The Hidden Lives of Scrum Masters
And to a lesser extent, Agile coaches
All the mental energy that you use to elaborate your misery would be far better used trying to find the one, seemingly impossible way out of your current mess. It’s best to spend zero time on what you could have done and all of your time on what you might do. - Ben Horowitz, "Nobody Cares"
"We need YOU for the toughest job you'll ever love!" I can imagine a corporate job recruiting poster for scrum masters saying something like this.
Ah, but read the fine print.
Agile is a mirror that is held by the intrepid scrum master. Virtually without exception, the prevailing people-system will react negatively to the mirror and seek to attack - and I do mean attack - the messenger for the reflection of themselves they are seeing and experiencing. As a scrum master, you will be vilified, ignored, and passive-aggressively abused. You'll risk being accused of abuse, harassment, and worse. You may be compared to an animal or obscene cartoon characters for the amusement of the systemic barnacles intent on "othering" you as their new full-time job. Anything to keep the status quo, to prevent change from coming to their little, little world. Not only must the scrum master fail, in the barnacles' view, he or she must be extinguished and erased. A scrum master will be perceived by some as an existential threat to long standing mediocre practices.
Still want the job?
Many scrum masters and Agile coaches at least have a vague sense they'll have to work with elements like this. What most aren't prepared for is that the people who's behavior you're trying to change really don't care about you. They don't care that your reviews are poorly attended or you daily scrums are lackluster. They don't care that you're repeating or clarifying the Scrum values and principles for the umpteenth time. What they do care about is how your job seems to be upsetting their world, making their job harder, interfering with their daily routines, and generally causing chaos where once things were familiar in their lives.
While working as a scrum master and Agile coach, at one time or another, I've experienced all of this first hand.
Even so, I recommend finding work as a scrum master or agile coach. The "why" behind this is straightforward enough: If you find yourself in an unhealthy work environment, make the job about honing your skills and tempering your steel. This will make you an excellent scrum master or Agile coach...for some other company with whom you can actually make a difference. Until you find that company...
Develop high quality skills for patience, resilience, forgiveness, and compassion.
Experiment with the frameworks. Innovate ways to creatively bend - even break - the frameworks to see what works and what doesn't.
Develop communication skills important for sussing out conflict, root causes, and ulterior motives.
Learn about your fellow human beings. Understand them, discover what makes them hum, tick, buzz, creak, groan, and bark. Be genuinely curious about this. What you learn about your co-workers will reveal a great deal about yourself.
Make it a study in cognitive biases, mental models, and system thinking.
Be professional. Always. Seek to be respected and don't concern yourself with being liked.
If it turns out the organization you're working for responds to your efforts, than great. They got lucky, but you got better.