Renaming "Master" in "Scrum Master"?

Last post 11:59 pm July 8, 2020
by Mark Adams
18 replies
Author
Messages
04:45 pm June 30, 2020

Given the recent updates to terminology with respect to Black Lives Matter, such as GitHub abandoning the term "master" branch and some realtors removing the term "master" bedroom, are there plans to change the title of "Scrum Master"?

I know that in 2013, the Scrum Guide replaced "grooming" with "refinement." I was wondering if similar action was being considered for Scrum "Master."

07:48 pm June 30, 2020

I brought this up to a colleague of mine today for the same reason stated.  I threw out a few suggestions.... Scrum Architect, Scrum Leader, Scrum Champion.  It would be great to see similar action taken to remove "Master".

09:02 pm June 30, 2020

Thank you for your input and we will pass it forward to Ken and Jeff. Please remember as Ken and Jeff have always said, the role of Scrum Master is one of Scrum mastery and not in any way related to being the owner of the team as the team is self-organizing and self managed. Scrum Master  a role and not a job title taken from the ideas of the master carpenter which dates back thousands of years.  GitHub on the other hand literally used Master and Slave meaning that one controlled the other. 

That said, a lot of things are always being discussed and considered and your courage to bring this forward is greatly appreciated.  

 

 

 

10:17 pm June 30, 2020

Thanks, Eric and Victoria. I wonder if Scrum "Coach" might be suited to what Scrum Masters do. Definitely appreciate the original intent of the role and its name.

10:32 pm June 30, 2020

Scrum Coach is one of the many stances of the Scrum Master, but not all of them of course. Check out this white paper on the stances of the Scrum Master which may be helpful.  

11:59 pm June 30, 2020

I've seen this Tweet from W. Kamau Bell circulating recently:

Just so we're clear, white people, firing Aunt Jemima & giving us Juneteenth off are not the frontlines of defeating white supremacy & dismantling structural & instutional racism. Better schools, a just criminal justice system, access to healthcare was more what we were thinking.

I would think that renaming the Scrum Master role would fall into the same category as rebranding Aunt Jemima and making Juneteenth a holiday. Instead, ask yourself what you, your team, and your organization are or could be doing to promote equality, respect, tolerance, and justice. There's probably something more meaningful than renaming Scrum Master.

12:11 am July 1, 2020

Thanks for raising this Season- I came to this forum to post the same question. 

This terminology is giving pause to myself and a number of others I collaborate with. Even if the intent is not about being "master" of the team, if it's confusing or offensive to some, it's worth reconsidering. (Servant Leader is also a term that some are finding challenging.)

I'm reaching out to people of color that I collaborate with to get their take, happy to share any findings if it's helpful. 

An aside, I haven't found the term Scrum Master helpful for some time. Scrum Coach or Team Coach seem more skillful terms, especially if you take "Coach" to incorporate the skills of Facilitation, Coaching, Teaching, Mentoring as described by ACI's Agile Coach Competency Model, along with the other facets of that model. 

I also don't believe thinking of the Scrum Master role as being the manager of anything is particularly helpful, so personally I'd drop that as a 'stance' of the role.

06:00 am July 1, 2020

This was also raised previously on the forum here.

I'm well aware of the intent behind the word "Master", but even without the connotations of slavery, I've long found it to represent an embarrassing power-dynamic.

I'm sometimes embarrassed to tell people what I do because of how arrogant or self-important I think my job title and role make me sound. Whether one agrees the name should be changed or not, public opinion on the word "Master" exacerbates this problem.

I suspect there was a historic need to empower people in this role, and the word probably did help with that, but I'm not convinced that's still the case.
If organizations are serious about enacting Scrum, they will follow the Scrum Guide anyway, which already mandates the role very well; the specifics of its title aren't necessarily going to help with that; but if that title is perceived as racially insensitive, it would be a severe impediment.

Is it more helpful for transparency if every organization or individual separately renames the role, or should Ken and Jeff take control of the situation and lead with a new name that everyone can unite behind?

So far the best word I could think of as an alternative is Advocate. I am an advocate of Scrum, of transparency, inspection and adaptation. Promoter and Defender could also work. If we get into systems thinking, perhaps Cultivator would be an appropriate word.

And to encourage other proposals, I don't think we need to limit ourselves to having Scrum in the title. Perhaps it could be something like "Empiracy Advocate".

07:41 am July 1, 2020

I will put here a little different perspective. IMHO this is ridiculous to push for change words only for the sake of pushing for it. How do you come to an idea that one word, put out of its' context, should be changed because of "racism connotations"? Each word have a lot of meanings, take a look at this one: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/pl/dictionary/english/master

An oversimplified example of such behavior:

Should we force the tall, fair-haired, and light-eyed people to change their appearance because of connotation to the Nazi supreme race Aryan theory?

I advocate here for a little bit of reason, we shouldn't change things on mob hype, and only for the sake of change. We should respect each other (as humans), regardless of race, nationality, appearance, etc., but IMHO taking it to such extreme like changing individual words show no respect at all.

