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Scrum master overview on individual salary raise

Last post 12:42 pm February 21, 2023 by Paul Mastorides
19 replies
10:56 pm December 2, 2019

Hello all,

I'm a scrum master in my organization and the HR department is setting up some kind of grid with criteria in order to access individual progress. The score will be used to decide the employee pay raise.

Besides the fact that I think the team should be assessed as a whole (not individually) and also that the team should self-organize and decide on a way to be assessed.

My main problem is that HR is asking me to revise the scores for each of my team members and provide feedback, context, etc... to help reflect a more accurate assessment. I'm really struggling with the idea of a scrum master going over team member scores and giving feedback to HR to either raise or lower the score.

Anybody ever found themself in a similar situation? What did you do?

Thanks a lot for your help

07:10 am December 3, 2019

Very tough one. I'm not a total expert on this matter so take this with a grain of salt. This would be my approach:

Scrum guide says:

Individual Development Team members may have specialized skills and areas of focus, but accountability belongs to the Development Team as a whole.

I think you're on a good way by assessing the team and not the individual. IMHO putting numbers on heads would collide with the value respect. Simply judging by ouput or outcome (as HR prefers it most times) would be very short sighted; a machine wouldn't work without the smallest gear ("the whole is more than a sum of its parts").

Maybe you can find some factors in the Agile Manifesto and the principles behind it ("Build projects around motivated individuals"). Are some people more motivated than others? Are some team members helping scrum to thrive more than others? "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools": Are some team members generating more value for the customer aside from coding e.g. by helping the Product Owner? "Responding to change over following a plan": are some team members more motivated to adapt to changing environments?

I hope this helps a bit. All the best.


08:13 am December 3, 2019

Who in the organization actually wants Scrum to be implemented? Is there a sponsor for agile practice within senior leadership, and if so what does he or she think about HR's approach?

02:01 pm December 3, 2019

I'm really struggling with the idea of a scrum master going over team member scores and giving feedback to HR to either raise or lower the score.

I understand and I would likely have the same feeling at first. Have you considered viewing this request from HR as a way to serve your team? As a Scrum Master, you should have a pretty solid idea of what kind of conflicts are going with your team and successful they are individually and as a team (keep in mind successful is VERY broad here). Consider this scenario: A new developer joins the team, fresh out of university and it's their first job. As expected that person will not be able to produce as much as the other team members as the new person needs to take time learning. As we all know, that can take a long time. I've seen it where even though the new person is very well intentioned and a team player, they are not seen as valuable by the rest of the team because too much of the new person's time is spent learning. Say the team scores this individual low and to a point that could endanger the person, you would have the ability to provide more context and explain that the new team member is learning and hopefully protect that team member from the repercussions of having a sub par review. 

I know that situation may be extreme but it happens more often than people think. Because of legal issues, you may not be able to have an open conversation about the team scoring each other unfairly so this could be a way that you help serve and protect your team. 

03:46 pm December 3, 2019

I've lived this on more than one occasion and I really hate being in this position.  So what I did was approached it with Scrum Master focus on the team.  Instead of evaluating each person on their technical prowess or individual work, I viewed it as what does the individual do to benefit the team.  Do they mentor others to help raise their skills?  Are they willing to help out anyone on the team even if the work is not in their area of expertise? Do they focus on helping the team accomplish goals or are they focused entirely on themselves?  Are they willing to accept other people's input, provide their own and then support any decision made by the team?

I will admit that in most of the situations I have been in there were also some form of manager in place that had HR responsibilities and I was responsible for the team's ability to produce as a team.  If you are in that situation then do your Scrum Master duties and make it all about the team. It still feels "dirty" evaluating individuals but you have to admit that you are already doing those kind of things in order to benefit the team as a whole.  

04:20 pm December 3, 2019

Completely Agree Daniel!

04:38 pm December 3, 2019

My main problem is that HR is asking me to revise the scores for each of my team members and provide feedback, context, etc... to help reflect a more accurate assessment. I'm really struggling with the idea of a scrum master going over team member scores and giving feedback to HR to either raise or lower the score.

Could it be that HR don't understand Scrum or your role?

I'm not an HR expert, but my understanding is that HR are responsible for structures and processes that drive and maintain the way an organization functions.

There are HR professionals who know how to optimize this for an agile organization, but many HR teams lack the required knowledge or experience, or were simply tasked with preserving the exact structures that a Scrum Master may need to dismantle.

Referring back to Ian Mitchell's comment, if you have such a sponsor, you might their assistance.

06:05 pm December 3, 2019

Personally, I would resist attempts by those outside of the Scrum Team to involve me in evaluating individuals within the Development Team.   Then again, I've fallen on my sword more than once while taking this stance.

In my opinion, Scrum Master observations/evaluations should stay internal within the Scrum Team.   It can easily compromise a Scrum Master's standing within a Scrum Team if they are seen as providing individual performance-based context to others in the organization.

Some good advice in this thread.   Don't try to resist this alone.   See if there are ways to influence this HR practice to be more in line with Agile/Scrum.   Seek out other influential individuals within the organization that understand this situation and can help your concerns.

Good luck.

06:51 pm December 3, 2019

Thank you, everyone, for your answers. This is truly enlightening. 

I feel I know better what are my options.


07:59 pm December 3, 2019

I would resist and inform HR that nobody reports to the Scrum Master. If they want, perhaps they can utilize peer review within the Dev team?

03:56 pm December 5, 2019

I think we all have to be accustomed to rise in challenging situations and expect the unexpected. This Agile stuff just isn't as defined as we all want it to be. That means there are opportunities for us to create positive situations. 

