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Scrum Master: Full-time job or not?

Published on 24th April 2020

Many people believe that a Scrum Master role is a part-time or that it can be combined with other roles, such as Product Owner or Manager roles or even in some cases that one Scrum Master can serve several teams. This raises the question –  Is the Scrum Master a full-time position or not?

In the situation when someone from the team assumes, in addition to their “basic” role, the Scrum Master role, usually one of these roles „suffer“ and complexity and stress increase in an attempt to respond to the demands of a “secondary role” at the same time. To remind ourselves –  the Scrum Master role is entirely dedicated to a team, i.e. relationships and processes related to the team. The Scrum Master is continuously working to improve and optimize the work of the team. The keyword here is “continuous” which implies that Scrum Master is a full-time job, especially if we really want to implement Scrum and truly experience its benefits. It is especially true for teams that have not yet gone through all maturity stages (forming, storming, norming, performing). Another problem emerges when we “add” Scrum Master role to an already existing role in the team, one often forgets the qualities that the Scrum Master should have, so it is not rare that the role is assigned to someone who does not possess an adequate set of qualities and skills for the Scrum Master.  We already talked about the desirable qualities of the Scrum Master role in this text.

 

What’s important to remember?

 

When we talk about „shared“ roles, there are some similarities between the Scrum Master and people managers. Both should be servant leaders, both should coach their team, and both work to help improve the organization.

However, the ScrumMaster doesn’t have managerial authority thus it seems easier for other team members to trust him/her and to open up about their challenges and issues. The Scrum Master is an integral part of the team, which is not the case with the manager roles.

 

To remind ourselves –  the Scrum Master role is entirely dedicated to a team, i.e. relationships and processes related to the team. The Scrum Master is continuously working to improve and optimize the work of the team.

 

Scrum Master and Product Owner in the same person?

 

Next often shared roles are Scrum Master and Product Owner in the same person. This is even harder to achieve that the previous example, bearing in mind that Scrum Masters and Product Owners are in a conditional way, “opposing roles”. What do we mean by that? As said before, the Scrum Master’s focus is on the team and processes and relationships related to the team, while the Product Owner ‘s focus is on the product, on defining what team members should do to respond to the client/market demands. We often have a situation where the business requirements are urgent to fulfill and the job of the Scrum Master is to „protect“ the team from these „attacks“ from the business in order for them to maintain a high level of efficiency and quality. In practice, if one person is assigned to both roles the Scrum Master and the Product Owner, given their different roles in the team, usually we get the Scrum Master who is command and control-oriented, and through commands, he/she pushes the team to work faster to respond to all client/market demands. Clearly, such an environment is far from implementing Agile/Scrum values.

If we start from the theory that the Scrum Master is not a full-time position then we are often faced with a common situation when one Scrum Master “serves” several different Scrum teams. The emotions here are ambivalent.

 

Interesting facts that we must consider…

 

If the Scrum Master is new to the team or has just joined the company, it is recommended that he/she be dedicated to one team, to begin with, because there is too much information for him/her to “process”. Once the team matures and becomes well-oiled, one may consider assigning another team to the same Scrum Master. However, if the first team is not mature it means that Scrum has not reached its full potential, it is worth considering whether it is wise to divide the Scrum Master into multiple teams. Of course, that also depends on the extent of Scrum Master’s previous experience, what kind of teams he had worked with, in what environment, for how long, etc. When one takes all this into consideration, the practice says that if the Scrum Master serves multiple teams, their number should not exceed two. In the case of three or more teams, we are not talking about the Scrum Master role, but an Agile Coach who has a different perspective and focus.

The situation is rarely black and white and there are many circumstances we need to take into consideration when we think about introducing the Scrum Master role to a team. Doing Scrum just for the sake of it will not result in progress and it won’t lead to better efficiency. Carefully setting Scrum roles and having continuous investment in living and practicing Scrum values can make a world of difference though!  

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