07:59 am July 1, 2020

GitHub.

In the UK, 'Git' is a derogatory term for a person. I wonder if they should look at changing that.

 

08:03 am July 1, 2020

I think the keyword here is RESPECT, and that goes both ways. We should not glue political, racial, religious, gender or any other meaning to words which are never intended in that way. Sure we need to respect these notions towards other persons, but vice versa, we should also respect these words, context etc in return.

The mere fact that a single word, can be "offensive" to some people, simply because they glue huge concepts to this mere ink in a dictionary, should not be a driver for change... This, in my view, simply makes the "problems" addressed much bigger that they are or should be. So, we are making the problem bigger instead of taking steps towards solving it.

In my opinion, changing the name of "white custard" to "cream custard" simply because it has the word "white" in it in a supermarket has nothing to do and is not helpful in anyway towards removing racism. The same holds for Scrum master, in my opinion. Respect its context as much as we respect someones race 

03:42 pm July 1, 2020

This is all excellent feedback. Thank you for the respectful discussion and resources.

06:14 pm July 1, 2020

So far the best word I could think of as an alternative is Advocate. I am an advocate of Scrum, of transparency, inspection and adaptation. Promoter and Defender could also work. If we get into systems thinking, perhaps Cultivator would be an appropriate word.

In my experience thus far, the word that gets closest to the truth is "alchemist". The Scrum Master role is empirical, not entirely scientific, and I am expected to transform the basest of materials into gold.

05:49 pm July 2, 2020

Ian, I would love to add "Scrum Alchemist" to my resume!

02:35 pm July 4, 2020

I find this like taking the name whole out of context... I do not understand the correlation of Master with racial issues in this context? The word master is clearly a person that masters the framework, a coach, a person that has a mastery or “expertise” on something. 
 

With this line of thinking why we do not rename the Master degrees from Universities? MSc titles should be renamed as well?

I do not understand the coherence here... 

 

08:50 am July 5, 2020

There is an inherent emotional aspect to this; whether it is a desire to protect something we've devoted our careers and free time to (and therefore are inherently incentivized to defend) or a desire to tackle a problem we acknowledge in society (whether we experience it directly or have heard about from others).
These matters are not mutually exclusive, and we should be aware that whatever disagreements emerge, many of them will be about the methods we choose, rather than the objective itself.

I also don't think it does any harm to challenge long held beliefs and assertions; particularly in a community such as ours which does not represent the full diversity of society.
I can reflect on the groups of Scrum Masters and agile professionals that I'm part of in the Netherlands. We are much less diverse than the people around us (notably by race, but also in terms of educational and social background).

Xander made the point about Respect. I agree we ought to respect both those who use the word in its original, well-intentioned way, and those who hear the word, and for whom it does not have the same meaning.

Communication, by definition, is shared. When words begin to change their meaning, it's not a smooth process. People explain the meaning behind the words they are using, and attempt to close the interpretative gap that way. There are miscommunications, and attempts to rectify them. Sometimes it's sufficient, sometimes it's not.

At a certain point, the term "Scrum Master" will reach someone, and they will not be taking it out of context. It won't be a wilful act on their part. They will be applying the best context they have. If that context is connected with something abhorrent, such as slavery, then trying to provide your intended meaning will take effort, and might not even be successful.

It's by no means guaranteed that society will shift en masse to view the word "Master" in that way, and maybe it's still possible to shift public opinion, so that we are almost universally understood when we use it.
But even if you successfully make the case about the slavery connotations, there are other unhelpful connotations to the word that have been entrenched in common usage for a long time.

Perhaps arguing about the intention behind a word is not a helpful battle to be having, and maybe not one we need to be drawn into. We can also try to find something that communicates the intended meaning much more transparently.

07:28 pm July 7, 2020

This got me thinking about how I should call my MasterBedroom now.
If we ever decide to change the name of ScrumMaster, my vote goes to ScrumWizard or ScrumSamurai.
All jokes aside, I don't think is a good idea as it would add more unnecessary complication. 
I still find a large percentage of Scrum Team using the term Backlog Grooming, and that was changed 3 years ago.

10:01 pm July 7, 2020

I wanted to observe a couple of things.

  • It seems like most, if not all of us, engaging in this conversation, are white. On what basis can we evaluate the impact of the terms we're discussing?
  • Changing terms/language alone will not eradicate systemic and institutional racism. And yet language and symbols are powerful. 
  • Language changes over time to accommodate shifts in cultural sensibilities. There are plenty of examples of this.

 

Personally, as I mentioned above, even before recent world events, I have disliked the term "Scrum Master" for some time. I have not found it helpful, and continually have had to explain what is, and what is not, intended by the word "master". 

 

 

11:59 pm July 8, 2020

Titles are changing in the HR world. Companies who force Scrum Masters to play the role of a Project Manager should just call them that. Others can call them Facilitators or Concierge. But not Coach. Unless they hold the right credential, training and experience to understand what is Coach is.