Join the Fray as a Certified Scrum Master

Rugby scrum

What does product development have to do with rugby?

Ask Hirotaka Takeuchi or Ikujiro Nonaka. In 1986 they wrote an article published in Harvard Business Review titled "New New Product Development Game," which is probably the first time software developers have ever taken their cues from professional athletes. The article argued that a software development team should act like a rugby team: It should be fast-moving and responsive, passing the project back and forth as needed, as team members sprint toward their end goal.

Takeuchi and Nonaka wanted to illustrate that the traditional standards of product development don't really hold up in the software field, in which needs and expectations can change quickly. Sequential, predictive planning — so the argument goes — introduces waste when developers spend time and money planning for features and solutions that they end up not developing, and meticulously creating documentation for those features that nobody will ever use.

If this kind of thinking sounds irresponsible to you, then go ahead and skip on to another article; I won't judge. If, on the other hand, you love the idea of fast-paced, almost bohemian software development, then I've got a certification for you, and it's just as cool as it sounds: Certified Scrum Master.

Scrum, which takes its name from a rugby term that describes a sort of free-for-all method of restarting play after a stoppage, is an Agile Software Development philosophy that preaches simplicity and flexibility at every turn.

I won't bother writing out the whole mantra, especially when there's a free definitive guide to Scrum online, written by two of the big names leading the charge. I will tell you that Scrum basically boils product development down to its bare-bones  essentials: one dev team (no sub units!), one Product Owner, and one Scrum Master.

So how does a Scrum Master, er, Scrum? The traditional job description might be "overseer," though "guru" is probably closer. A Scrum Master's job is "ensuring that the Scrum team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules," according to the official guide.

As servant-leader (a term also taken from the guide) of the Scrum Team, it's less important that the SM has a firm grasp of bureaucratic procedure or documentation, and more important that they understand the guiding principles of Scrum and be able to convey these to teams and product owners in a helpful, efficient and non-confrontational way.

Don't let the feel-good stuff fool you, though; at the heart of Scrum is efficiency. No more coordinating between departments — there is one Scrum team. No more layers upon layers of management — there is one product owner and one Scrum Master (the guide specifies that the product owner is not a committee or board; regardless of the client's organizational structure, the Scrum team answers to one person).

No more excessive documentation with limited applicability and usefulness. No more soul-crushing multiple-year itineraries — there is only the Sprint, a development period of no more than a month in which the Scrum team develops something useful, eating the elephant one tiny bite at a time.

Like it or hate it, Scrum has established a firm foothold in the tech world, and it's probably not fading away any time soon. Google searches and job posts related to Scrum have both climbed steadily over the last few years, and the Certified Scrum Master cert has been consistently increasing in value with time.

Right now, there's still quite a bit of demand for Scrum Masters, so if this is a cert you're interested in, then do your homework quickly. It's time to make your move. Certified Scrum Master can only be obtained by taking a course from a Certified Scrum Trainer as specified by the Scrum Alliance. You can find a list of recommendations and resources at the Scrum Alliance website.

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About the Author
David Telford

David Telford is a short-attention-span renaissance man and university student. His current project is the card game MatchTags, which you can find on Facebook and Kickstarter.