Before we can understand if it makes sense to have a Scrum Master or not, we should clarify what a Scrum Master is.
Every now and then, I read job advertisements about Scrum Master, which have nothing to do with the role. Even companies willing to hire a Scrum Master don’t understand what the meaning of the role is. Then, imagine how companies that don’t want to hire Scrum Masters perceive this role…
Let’s have a look at a Scrum Master position for a major German consultancy.
- Manage each project’s scope and timeline
- Coordinate sprints, retrospective meetings and daily stand-ups
- Helping the team continuously make progress on the project by making sure each person is working on the right tasks, helping to remove any obstacles to the team members’ progress, and protecting the team from distractions
- Work with product owners to handle backlogs and new requests
- Ensure deliverables are up to quality standards at the end of each sprint
- Facilitating discussion, decision making, and conflict resolution
- Providing all support to the team using a servant leadership style whenever possible, and leading by example
Is the Scrum Master responsible for the scope and timeline? Should the Scrum Master ensure everyone has the right tasks? Is the Scrum Master responsible for the quality? From my understanding, these are not the responsibilities of a Scrum Master. Until companies understand what Scrum is about, they will not be able to succeed with Scrum.
Willem-Jan Ageling wrote an article about misunderstandings with Scrum positions in 2018. But we still face the same misconceptions, why?
Let’s look at what the Scrum Guide says about the role of the Scrum Master. In bold, the most important part.
The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.
The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.
The Scrum Master role is vital to help the team to flourish with Scrum. Without the Scrum Master, the Scrum Team will have a hard time becoming the best version of itself. At best, they will become an ordinary group of people working together.
Personally, I’ve never experienced a high-performing Scrum Team without a Scrum Master. But I’ve been part of high-performing teams with great Scrum Masters. Different perspectives helped me understand the importance of this role.
I don’t think a team can enjoy the full benefits of Scrum without a Scrum Master. It is like a football team without a coach, can you imagine how it would be? A mess, in my opinion. Still, we face this problem due to the lack of knowledge of this important role.
The role of the Scrum Master is completely misunderstood.
Many teams believe they don’t need a Scrum Master because they believe they are self-organizing already. These teams think they can reach their highest potential without anyone else. Therefore, a Scrum Master seems incapable of bringing value to the team.
Team members believe Scrum is easy to understand and trivial to implement. Yet, they ignore it’s hard to master. The consequences come at a high price.
The business pressures the Development Team to deliver more features every time. The Development Team needs to rush to produce these features. Then, the business can keep its promises with the clients. More bugs appear, developers become firefighters; every day is a new fire to take care of. The Sprint Goal is only a mirage, which will never become true.
Sprint after Sprint, the Scrum Team, does not become a better version of itself. They have no time to stop and reflect because they have a lot on their plate. They feel like they are on a vicious circle. Scrum’s pillars slowly drift away; at some point in time, nobody remembers what inspection, adaption, and transparency means. Yet, the team believes they are doing Scrum.
Stakeholders are disappointed because they don’t get what they need. Managers think everything takes too long. They don’t know what is happening within the team. Yet, these people are not collaborating closely with the Development Team. They don’t go to the Sprint Review. They don’t provide honest feedback. But they still think they are doing Scrum.
Even such teams insist they don’t need a babysitter, that’s how many people see the Scrum Master, an awful distorted view of this significant role.
If we believe we are so good as a team, why do we have so many complaints?
When someone plays the role of a Scrum Master as expected, the problems I mentioned previously will eventually disappear. But it takes time; the Scrum Team cannot move from dysfunctional to high-performing from one day to the other. Scrum Masters need to know how to lead the team through this journey.
“Scrum Masters need to be able to think ten steps ahead, but can only act one small step at a time.”
A widespread misconception annoys me a lot, some companies think that Scrum Masters should only facilitate the events and ensure the artifacts are produced as expected. This massive misunderstanding leads organizations to give Scrum Master many teams to take care of. The result is disappointing because Scrum Masters find no time to help the teams flourish.
Scrum Masters are not only the guardians of the Scrum Framework. They are the guardian of the Scrum mindset. Scrum Masters strive every day to help the company to have an agile mindset. They ensure the pillars of Scrum are present and nurtured by the Scrum values. Scrum Masters sit between chairs; they coach the business side and the Development Team, ensuring Scrum is more than a process framework; it’s a mindset.
“A scrum master should recognize that different stages of a scrum team’s development require different approaches: some, teaching; some, coaching; and some, mentoring.”