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2019 Scrum Master Trends Report Published

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Key Takeaways

  • The Scrum Master role is growing in use and importance.
  • In many organizations Scrum Masters are driving change at the enterprise level.
  • Scrum is being used with additional approaches such as Kanban and XP.
  • Salaries for Scrum Masters grew in 2018 as the role matured in organizations.
  • The gender gap for salaries is reducing with female Scrum Masters earning on average more than their male counterparts.

The 2019 Scrum Master Trends Report has been published by Scrum.org and Age of Product. The report explores salary trends, agile adoption patterns, and gender equality within the Scrum master role, based on the responses from over 2100 participants across 13 countries.

Key findings from the report include:

  • 81% are using Scrum with other agile practices, ie. Kanban, DevOps, XP
  • Female salaries are trending higher those of their male counterparts
  • Scrum Masters with formal Scrum training and agile certifications have higher salaries than those without
  • Adoption trends show that 7% are continuing to use Waterfall, while 11% are mature in their agile adoption; the remaining participants are early adopters or growing their adoption

This survey is based on the 2017 State of Scrum Master Salary Report where questions have been added on topics including adoption trends, scaling frameworks and complementary practices to Scrum.

InfoQ spoke with Dave West, chief product owner of Scrum.org, and Stefan Wolpers, agile coach, about the Scrum master trend report.

InfoQ: What is the scope of the Scrum Master Trends report?

Dave West: The survey added to the success of Age of Product’s 2017 Scrum Master Salary Report expanding its reach (number of people surveyed) and depth (number of questions asked). We focused on the role of the Scrum Master, which is increasingly being described as a pivotal role in agile transformations. We looked at the tools and process models they are using and how they are positioned in the organization. We also continued our review of their salary and career path.

Stefan Wolpers: While the data-set of the first survey was acceptable, I wanted to enlarge the statistical basis with the second survey to improve its accuracy. Teaming up with Scrum.org quadrupled the number of the respondents. What started as a side-project in 2017 born out of curiosity has now the potential to become the globally leading industry standard.

InfoQ: What are the main trends that Scrum masters should know about?

West: I wrote a bit about my thoughts on the key findings at the Scrum.org article Thoughts on the 2019 Scrum Master Trends Report. To summarize, I found the following interesting:

  • Driving agile change - We talk a lot about the importance of frameworks, organizational models and executive support. And all of those things are important, but just like any change it really is all about the people. Those “things” are often very distant from teams delivering value. What was really interesting from the data was that 45% of Scrum Masters are driving change and the agile transformation in their organizations. This is interesting and means that the Scrum Master is much more than a cut and place replace of the role “Project Manager”.

  • Scaling - Yes, not a surprise many organizations are scaling their agile approach. But the idea that there is just one method for scaling seems to be changing. But more on this in the next question.

  • The role of Scrum Master is maturing - Considering that Scrum is +25 years old it should not come as a surprise that the role is maturing. That means that organizations are having to think about career paths and look at the skills of the Scrum Master in a much broader way. We saw the trend and that encouraged us to deliver a new class to market called Professional Scrum Master II. This class is illustrative of the maturing role, as it does not teach Scrum but focuses on the impact of Scrum in enterprises.

  • It is not a Kanban vs Scrum world, but instead, these two approaches are being used effectively together. This is great news as it highlights the maturing of the ideas with people starting to understand that Scrum benefits from the ideas of flow, visualization and measurement.

  • Certification does seem to matter - One key part of the survey is the data we are collecting on salaries, and how those salaries are affected by other variables such as certification, education, and environment. It is clear that we are seeing the reality that the Scrum Master role is increasingly become more professional with people taking formal training and certification.

Wolpers: Firstly, start reading the manual—aka: the Scrum Guide—more often. The world of agile transformation has become so complex that going back to first principles such as Scrum Values and Empiricism has proven to be helpful to clear the mind and identify a solution to a problem. (There is a nice side-effect to the growing appreciation of the Scrum Master role: it will also help to reduce the percentage of Scrum-but approaches and finally propel the application of Scrum as it has always been intended.)

Secondly, stop thinking in categories of Scrum Masters and agile coaches, or even worse, that the latter is a career path for the former. I believe it is one job, not two. It about driving change at all levels: from the senior leadership to the individual Scrum team. It is this spectrum of hands-on experience that makes the Scrum Master role so versatile. If Scrum is applied as designed, there ultimately is no need for the agile coach role. We are all coaches.

InfoQ: The report mentioned that 49% of the companies scaling agile are not using a specific framework like SAFe, Nexus, LeSS, or DAD. What does this tell us?

West: That people are starting to look outside of the hype of the “one ring to bind them” view of the world and realizing that a good agile practitioner looks to many places for ideas that can help. Scaling is really hard and there is no one size that fits all. There is no silver bullet. When you increase the number of people on a single, integrated endeavor, you start breaking many of the ideas necessary to be agile. Those compromises might be necessary, or might not be. It is important to look to the frameworks to provide you with ideas of when to do X or try Y. They will not solve your problems but WILL provide you with a different point of view. Each scaling framework comes with a set of assumptions and it is important to step back and think about how those assumptions affect the three fundamentals of agility of Empiricism, Self Organization, and Continued Improvement. I am happy that people are thinking about scaling from many perspectives and dropping the dogma often associated with one framework vs another.

Wolpers: I hope that we will see this trend grow over time and that organizations, particularly those at the beginning of a transformation, will be less inclined to believe that “package agile”—as often offered by the large consultancies—is a suitable way to evolve into an agile entity.

