Renaming "Master" in "Scrum Master"?

Last post 12:34 pm March 28, 2022
by Guido Spanjers
80 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."

10:39 pm February 16, 2021

Please forgive me for repeating myself, but I am seriously concerned about the tone of this conversation, and what it says about us as a community. So although we don't all agree on this particular subject:

The way we engage with these concerns is important. We can double down on our suppositions of the right meaning of the word, assume particular intentions of those raising their concerns, and beat them back with dictionaries, which can make us seem like a closed group who will never respond to change, and can prevent the emergence of alternative perspectives.
Or we can attempt to understand suggestions and concerns, acknowledge that as a group we are not diverse enough to have all perspectives, conduct conversation in a way that maximizes the chance of participation from others, scrutinize the points that people make, and remain open to the possibility that things will need to change. Surely by having such a robust, but respectful and open debate, we provide the best opportunity for an empirical decision to be made.

06:15 pm February 17, 2021

@Rene, although this subject may not change, it wouldn't be right to stop the conversation, so we are not planning to remove or close it.

11:53 am February 18, 2021

@Eric, I only asked for locking, not removing this thread, but I have no problem with the course taken.
 

While I liked the changing of the Master-Slave name in Hard Disk set-up and even the master in master bedroom, I'm not into the master changing in Scrum Master or Master of Science degrees.

For the next 4 years the pendulum is swinging again (far) left, then it will be followed by swinging again for 4 years direction (far) right. The last 12 years didn't teach us anything about action and reaction, so the next eight years won't either.

So in four years there will be a twitter mob coming here advocating to change Scrum Master into Scrum Master Race (I really hope that I'm sarcastic and not clairvoyant), followed by four years demands to change it into Scrum Marxist.
In the meanwhile I'm stuck in the middle with clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right (10 points if you get the reference).

C'est la vie.

P.S.: this is my last post in this thread, because every post is raising it again and I really hope that this thread sinks to the bottom.

05:05 pm February 24, 2021

I agree with @Simon: the tone of conversation concerns me too.

This is no discussion about us (white people), it's about people who do not even participate this discussion. Thankfully, @Camilla already posted the article by Shaun Morris:

https://medium.com/@shaundmorris/to-change-scrum-master-or-not-to-change-scrum-master-that-is-the-question-8b503cd43e89

This article already mentions this disgusting expression „Who is the m*ter?“. I already experienced people misusing their „Scrum M*ter“ role with exactly this phrase. They were pretty successful in their intention to manipulate and silence others. Hm, is that ‚mastery‘ intended by Scrum? No, it isn't.

People behind scrum.org are able to stop this misuse by changing this role name, i.e. from „Scrum M*ter“ to „Scrum Mentor“. Quite pragmatic solution. But more important, think about this question at the end of the article mentioned above:

„The question is what have I done to counter systemic racism? What about you? Even if you oppose changes like changing Scrum Master, at least consider the small percentage of people whom it may be affecting and how it impacts them.“

This is my answer: In some postings, I already missed a minimum of empathy and patience. I don‘t feel very comfortable and safe to even write this post here. But, for me it‘s more important to try my very best to change this title, because I really believe it reduces systemic racism at least a little bit.

01:53 pm March 5, 2021

I'm observing a few main concerns raised in this thread that I will paraphrase below:

  1. "Master" in Scrum Master is a word that has a racist connotation, especially in the United States, and can cause distress among People of Color and others.
  2. "Master" as a noun doesn't embody the spirit of the Scrum Master role.
  3. Why should we have to change an established term and where is the evidence that forms the basis of objections?

"Master" in Scrum Master is a word that has a racist connotation, especially in the United States, and can cause distress among People of Color and others.

  • As a white man with a lot of privilege in the US, I haven't been personally negatively impacted by this term. However, it is alarming to think that I might have caused others harm and I would absolutely want to understand more about the concern so that I could avoid harming others in the future. While there may be data that we could use to help inform a decision, "I don't like it and I think it should change" is a standard that has always been meritorious enough from my business partners and I don't see why that same standard shouldn't apply here.

"Master" as a noun doesn't embody the spirit of the Scrum Master role.

  • Let's take a look at the two noun definitions that Dictionary.com provides for "Master", as a starting point.

    • "a person with the ability or power to use, control, or dispose of something"
    • "an owner of enslaved people, in the institution of chattel slavery; a slaveholder"
  • When using the first definition to describe a Scrum Master, the spirit of servant leadership is betrayed; we're trying to guide teams through their adoption of the scrum framework, not exerting unilateral control over any outcome.
  • When using the second definition to describe a Scrum Master, it describes the Scrum Master as the master of a scrum of slaves. That's definitely not in the spirit of the role, regardless of the relationship to the US slavery institution and the first objection.

