How many hats should a Scrum Master wear?

I’ve run into a few situations recently where Scrum Masters (SMs) are performing multiple roles and while they might have the capacity to do so, on any moderate sized initiative, it might be difficult for them to fulfill all the responsibilities of the SM role.

Some people may challenge this by stating that the SM needs capacity for daily standups, sprint planning, sprint reviews & retrospectives, but that should still leave them plenty of time to take on another role.

This perception is incorrect.

Agile ceremonies represent just the tip of the iceberg for an SM. As the intro to the SM role in The Scrum Guide states: “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.” Notice the use of the word “everyone” instead of “the Development Team”. Surrounding any project or release are many stakeholders who the SM needs to work with to ensure that their interactions with the Development Team are in alignment with Scrum values. And as any good Project Manager will tell you, effective stakeholder management consumes a lot of time! Removing impediments from the team’s path will also take significant effort.

If the company does not have separate agile coaches to work on elevating organizational capabilities, the SM will likely spend effort on activities such as coaching executives, training functional managers and collaborating with their fellow SMs to identify patterns.

But let’s say we have agile coaches and there are minimal stakeholders for the SM to work with. Couldn’t an SM play another role?

Even if capacity permits, I’d still recommend avoiding either of these roles:

  • Product Owner: Even if an SM has sufficient product domain knowledge, an effective PO has to spend a fair bit of their time interacting with all the stakeholders who have needs and wants related to the product and the effort required to distill these requirements into a clean product backlog is significant. There is also a potential conflict of interest by having the “what” and the “how” intermingled.
  • Technical Lead: I know that a true agile team is “flat”, but for organizations going through their transformation journey, until quality development practices have been institutionalized and the shift from specialists to generalizing specialists is well underway there will be a need for senior technical contributors to review the work of more junior team members, mentor them and make key solution decisions. It might be difficult for one person to balance the servant-leadership and coaching stances of an SM with the more directive nature of a technical lead. When an SM is providing guidance to a team member, will that team member know which hat the SM is wearing?

Focus is one of Scrum’s five values. An SM playing multiple roles may not be providing their team with a good example of this value in action.

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Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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