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Will Scrum Come to Regret This Sentence?

Last post 11:46 pm November 20, 2020 by Thomas Starkweather
7 replies
11:20 am November 20, 2020

I like a lot of the changes that were made to the Scrum Handbook and the general direction these changes are trying to take the practice of Scrum.  But there’s one addition I’m concerned we’re going to end up regretting:

The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness

Although I haven’t yet had a chance to listen to the recording of their overview of the changes, it’s not too hard to understand why they might have made it.  And in any organization that’s doing Scrum well, Scrum Masters are already held at accountable for how the team does.  

But given that the idea of self-management is already a tricky fit in a lot of large organizations, I would be surprised if stating it this baldly doesn’t end up undermining the self-management that’s at the heart of Scrum. 

I freely admit, I don’t have better language to describe the balance between a team being self-managing and a SM being accountable.  But given how corporate culture and institutional pressures work, I expect we’ll end up seeing many Scrum teams that are less self managed and more led/manipulated by SMs than we do now.  

Yes, truly self-managed teams are more effective. But I think this language will be used to put more pressure on SMs, and that’s going to undermine the delicate balance required by self-management and lead them to seek more control.





11:59 am November 20, 2020

I haven't finished fully digesting the 2020 Scrum Guide yet, but some of the new descriptions of the Scrum Master stood out. Accountability for team effectiveness is one. The other is how the Scrum Master now "ensures" that "all Scrum events take place and are positive, productive, and kept within the timebox". I'm really struggling how to see how a Scrum Master can take on these without leaving the observer, facilitator, counselor, or coach stances and stepping into a more hands-on stance. I share the same worries that this wording change supports organizations that want a Scrum Master to direct teams and goes against self-organization and self-management.

01:33 pm November 20, 2020

Perhaps there is an analogy. In Scaled Professional Scrum, the Nexus Integration Team is accountable for ensuring that each increment is integrated. Yet it is not expected to do any of the actual work involved...which ought to fall to self-managing teams. The pattern is that any "ensuring" is indeed done by revealing, more than it is by resolving.

01:43 pm November 20, 2020

I don't think that the Nexus Integration Team is a good analogy to the new accountabilities of a Scrum Master. In Nexus, the members of the Nexus Integration Team "are often also members of the individual Scrum Teams in that Nexus" and these people "must give priority to their work on the Nexus Integration Team". Perhaps there's an analogy if the members of the Nexus Integration Team aren't members of Scrum Teams in the Nexus.

When an organization identifies a person - by name, by role, or by some other attribute - who is accountable for something, that person takes the blame when things don't go well. In previous iterations of the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master was a teacher, a coach, and a facilitator. The expectation was always that the Scrum Master is accountable for helping the team and organization become effective, but was never accountable for the effectiveness of the team. Now, the implication is that if the team is not effective, the Scrum Master should take the blame.

I do not believe that the current description of the Scrum Master is consistent with good strategies and techniques for coaching teams and organizations.

02:11 pm November 20, 2020

Now, the implication is that if the team is not effective, the Scrum Master should take the blame.

For the past several years I've become increasingly explicit about that. If the team are not effective, it is my fault, I am failing, I take the blame. My message to the team and the wider organization is: please now help me to succeed. This is a skill I have been most reluctant to develop on my Scrum Master journey.

05:25 pm November 20, 2020

I agree with the previously-stated concerns about accountability, team self-management, and the Scrum Master role in the new Scrum Guide.  In my opinion, accountability must be paired with the skills and capacity to deliver.   Product Owners and Developers have this for their accountability statements, but the Scrum Master is dependent on others for their Accountability.

I've always liked the analogy of a Scrum Master to a physical trainer.   They don't play the game or call the plays, but they certainly can help the team improve.   Ultimately though, success is not based on the performance of the personal trainers, but on the athletes and the coaches.

Perhaps a better way to phrase this intent is:

"The Scrum Master is committed to the Scrum Team’s effectiveness" ?

The word "commitment" has reappeared in the 2020 Scrum Guide, and I personally don't have issue with this wording.


06:09 pm November 20, 2020

 I take the blame. My message to the team and the wider organization is: please now help me to succeed

I agree with @Ian Mitchell on this.  I have always thought that I was accountable because of the duties I had to the Scrum Team and the organization as a whole to "Leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;".  If I am doing my duty well, then there will be success. But if I am not doing that duty then I am failing in my job. 

The new wording could lead to some misconceptions or even to "validate" some of existing misconceptions.   But again, as Scrum Master it is my job to help the organization to interpret that as it will benefit them while holding true to the purpose of the role. 

Let's be honest, there is a lot about Scrum and agile in general that is interpreted in ways that might not be the original intent.  But since all of it is about inspect and adapt, this will always occur.  I have yet to work for a company where empiricism was the basis of all decisions or that did not have some "corporate structures" in place that will cause friction with empirical purism. 

11:46 pm November 20, 2020

So I agree with the 1st part "accountable for establishing scrum as defined by the scrum guide"  which I see as creating an environment that maximizes the potential of the scrum team to be effective.  


"The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness"

I think this open an unnecessary  door to get into the blame game which will in turn erode trust. In the majority of business cultures I have been in the word accountability is horribly misused as a negative in who will take the bullet when shit hits the fan. 

Also effectiveness in what? And what metric are you using to measure effectiveness? The other term that was removed was servant .  I think all good leaders are servant. So now it sort of implies authority over servant since if you are being held accountable for the team's effectiveness you will need the authority to fix it .

As on my previous post I believe the 3 pillars along with the core values are critical.  I think a couple of the new wordings in the scrum guide make things much easier for line management and HR departments to erode the required trust to be an effective functional team.

If teams are functioning in a "safe trusting" environment and understand the visions of the company than accountability inherently comes. Otherwise you will end up with a environment of "lying - hiding - and faking" 

So again in my opinion the  accountable for establishing scrum as defined by the scrum guide  implies  accountability of the scrums team effectiveness .


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