Temporary Scrum Master or switch role of Scrum Master or ...?

Last post 09:45 pm November 30, 2017
by Ian Mitchell
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07:48 am November 27, 2017

Hi All,

 

I'm a test consultant that has worked in several organisations that have tried to do Scrum. (it was never perfect)

What I've noticed on 3 occasions is that a long term scrum master becomes a sort 'manager' of the team. With all kinds of consequences: SM becomes frustrated if team doesn't deliver, SM places himself outside of scum team ("I'm happy with the amount of work you delivered"), acts like a manager ("I will not accept that user story"). etc.

So I'l thinking that having an internal, full time person working as scrum master can work, but in my experience I've seen it fail on almost every occasion. It requires a really strong scrum master.

So I'm more inclined to propose either of these suggestions:

  1. Scrum master is a consultant hired for a limited time (1 to 2 years) with a clear goal: help us work according to Scrum.
    After some time, the team should work good enough that they don't need a fulltime scrum master. If the SM is an payroll person, it becomes more difficult to make this role time-limited.
    Hiring a consultant might make it easier to find a really good scrum master. (how do you determine that in an interview?) Disadvantage may be that the consultant requires a bit more time to get to know the organization and team.
     
  2. Scrum master is a rotating role (per sprint?).
    This requires of course several persons that can take up the role. It might however work good after suggestion 1. So each sprint one person becomes the scrum master, can be full time or part time, depends on the needs of the team.

What do you think?

Have you noticed these issues also, do you think these are valid solutions?

01:26 am November 28, 2017

Hi Chris,

Yes, you are absolutely right - implementing Scrum DOES require a really strong scrum master. About the 2 points you have mentioned - 

1. Scrum master is a consultant hired for a limited time (1 to 2 years) with a clear goal: help us work according to Scrum. - A team is never constant. It is continuously evolving - some may get promoted, some may opt for another job - which means, new hires are added to the team, who may not really know anything about scrum. A stable scrum master position will help the team understand scrum better and evolve over time. Ultimate goal is to get more output by putting in less effort. If the SM position is removed after a couple of years, we may notice that the team is again lagging in deliveries, issues are cropping up and now a new SM needs to be hired to get them back on track i.e. back to square 1. Hence, a SM is very much essential - even if the organization has been implementing it for a long time.

2. Scrum master is a rotating role (per sprint?). - I do not agree with this idea, because if the fundamentals of scrum are not in place, you may observe a different practice being followed every sprint by the rotating SM. This may lead to chaos, differences in opinion and ZERO uniformity. Best not to do this.

Hope it helps.

Adwait.

07:16 pm November 28, 2017

The options you describe might possibly alleviate certain symptoms, but it is best to examine the cause of the problem. Why has the Scrum Master role appeared to fail, in the situations you have seen, when implemented by a full-time internal employee?

It might be the case, for example, that full-time internal people are more likely to succumb to organizational gravity and to shape the Scrum Master role in terms of an established management culture. If so, there may be a deeper problem regarding the sponsorship or appetite for agile change. Having a more transient type as a Scrum Master wouldn’t remedy this, it would merely limit his or her exposure to the problem before they move on.

10:32 am November 30, 2017

Thanks for the responses.

@Adwait: I'm not sure if I agree that the Scrum Master is a role necessary for stability. In small companies with low turnover there is already a lot of stability.

It depends a lot on the person filling the role of Scrum Master. IF (big if in my opinion) he is a very good scrum master, things will go good. However, what if you have a not perfect Scrum Master, which seems more likely. The SM puts the biggest mark on the team, if the SM is not doing a very good job, he might even be hampering the team becoming really Agile. If it is a rotating role, this influence is lesser.

Now you will say immediately: "But you must hire a very good SM!".  Well, how to do that?  And what about the situation that the SM is already in this place? It is very difficult, or even impossible to change the SM in that case.

@Ian: you are right in your example, but what if it is not the organisation that pushes the SM towards a more management role, but the SM itself? 

I've seen on 2 occasions that when the SM does the function for a longer time, he acts more and more like a manager than  a process facilitator and guardian.

09:45 pm November 30, 2017

...what if it is not the organisation that pushes the SM towards a more management role, but the SM itself? 

I've seen on 2 occasions that when the SM does the function for a longer time, he acts more and more like a manager than  a process facilitator and guardian.

Organizational gravity is exerted by people doing the same things the same way. It does not usually require any sort of push. A Scrum Master can be quite effectively stifled by the working environment. All a Scrum Master has to do, to degenerate into a manager, is to take the path of least resistance. Hence clear executive agile sponsorship - an explicit organizational push in the opposite direction - may be needed to overcome that gravity. Having transient Scrum Masters might conceal deeper organizational problems for a while, but would not remedy them.