Why should we have to change an established term and where is the evidence that forms the basis of the objection?

  • As scrum practitioners, we should strive to embody the principles of empiricism and servant leadership. This includes inspecting the experiences of our partners and making an effort to learn and adapt from that feedback. We're receiving feedback here that the word Master in Scrum Master is, at best, tone-deaf and, at worst, causes harm in some form to People of Color and others. If we assume that there is any truth at all to this argument, then it's our duty to respect the experiences of our partners and work to produce a better outcome. Upholding an established tradition to preserve comfort and the status quo is antithetical to the purpose of Scrum. As others have pointed out, there is already precedent with terms in Scrum changing, such as backlog grooming evolving into backlog refinement.

Scrum Leader or Scrum Guide are two alternatives that might be more objectively accurate and might not carry objectionable connotations.

What do others think about these options?

12:05 am March 9, 2021

Scrum Lead or Scrum Manager would look a lot better on a business card than the present term. 
It would go a long way towards communicating to one's team members that their focus is on the Scrum side of the work: the adminstration and interpersonal 'engineering' in contrast to the other team members leads technical leads and contributors.

04:23 pm March 11, 2021

The term Scrum Master indicates the noun version of Master, which leads to connotations that are not desirable either because it implies control over the team or has connotations in slavery.

Since the origin is about someone with mastery of the subject, why not use Scrum Sage as an alternate direction. Sage implies nothing about hierarchy.

06:57 pm March 11, 2021

Plato contended (Symposium) that a sage will no longer try to gain wisdom because he believes he already has it.

 

10:00 pm March 11, 2021

I think it is about not interpreting words out of context but instead look at the whole. "Master" in "Scrum Master" is, as stated, about working to master Scrum itself. Just like Grand Master in Chess or calling someone a master craftsman.
So I see no fault in the term Scrum Master, taking into account what it actually refers to.
There are plenty of words, used in daily language, that when singled out can be misinterpreted in all manner of ways. But that is not necessarily the fault of the the original phrase.

12:04 pm March 12, 2021

I've just flipped a dodecaedron with 16 name candidates and it landed with 'Scrum Great White'. More respect for sharks.

07:56 pm March 16, 2021

I like Scrum Clown. It's one of my stances.

Seriously, if we have to fit into corporate speak please let's not align ourselves with the managers; those who still believe in Taylor's Scientific Management.

And let's not try to usurp the real leaders of the organisations we help to inspect and adapt.

What's wrong with Scrum Lead? We have tech lead, team lead so why not scrum lead?

And just in case you don't think I have the cojones I was trained by Ken in 2003. I can change behaviours with the arch of an eyebrow.

 

11:24 pm April 3, 2021

I'm kind of fond of "Scrum Badass" myself.

10:04 pm June 19, 2021

I recently obtained a Scrum.org certification and it feels great to be part of this community. I am excited to obtain multiple certifications. 

Following the Scrum value of openness, I think it is great to have this open discussion and to allow for the voicing of different views. However, as a person of color in the U.S., seeing the term "Scrum master" again and again has left me with a disempowering feeling. As a person of color, sometimes the tech teams that I have served on have not felt welcoming at all. I have faced blatant racism over the years in the work place as well as microaggressions ("you are smart for a Black person"). Luckily in other teams, I have felt completely welcomed. 

As a Scrum professional, if you were to hear that multiple Scrum team members do not feel welcomed on your Scrum team, what would you do? Tell them to get over it? Tell them that they are being too sensitive? Or would you find a way for the whole team, possibly during a Sprint Retrospective, to come together in better ways in order to produce greater value?

I realize that the term "Scrum Master" has been used to show mastery of scrum and that the term was formed with no negative connotations in mind. So of course, we could keep the term "Scrum Master." But just keep in mind that many minorities (not all minorities of course) may find that term exclusive, disempowering, and racist. I think as a Scrum community we could find a more inclusive term than "Scrum master." Perhaps "Scrum Principal" could be used. 

 

 

02:27 pm July 29, 2021

I haven't liked the term scrum master since I was first introduced because the word master is one that is loaded with a history of really horrible practices and behaviors especially here in the U.S.  And I've never felt like it was truly descriptive of the role.