In regards to your opportunity, if your team is creating strong software each sprint and the team is generally happy with the effort that is being put out by each team member, then they all start at even. (You can use any number as it's arbitrary). 

From there, see who sticks out, who works extra hard to help, who is transparent, who excels. Usually someone in the group works harder than the others. 

It's hard to think we will leave someone out of more money but this is real life and extra hard work needs to be rewarded. 

In my experience, if you have a strong well-thought out reason for doing anything, you are doing the right thing even if it turns out to be wrong. 

So put your best researched, planned response in there and reward the hardest workers. 

08:57 pm December 5, 2019

So put your best researched, planned response in there and reward the hardest workers. 


With all due respect, your advice can be quite destructive to a healthy team environment.

You are suggesting that the Scrum Master reward individuals within the Development Team based on perceived contributions.   There are a number of serious repercussions with such a strategy:

  • It will counter attempts to build team identity and cohesiveness
  • It will create professional competition within the Development Team, which is a breeding ground for selfishness
  • It will diminish the Scrum Master's standing within the Scrum Team, as they will be rightly perceived to have influence over Development Team member compensation.   The SM will no longer be a "servant" to the team, but will be an "evaluator"
  • By what criteria is a SM determining what "extra hard work" is, or who the "hardest workers" are?   Are you  rewarding someone who puts in 50 hours/week, but contributes about the same to the team as others who work normal hours?   What about the Development Team member who quietly makes suggestions to save the entire Development Team time and effort?

None of these are desirable outcomes. 

if you have a strong well-thought out reason for doing anything, you are doing the right thing even if it turns out to be wrong. 

Do you still believe your strategy is strong and well-thought out?

09:43 am December 6, 2019

Good question.

And like Timothy Baffa said that is not something you would want.


But what could you do? 

Let HR know this is not something an SM should do and why it shouldn't, but you could work out a strategy with HR?

Let the team figure out how they want to assess each other and let them bring the results back to HR?

My experience regarding this topic is non-existent but this would be my first thought.

01:58 pm December 6, 2019

Hey Tim, thanks for the healthy discussion. My reaction was based on something he HAD to do, not something that was voluntary. So I was giving words of encouragement based on something that was mandatory. 

Also, what I'm suggesting wouldn't alienate the team but reward people who stand out which is unbelievably normal for any team mechanics (sports, end of the year corporate awards, employee of the month). 

If the team is performing, everyone gets a 5% raise. So that's the foundation. From there, you look for the stalwarts or long-term consistency i.e. Freddy stays late to fix the bugs, Beth mentors the new QA above and beyond what she needs to, Craig takes it upon himself to work on a personal weakness and came out stronger in the end (maybe better communication with the team). 

My exact words were "From there, see who sticks out, who works extra hard to help, who is transparent, who excels." On most teams there are people who are performers. 

To address your individual bulletpoints, I dont believe my suggestion would be a detriment. It wont hurt team building, professional competition is healthy ("man i really want to get that award next time"), every team dynamic is different and the SM having some power could work and lastly my suggestion was based off something he had to do. See my above answers for some examples of people going above and beyond.  

"Do you still believe your strategy is strong and well-thought out?" Yes. I do. 


09:50 pm December 6, 2019

Jon, while I also appreciate the reply and the healthy discussion, I simply cannot disagree more strongly with your advice and your subjective conclusions, for reasons previously stated.

I am certainly open to any real-life examples you may have that support the practices you propose.

01:14 pm December 9, 2019

For me, who is better at understanding the nuances of Scrum Teams and rewarding those who truly deserve to be rewarded? The Finance Team? An HR Representative? Or the person with the team every day? 

I think the Scrum Master in this case has a great responsibility and can rise to the challenge. 

Agree to disagree I suppose. 


12:52 am December 10, 2019

Jon, I think the scrum master can give inputs on the team to the managers involve on appraisal but I would like to point out that the managers should not rely only on the scrum master input alone. IMO, that is a dangerous path where the scrum master acquire an authority in terms of appraisal or salary increase... another scenario is what happens when scrum master is unfair and provided false inputs to the manager?

12:57 am December 10, 2019

The HR person does not understand your role they rarely do. This is not your job. 

06:12 pm February 19, 2023

The interesting step would be to resist the HR intervention in teams income, then do the following

-Pass the task to Product owner. After all HR team are stakeholders, and its product owner , not scrum master who has to deal with stakeholder

-At the next Scrum planning or even at retrospective suggest following first for the team, and then on behalf of the team to the Product owner, and eventually, through the Product owner to stakeholders

-Financial bonuses and , if HR insists penalties for the whole team based on performance from stakeholders POV, i.e. not based on scrum story points which are internal material of the team, but based on actual increase or decrease n value of the product team has developed. The amount should be assigned on the team as a whole, at the sprint review not to individual members.

- At retrospective suggest the team to vote about dividing bonus or penalty amount among themselves.

- Team can then decide to divide the amount based on individual efforts, calculated on story points or ideal days, or whatever other criteria, divide it equally or reject at all. every team member can put his or her proposition about how to divide an amount, and the proposition which gets most votes wins

- Inform HR about teams decision so it will de reflected in the next payroll.



12:42 pm February 21, 2023

Why would a single individual be able to decide who is contributing the most to team success? Does this mean the squeaky wheel gets the gold("Look at me, look at me")? Wouldn't team members try to game the system by ascertaining what the Scrum Master's criteria are (technology, team player, outspoken)? How will this affect Scrum Master's servant/leader role? How would this affect team dynamics? e.g. I must hide information I acquire to look more knowledgeable.

This is bigger discussion on evidence based management of people, financial hierarchies, and salary transparency.  No definitive answer, but Scrum Master should be far away from this.

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