Is the Decline and Fall of the Scrum Master Role Near?

Published on 8th October 2018 author: Miljan Bajić

Once upon a time, the Scrum Master role was an outlandish concept at the fringes of software development. Now there are thousands of Scrum Masters out there that are falling victim to several common anti-patterns that are diminishing the meaning of the Scrum Master role.

As an Agile Coach and active member of the Agile community, I talk to a lot of people who are fueled with frustrations about Scrum and Agile. Many of these leaders and practitioners try to tell me that Scrum and their Scrum Masters suck, when really, it’s about how they suck(ed) at Scrum.

I’ve seen so many organizations that suffer from poor implementations which are driven by PowerPoint slides, lack of leadership at all levels, and Scrum Masters who don’t have the passion, support, skills, and experience necessary to serve their teams and organization. What I see is more and more organizations that don’t see the value of the Scrum Master role, so they start shifting to sharing Scrum Masters across multiple teams to act as facilitators. In worse cases, the role of a Scrum Master is eliminated, and “people managers” are brought back.

This makes me feel mournful; the Scrum Master role is one of the most crucial roles in driving the organizational change.

So, how does an organization know that it has great Scrum Masters?

Before I describe what makes a great Scrum Master, let’s look at how the Scrum Guide defines the role of a Scrum Master:

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 should be the oil that helps the team and organization continuously improve and deliver value. I do not know many Scrum Masters that are living up to this definition. Many violate the essence of Scrum.

That said, these are the seven areas that I look for when I want to know if somebody could be a great Scrum Master:

  • A great Scrum Master has a deep understanding of Lean, Agile, and Scrum
    • They understand the roots of Lean Thinking and can explain the concepts of one-piece flow, pull, limit WIP, small batches, kaizen, reduce variability, and teamwork.
    • They live the kaizen mindset by focusing on people, optimizing the whole, and relentlessly improving.
    • They help the organization minimize waste in the following areas: extra features, partially done work, extra processes, handoffs, defects, delays, and task switching.
    • They understand how Agile engineering practices such as continuous integration, test-driven development, collective code ownership improve customer satisfaction.
  • A great Scrum Master is very effective facilitator
    • They understand alternatives to open discussion such as structured go-arounds, individual writing sessions, dialogue in pairs or small groups, and explain when they may be effective.
    • They know how to support meeting participants during divergent thinking, integration, convergent thinking, and closure that will support the development of an inclusive solution.
    • They understand visual facilitation techniques for a collaborative sessions such as card question, clustering, dot voting, and visual note taking.
    • They are great at facilitating remote meetings by using techniques such as turn-taking between those face-to-face with remote participants, establishing communication protocol, and shared note taking.
  • A great Scrum Master is an authentic Coach
    • They demonstrate a coaching stance such as neutrality, self-awareness, client and agenda in an interaction with one or more people.
    • They understand the fundamental psychological concepts that help understand and transform individual behavior such as emotional intelligence, mindset, and empathy.
    • They apply coaching techniques such as active listening, powerful questions, reflection, and feedback with team members, Product Owners and/or stakeholders.
    • They understand the elements (role of the coach, duration, expectations, feedback, responsibilities) of a fundamental coaching agreement.
  • A great Scrum Master serves the Dev Team by helping them deliver the Increment
    • They understand how technical practices may impact the Development Team’s ability to deliver a potentially releasable Increment each sprint.
    • They act as the Servant-Leader for the Scrum Team and/or organization.
    • They apply various team development models to their teams and organizational growth.
    • They organize and facilitate the creation of a strong Definition of Done with the Product Owner and Dev Team.
    • They help teams understand the benefits of scalable engineering practices.
    • They make sure that the Dev team gets coaching support to build team capability within components for code development, automated testing and frameworks, test automation frameworks, production monitoring, and continuous delivery/integration.
    • They guide Dev Team on Agile technical best practices and emerging technology.
    • They actively promote professional software development behavior (pair programming, continuous integration, clean code, and refactoring).
  • A great Scrum Master serves the Product Owner
    • They apply effective collaboration techniques such as engaging the team in the shared purpose of their work, providing transparency of priorities, ensuring a shared understanding of product backlog items.
    • They understand and prevent negative impacts that arise when the Product Owner applies excessive time pressure to the Development Team.
    • They help Product Owners leverage techniques for moving from product vision to product backlog.
    • They know how to help the Product Owner structure a complex or multi-team product backlog.
  • A great Scrum Master serves the Product Organization
    • They understand the organizational impacts when the Scrum Team fails to adopt Scrum in its entirety.
    • They are familiar with techniques for visualizing, managing, or reducing dependencies between teams.
    • They know how to facilitate causal loop analysis and value stream mapping to help their organization improve their Scrum adoption.
    • They understand the cultural and organizational change models such as Kotter’s, ATKAR, Schneider, and Laloux.
  • A great Scrum Master has a Desire to get better at Scrum Mastery
    • They continuously evaluate their personal fulfillment of the five Scrum Values.
    • They understand and share their fundamental driving factors
    • They are skilled communicators
    • They are system thinkers

So, how many Scrum Masters do you know that are great at these seven areas? Could it be that we’re seeing the decline and fall of the Scrum Master role?

The only way that I see how we can stop the decline and fall of the Scrum Master role is by becoming great Scrum Masters for our teams and organizations.

Sign up for the Advanced Scrum Master (A-CSM) guided mentoring and coaching program created by Certified Enterprise Coaches® (CEC) and further develop your knowledge and skills.

Miljan Bajić image

Miljan Bajić

Miljan Bajić is from the USA, one of 99 Certified Enterprise Coach® in the whole world! With 15+ years of experience, and many other designations (CSM, CSPO, CSP, CTC, SAFe SPC, PMP, and PMI-ACP), Miljan supported several organizations in their Agile and Lean transformation journeys. He also teaches at University of Southern Maine and University of Southern New Hampshire, in the USA.