I've always known the term scrum from Rugby so I was fascinated when I started to hear it in terms of a way people can organize work.  I'm old enough to remember when the term agile was used to describe cats and goats and not planning.  After some extensive research (googling the word scrum) as a noun it can mean

  1. RUGBY
    an ordered formation of players, used to restart play, in which the forwards of a team form up with arms interlocked and heads down, and push forward against a similar group from the opposing side. The ball is thrown into the scrum and the players try to gain possession of it by kicking it backward toward their own side.
  2. BRITISH
    a disorderly crowd of people or things."there was quite a scrum of people at the bar"

And as a verb

  1. form or take part in a scrum.
    "the two men scrummed down together for University College, Dublin"

Despite lots of hard work and the best of intentions from a lot of people the second noun definition is the best for most (if not all) of the teams that I have worked on over the years.  Let's be honest here people, we aspire to an "ordered formation" but most of the time we are "a disorderly crowd".

Looking to the origin of the term scrum I would suggest referee over master as I think it far better describes the role and its responsibilities.  Referee is quite appropriate for a number of reasons. 

  • Referees keep people from wandering out of bounds and so help them to stay focused on the tasks at hand. 
  • Referees are timekeepers making sure that the game/match/bout/etc. runs on time, so they keep things going and help to keep people or a project from being stalled. 
  • Referees are responsible for inspecting any safety gear that players wear, so they help to make sure that people have what they need to work on a project. 
  • Referees are highly trained, skilled, and certified in the rules of the game, they are experts on a set of processes that are used to make sure that the project completes successfully.

It is true that the term master is still used in many of the skilled trades (electricians, carpenters, etc.).  From the perspective of a mastery of skills and a subject it should be Master Scrummer and not Scrum Master.  I have a feeling that if we were to look back at the history of the apprentice to journeyman to master progression there was a time when apprentices were probably treated pretty horribly by the masters.  Nothing as horrible as the chattel slavery that was practiced in the U.S. but still not very nice.  

Over the past 70+ years we have seen some incredible and drastic changes in how people behave in the workplace.  There are all kinds of things that would have been ignored or disregarded just 20 years ago which would be a big deal today.  And that's a good thing. Many of the behaviors that passed muster back in the day where pretty rotten ways to treat people.

It is absolutely true that master is just a word that can be used in many different ways but the fact that master is just a word goes both ways. Master is just a word and if we choose to stop using it in this context the world will not come to an end.

Is this kind of change performative and not substantive?  Yes, for the most part.  But performative change has its place.  It can help to remind us that things need to continue to change.  And it can, if we pay attention, help to keep us on track making those substantive changes.

So, Scrum Referee? Who's with me?

 

06:29 pm July 29, 2021

A referee has power a Scrum Master does not have. A referee can even send someone off the pitch.

04:42 pm July 30, 2021

I do not offend anybody, but to be honest i think youbare talking about the problem which is not exist :)) Scrum Master is absolute normal name of this profession

03:36 pm August 3, 2021

The problem does in fact exist if you talk to members of the black community.  As an ally, I would encourage, support and celebrate changing naming of role to replace master with leader, coach or other more inclusive word. 

I commend Susan Hughes for being brave and a strong ally and bringing this topic to light.

02:46 pm September 6, 2021

I do not offend anybody, but to be honest i think youbare talking about the problem which is not exist :))

- Alfredo Alcantara

I think you're confusing "one you don't see" with "one that doesn't exist"

Tbh for a community that is supposed to be "agile" I see a lot of stiff white guys ignoring a problem that isn't theirs and that has changed a lot of other facets of my day-to-day job like with Databases(primary/replica), the git "main" branch, etc.

Tell me, how is it, that global communities were able understand this issue and then had no problems with rewriting processes, guidelines, CoC's and code; while this community here has basically not moved forward one bit and still looks like only having two sides - people who feel the need to implement changes made by other communities over a year ago and people who don't seem to see the problem because they're not affected?

02:23 pm October 18, 2021

Evelyn Garcia-Torres very well said

09:27 am November 22, 2021

For many of the reasons already shared throughout this thread, I encourage a different title be used rather than "Scrum Master." In the spirit of agile, we should embrace this thread as a "retrospective" and consider the benefits of evolving/improving. A paradox I frequently witness is the rigidity I see in "mature" agile teams. I understand the varied meanings of "Master" depending on context, but the reality is the word has significant negative connotations, and understandably so. Expending the effort to protect the term or to educate others of its meaning in the context of Agile is wasted energy when there are plenty of other options. In addition, the word "Master" is outdated and rarely used in business circles for other roles.

Some alternatives I haven't see listed in this thread (and options that allow some alignment with the "tone" of your organization):

  • Scrum Pilot
  • Scrum Sherpa
  • Scrum Wizard

Whatever your perspective, please don't be a scrumbag.