The point is, you need to tailor any transformation to the particularities of every single organization. Contrary to popular belief, the old “no one gets fired for buying IBM” does not apply to SAFe®, too.

InfoQ: There is a big variety of roles that people have before becoming a Scrum Master. What’s your view on this?

West: The journey to Scrum Master seems to be a very varied one, and I think that might actually be a good thing. Being credible with the team, but still being able to step back and provide a different point of view are key ingredients to the role. That makes a single career path difficult to predict. For example, if the team is deeply technical solving very technical problems, to have some level of credibility the Scrum Master might come from a technical background. A different problem space requires a different person.

The one challenge to this mixed journey is that there is no single set of skills that all Scrum Masters have. For example, for many Scrum Masters coaching is a core skill and they spend time working with the Development Team, Product Owner and leadership coaching them on how to apply the key ideas of Scrum. Other Scrum Masters do not think they should be a coach focusing on traditional management approaches. The lack of a clear description of what a Scrum Master should or shouldn’t do led Scrum.org to build the digital learning paths. These learning paths provide a very clear description of what skills a Scrum Master needs. As the role of Scrum Master matures, having a consistent foundation for the role is crucial for its long term success.

Wolpers: I think the level of variety results on the one hand from the variety of roles that are required to build digital products nowadays. And I agree with Dave that this is a good thing—seasoned practitioners are embracing agile practices.

On the other hand, it also demonstrates that Scrum and other agile practices are still underappreciated as a scholarly subject. The agile world would be a dark place without educational offerings such as the ones Dave mentioned before.

InfoQ: Many organizations are still in the adoption process or at the beginning of agile adoption. Isn't that surprising, as the agile manifesto was published in 2001?

West: To quote the famous economist Carlota Perez, we are navigating from the age of mass production to the digital age. It is not surprising that this is difficult and things take time. The reality is there are organizations that have managed that transition and are digital native organizations where agility is a natural way of approaching work and delivering value. And there are many executives and teams that get it, but the rest of the organization is slow to change. I am however, ultimately optimistic about the time being right and that a change will happen. That optimism stems from my experience of seeing when it works, seeing the impact it can make in terms of increased value delivered, happy teams and people who want to help others to get better.  

Wolpers: I am not surprised at all. Old—meaning: convenient and lucrative—habits such as embracing the management paradigm of the industrial age die hard. Why would you voluntarily entrust your ability to put your kids through college and pay your mortgage to a bunch of hoodie-wearing nerds, promising to deliver something valuable if you let them self-organize?

The problem with that dogma is, though, that we are less and less assembling the Model T but have to go where no one has ever gone before, chased by the competition. And given its ever-increasing speed and complexity, even the most devout incumbents are realizing now that throwing more budget at the PMO will not keep the old ship afloat.

So, I am not surprised that most organizations are still in the adoption phase. Like Dave, I am also confident that within a few years even today’s laggards will embrace the idea of becoming an agile, learning organization.

InfoQ: In 2017 the first report on Scrum master salaries was published. How are the salaries of Scrum Masters developing?

Wolpers: Generally, we can observe a positive trend, reflecting the increase in demand for skilled Scrum Masters. What is still puzzling to me, though, is the relatively low compensation that European Scrum Masters realize. (It is $ 76,889 p.a. in 2018, see p 36.) Hopefully, it is just indicating that the old continent is lagging behind the trend toward business agility.

West: What we have seen with salaries is a statistical move upward. In 2017, approximately 26% of people made between $50,000-$75,000 USD.  In the most recent study, that number drops to 21% while the range of $75,000-$100,000 increased from 16% to 21% and $100,000-$125,000 increased from 14% to 18%.  When looking at gender, females are making progress as well. In 2017, 28% of the females made over $100,000, while in the latest survey that percentage has risen to 36% while their male counterparts only rose by 2% in the same range.

InfoQ: What do you expect that the future will bring for Scrum masters?

Wolpers: It will be a bright and shiny future once we manage to overcome the misconceptions that still seem to guide notably larger organizations that are late to ‘Agile’, namely considering the Scrum Master to be a tactical role in the machine room, fixing teams and making sure that code is shipped. If supported in the right manner, the Scrum Master role has the potential to be one of the pivotal roles within an organization aspiring to learn how to innovate faster than its competition.

West: I truly believe we are at the start of a fundamental shift in how people help others deliver complex work. The Scrum Master role was always seen by Jeff and Ken as a change agent; a person who drives the ideas of agility into the team, business, and organization. To not be a manager, but instead someone who supports the team and is accountable for building an environment for agility to thrive. Currently, we are in transition, changing from the idea of managed work to self-managed, from specialists to teams, and from work aligned around the process to work aligned to around the customer and outcome. The Scrum Master is in the middle of this transition. If they are successful, organizations will flourish; if they fail, organizations will find it hard to become more agile. Over time I believe the role of the Scrum Master will be less about spending time driving this change, and instead will focus more on continuous improvement and adaptation. They will spend less time cheerleading agility, and more time making the work flow and value delivered. They truly will be the oil for agility, and less the hammer.     

About the Interviewees

Dave West is the Product Owner and CEO at scrum.org. He is a frequent keynote speaker and is a widely published author of articles and co-author of two books, ‘The Nexus Framework For Scaling Scrum’ and ‘Head First Object-Oriented Analysis and Design’. Twitter @davidjwest

Stefan Wolpers has worked for many years as a product manager, Product Owner, and Scrum Master. He’s founded multiple companies and led the development of B2C and B2B software for VC-backed startups—including a former Google subsidiary. He is a regular contributor to the agile community and organizes the Agile Camp Berlin. Twitter: @StefanW

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