Does Scrum demand fulltime PO and/or SM?

Last post 11:03 am August 25, 2014
by Anke Maerz
3 replies
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10:00 am August 20, 2014

Hi fellow Scrum.org'ers,

while taking the PSM I examn I stumbled across a question that has actually been bothering me for some time and for which I didn't really find any information in the official scrum guide. The question in question is about whether Scrum Master and Product Owner should be full time jobs.

I have actually had a manager ask me once why I needed so much time for my Scrum Master role. He told me that he had previously held that role and found it no problem to squeeze in at least 75% development work. However unfortunately I didn't really have any good and graphical examples at hand showing what a Scrum Master needs his time for, being not that experienced myself.
On the other hand I have heard colleagues say that "a good scrum master can work with two teams simultaneously, a very good scrum master can only handle one team at a time". I have read the discussion about what a Scrum Master can and should do on the forums, and while this helped a lot (especially getting some examples for my next discussion about Scrum Master time) I still wondered if Scrum itself should or does enforce the Scrum Master as a fulltime job.
Personally I could imagine that a team which has mastered self organization does not need a fulltime Scrum Master role since the team itself will self organize a lot of what a Scrum Master would spend time on when starting a new team down the road to Scrum.

However while I could agree on a part time Scrum Master being at least imagineable, I find it very hard to believe that a part time Product Owner could work well. Having some background in Requirements Engineering I find that there is always something to detail, someone to talk to or some new idea to envision as a Product Owner. But again I didn't find any information about whether or not Scrum places any demands on the time a PO should be assigned to a team.

What is your take on those two roles? Should they be fulltime or not? What advantages / disadvantages are there? Did You find an official statment as to whether these roles are fulltime roles or staffed as available?

Looking forward to your answers,

kind regards

Jan

11:39 am August 20, 2014

Jan,

Scrum does not specify those roles as being full time, part time, etc. It is left out on purpose, because like you mentioned, different contexts will require differing amounts of time.

When I coach Scrum Teams and executives, I tell them that this is one of the numerous areas where Scrum can act as a magnifying glass as to whether what you're doing is working or not. Maybe a 25% SM will work, maybe a 100% SM is the minimum that will work - etc... different for every team/org. Scrum asks and requires that you come up with what you believe is optimum for that context, then Scrum asks you to retrospect on your decision every Sprint -- remember -- context can change over time, so what was once a 25% SM role may become a 100% role once the context changes, and vice versa.

The manager you mentioned might have been faithfully executing that role effectively, or might not have the first clue about what a SM is supposed to do. I can't judge that, but you should take that into consideration as well. Also, maybe the team has experienced more impediments due to new team members not trained in Scrum joining, or experienced team members leaving, etc. In other words, the context might have changed.

I personally have never seen a SM be truly effective with less than 50% of his/her time allocated as playing the SM for that team. The PO question varies much more drastically than that, so I can't give much specific advice there.

The only real way to know if what you're doing is working is to do this:
Consult the Scrum Guide for the duties and responsibilities of the role. Assess whether the role/person has enough time to faithfully and effectively deliver on those duties and responsibilities. Then, ask the Dev Team to do the same. Retrospective, inspect, and adapt. Continually re-adapt as necessary.

12:37 pm August 20, 2014

Hi Jan

Bear in mind too that a Scrum Master has organizational agile coaching as one of their responsibilities. I'll wager that the person who still found time "to squeeze in 75% development work" was less than industrious in fulfilling that particular part of their remit.

11:03 am August 25, 2014

Hi Jan,

I'm certainly not as experienced as my pre-writers, but reading your post, I immediately had some situations in mind, which I'd like to share with you:

Situation 1:
A Scrum-experienced organization with only 10 employees, including PO, SM and 6 additional developers. All employees are familiar with agile practices and have been working with each other for years.
--> Here, I imagine, it could be more efficient, if the Scrum Master was appointed to some development tasks, too.

Situation 2:
An organization raises a new requirement for a new product line with a very simple and restrictive scope. Although it's a rather small addition to the previous product, a small Scrum Team with only 3 developers is assigned to implement the new product line.
--> Probably the Development Team doesn't need the PO to renegotiate and explain Product Backlog Items all the time. Moreover, the Product Backlog shall grow and change as more information (e.g. through customer feedback) become available, so the PO shouldn't create exhaustive Product Backlog Items descriptions from the beginning.

Situation 3:
A huge organization decides to use Scrum from now on and wants to create a completely new product. The Development Teams have a size of 9 persons. Management and customer contracts are still aligned with non-agile practices and time-boxes.
--> In this situation the Scrum Master surely needs his or her full time to serve the PO, the Development Team and the organization in facilitating them in their Scrum process improvement. And the PO will need all time he or she has, to create and grow a Product Backlog from which the Development Team can begin and continue the Sprints.

Besides, I've found the following passage in the Scrum Guide, indicating that PO and SM could spend some time as developer, too:
"The Product Owner and Scrum Master roles are not included in this count [N.B. in the count of the Development Team size] unless they are also executing the work of the Sprint Backlog."

I hope, this helps you a little to reconcile with the thought of a part-time SM or PO?