted with tasks and status. Instead, focus on people and interactions. Pay attention to the team health, and the chemistry and motivation levels. Help the team with their self-organization, empowerment and conflict resolution. Create an environment where people can do their best work.

5. To Really Understand Scrum, Practice

As Ken Schwaber noted years ago, you don’t learn scrum by reading a book. You learn it by practicing it and getting a lot of feedback through experienced coaches and mentors. Feedback is the breakfast of champions! Invite someone to invest in you with lots of feedback and really accelerate your growth.

Resources for Project Managers in Transition

Lyssa Adkins has an entire body of work around how to transition from traditional project manager to Scrum Master and Agile Coach. You can start with her book, Coaching Agile Teams. She also has some great videos including parts 1 and 2 of The Road from Project Manager to Agile Coach.

Another great resource is Tom Cagley’s blog, Software Process and Measurement. Tom writes on a wide variety of topics which will be of interest to aspiring Scrum Masters. His recent post on consensus decision-making will be of interest to project managers who need to bolster their team decision making capabilities.

Mike Cohn has also written a ton of blog posts and books on mastering agile and Scrum.

Finally, I welcome you to join one of our public Scrum Master certification courses. We offer them on a monthly basis. Details here: Professional Scrum Master Training and Certified ScrumMaster.

I hope that this article was helpful for you to see what it takes to succeed as a scrum master. I don’t want you to feel that as a project manager, scrum is off limits or that you don’t qualify. You can learn to do both roles well and become more valuable in the process. Just recognize that some of the skills and approaches that made you successful as a project manager will not serve you well as a scrum master.

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