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Does the Scrum Master have authority over the process?

Last post 04:20 am May 30, 2020 by Ian Mitchell
8 replies
06:21 pm May 29, 2020


I am the Scrum Master of a software development team. I have had a situation in which in the middle of the Sprint the PO wanted us to add user stories of a feature to be finsihed by the end of the next sprint, so I proprosed to add only the ones small enough to be finished by the end of the current sprint and leave 1 bigger technical user story for next sprint since we could not committ to finish it in the current sprint, this was fine but then the lead developer proposed to start working now on the big item on current sprint but not to "comitt to be finished to the end of the Sprint. In other words, to do this to "save some time", in case we have problems to finish this big item by end of next sprint. The PO agreed with this, it sounded logical to the PO. 

I strongly adviced not to do this. With no committment there is no urgency, with no urgency of course, then velocity and efficiency goes down.

Additionally, we would not be delivering value at the end of the current Sprint. I also adviced to split the story so that we could comitt to finish part of it, and gave some ideas on how to do it. The lead developer said it was not possible. (I think that actually there is not good knowledge about splitting techniques, most of big user stories should be possible to split).. but the PO believed the developer. So agreed on this despite me not being in favor.

I knew it was a mistake to do this but if the team agreed on this with the PO, I felt that I could not do more than just not be in favor and give advice .. But was this ok to do? Or can I impose Scrum framework as a Scrum master being the "owner" of the process (ref: Mike Cohn) and not allow the team to work like this, breaking scrum values of comittment and transparency and not be efficient? Lets also remember that PO agreed with this. But I hope this does not become a habit. This is not the 1st time I hear the word "not to committ" from the developers.

07:00 pm May 29, 2020

In other words:

We are in Sprint 1

We have 1 Feature made of 4 User stories. The feature should be finished by sprint 2

So it is made of:

2 small user stories

1 medium user story 

1 large large user story 

We are in the middle of the sprint, we know we can commit to 2 small and 1 medium according to the capacity and velocity. 

I proposed to split the large one and commit to do a part of it this sprint or leave it completely and do it next sprint.  

Lead developer and PO, said that they can not split it. So lead dev proposed to start working on it in Sprint 1 and not commit to it to finish in Sprint 1. 

07:04 pm May 29, 2020

The Scrum Guide says: "People personally commit to achieving the goals of the Scrum Team". What those goals are is a matter for team agreement, including the Sprint Goal.

In your situation, was the Sprint Goal met, and had the team then agreed to pursue a further goal?

07:34 pm May 29, 2020

Hi Ian,

thank you for your answer.

Do you mean that as long as the team fulfills the generic goal of the sprint then it is fine to do other work which does not require commitment since they are individual stories and not the main goal? 

08:17 pm May 29, 2020

I wouldn't describe a Sprint Goal as generic. It leads to a specific, valuable outcome and makes the supporting work coherent.

Once that Sprint Goal has been met, the team can do what they think best with the remainder of the time-box. If they want to make a head start on likely upcoming work, and optimize its flow across the Sprint boundary, they may do so.

09:24 pm May 29, 2020

Ok, but independently of the sprint goal if we review the definition of increment and the definition of Ready:


The Increment is the sum of all the Product Backlog items completed during a Sprint and the value of the increments of all previous Sprint

Ready and size 

Product Backlog items that can be "Done" by the Development Team within one Sprint are deemed "Ready" for selection in a Sprint Planning. 


Let’s say from my previous example that they commit to 3 user stories 

1 User Story of 8 user story points

2 User stories of 5 user story points

so let’s say that it is enough for the goal. 

But there is another of 13 points.. too big. The team has 5 points of spare capacity ... so instead of trying to split the use story to finish part of it.. they just start working on it with no commitment since the goal is met?

So in this case velocity acomplished of Done increment is 8 + 5 +5 = 18 points. The other of 13 points they will work but we will not know what they accomplished by the end of the sprint since they did not commit to finish it. 

On the other hand, If that split the 13 points in 2 user stories of 5 points and 8 points user stories. Or pick another user story of 5 user story points instead so they finish the 5 extra user story points we would get 5 extra user story points of increment. This is a testable, usable and submitted to early feedback item.. they could deliver 23 user story points of real, tangible value to the product.. 

According to the Agile principles:

Working software is the primary measure of progress

Additionally starting any initiative that they will not for finish since there is no commitment and urgency to finish it, would they work at the same pace than if they had committed to do it? Psychological speaking would they be motivated to finish the most work they can do on the big user story item by the end of the sprint?  




10:26 pm May 29, 2020

What does a story point mean?  Does a story point deliver any kind of value to the stakeholder? Why is it so important to deliver more story points in a sprint?  

Story points are estimates made based upon information that you have available.  Once you start working and gain more information those original estimates are no longer valid.  So why is tracking the number of story points "completed" so important? 

The goal of software development is to deliver valuable working software to the people that want to use it.  Typically a user story is a mechanism used to deliver value and it seems to be the case based on your comments.  So wouldn't it be more important to focus on the delivery of stories instead of trying to manage a number of story points? 

The opening sentence of the Scrum Guide where it describes the Scrum Master role says 

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.

Where in the Scrum Guide does it say anything about story points or user stories?  Your focus on these two items is not promoting or supporting Scrum.  From that same section of the Scrum Guide I offer these

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

  • Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • ...
  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
  • ...
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and,

The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;

If the Scrum Team has agreed upon a plan for delivering the value, you should support it and help them achieve the goal.

You mention the lack of committment multiple times.  Is this because they are saying it won't be finished by the end of the current sprint?  You also state that the team feels that all of the stories can be finished by the end of the next Sprint.  To me that sounds like they are committed to finishing the work as soon as possible.  The Scrum Guide uses the word commit exactly once and it is in the section on the Scrum Values. 

People personally commit to achieving the goals of the Scrum Team. 

Since the Scrum Team (minus the Scrum Master it appears) is setting a goal of completing the set of user stories by the end of the next Sprint, it seems to me they are all in agreement and displaying that Scrum Value. 

That paragraph goes on to state 

The Scrum Team members have courage to do the right thing and work on tough problems. Everyone focuses on the work of the Sprint and the goals of the Scrum Team. 

Seems that the Scrum Team (minus the Scrum Master) has the courage to work on the right thing and that everyone is focusing on the work of the Sprint and the goals of the Scrum Team. 

A Scrum Master does not own the process.  A Scrum Master owns the responsibility to help people be better as a team and to improve their ability to deliver value.  To go even further, Scrum is not a process.  It is a framework that is completely process agnostic. So how does a Scrum Master own a process? I respect Mike Cohn but I have never agreed with him on this point.  In agile the team owns their process.  And in the Scrum Guide it is specifically called out that 

Development Teams have the following characteristics:

  • They are self-organizing. No one (not even the Scrum Master) tells the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality;


03:01 am May 30, 2020

You are there to coach, train and mentor. For the first and the last you need many years of experience, and for the first, some specialized training. In some companies, Scrum Master are put in the uncomfortable position of being shadow managers. In this case, I think that you are upset because the team did not see things the way you saw them. The question is, did the work that was done bring value to the product and to the customer? That is all that matters. Feelings get hurt and paid workers needs to get over them. Everybody has a job to do and in this case, the job is to create a valuable product.

04:20 am May 30, 2020

Psychological speaking would they be motivated to finish the most work they can do on the big user story item by the end of the sprint?  

Psychologically speaking, people aren't motivated to finish "the most work" at all. They are motivated when they have an agreed goal to aim for, can bring their creativity to bear in achieving it, and recognize that outcomes are valuable and sustainable.

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