08:30 pm January 19, 2022

I have always disliked the name 'Scrum Master'. It's ridiculous. A great role, but ridiculous job title. I deplore anyone in the role, or applying for the role, to drive change with their employers....

07:37 pm February 16, 2022

Thank you @Season Hughes for starting this important discussion 596 days ago. @Eric Naiburg, any updates from Ken and Jeff?

I am looking for a replacement for “Master” in the title “Scrum Master.” I found this thread and wondered if Scrum.org leadership is addressing this call for change? Understanding the original intention of the title is to denote mastery, however, the use of the term “Master” in an individual's title/role has racist connotations, which creates a barrier to building inclusive teams. I had hoped to align with the industry on this necessary renaming. Please let me know where this stands. Thank you.

 

07:59 pm February 18, 2022

I am very sorry for such question but I am not American and my native language is not English. Am I right the word "Master" refers to slavery time? I am asking because I really can't understand the reason why this name of Scrum accountability should be changed.

01:51 am February 19, 2022

It's rooted in the Latin word Magister. The English meaning has been debated at least since The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer explored the implications in the context of women's rights and held that mastery, which has the potential to constrain, refers to a sovereignty for which people ought to be respected and held accountable.

07:20 pm February 23, 2022

In the organization that I currently am employed, have changed the title from "Scrum Master" to "Agility Lead". 

08:11 pm February 27, 2022

There is IMHO no legitimate reason made so far in this topic to introduce such changes. As time passes I still can't see how the word "Master" implies something wrong in the name of "Scrum Master". If you say that someone is a Scrum Master, then you imply that a certain person is a master of the scrum, and as scrum is a framework, that implies i.e. "mastery over scrum". It is the very same logic as saying that someone is a "Master of Science" or MSc.

What is even more surprising for me is when advocates above for changing the name suggest options such as "Scrum Sherpa", which will be shortened to "SS" - I bet that if "Master" is wrong, then that form is even worse.

However, the problem IMHO is not in talking about the usage of different naming, but in the motivation behind that change. As before, today I still struggle to agree that this motivation is rooted in something more than shallow oversimplified thinking of "master-slave" connotations, which is simply not true in this context.

If we are thinking seriously about changing naming, then I would rather propose to shift this discussion from this ridiculous way of thinking, into rather 2020 guide changes from "roles" to "accountabilities" and how current naming of "Product Owner", "Scrum Master" and "Developers" simply may not fit with the changed label. As far as I can speak based on my experience, current naming reinforces previous thinking in the context of "roles", rather than the new context of "accountabilities".

10:38 pm March 16, 2022

It is not for the unoffended to say what is offensive to others. 

07:29 am March 26, 2022

I have an entirely different reason for change. The names of the 3 roles are not parallel-constructed. We have a Product Owner (who, by the way does not own any people), we could also have a Process Owner which gives us parallel construction. The current Developers could be Engineering Owners, Technical Owners, Craft Owners for instance.

If Master is objectionable, we should also remove the Owner from the Product Owner role, which would then obviate the above parallel construction. But whatever should replace Owner, could similarly be parallel constructed for the 3 roles. 

02:02 pm March 26, 2022

Interesting point. I've encountered many Scrum Masters who demonstrated a mastery of Scrum, to a greater or lesser degree, but never once in my life have I worked with a PO who "owned" the product. They may well have owned accountability for product decisions within a corporate body, but ownership of the product itself would seem to be exceptional. In my experience the products in question have invariably been corporate assets.

09:12 am March 28, 2022

In my opinion, the word master been given a bad reputation. We need to look at the word as it was intended. Not how it can be interpreted.

Scrum master indicates a person that is mastering/mastered the art of scrum. He has no mastery over people or teams. He has or is trying to get mastery over his skills. There is nothing wrong with that.

To condemn a word, because you can interpret it in a different way that has nothing to do with it's original intentions is not a valid reason to change that word. If there are good reasons to change it on other grounds, like there are more suitable names to describe that role, I would be all for that. But I highly doubt you can find any word to replace this one that cannot be wrongly interpreted.

I think what is being missed here is the following. As a scrum "master" it is your job to explain the meaning of your title and explain the context in which this word was chosen. If explained to any reasonable person, I can't see any reason why they would be offended by it. 

For people that are abusing Master in a way that is not in line with scrum itself, like feeling they have any form of mastery over people in their teams, they do not understand their role (serving your company/teams/developers with your knowledge on the subject) and they should not be a scrum master.