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3 Wide-Spread Scrum Master Failures in 5:31 Minutes

April 12, 2021

TL; DR: Three Wide-Spread Scrum Master Failures

There are plenty of Scrum Masters failures. Given that Scrum is a framework with a precise and concise yet short “manual,” this effect should not surprise anyone.

Learn more about three widespread examples of how Scrum Masters fail their team in three short video clips, totaling 5 minutes and 31 seconds.

Making Your Scrum Work: Three Wide-Spread Scrum Master Failures in 5:31 Minutes

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TL; DR: Three Wide-Spread Scrum Master Failures

Let me “walk” you through often observed Scrum Master anti-patterns, from dogmatism to the pursuit of useless metrics to a lack of creativity:


Some Scrum Masters believe in applying the Scrum Guide literally which unavoidably will cause friction as Scrum is a framework, not a methodology. However, the problem is that teaching feels good:

  • Team members come and ask for help; now, the Scrum Master has a purpose
  • When Scrum team members follow the rules, the Scrum Master has influence or authority
  • The Scrum Master may easily attribute the Scrum team’s progress or success to their teaching; now, they also have proof regarding their mastery of Scrum.

Metrics Fetish

The Scrum Master keeps track of individual performance metrics such as story points per developer per Sprint. Or worse, probably to report the metrics to that person’s line manager. (Which is an effective supervisor hack to reintroduce command & control through the back door, creating a cargo-cult version of Scrum in the process.)

In another manifestation, the Scrum Master focuses their work on producing a daily update to the burn-down chart. If the team considers a burn-down chart useful to monitor progress toward the Sprint Goal—that is their call. However, if the burn-down chart is solely maintained to track the output for reporting purposes the team needs to challenge this attitude.

Lastly, a pre-installed report in the team’s Jira instance does not mean that it is a suitable tool.

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Groundhog Day

The Sprint Retrospective never changes in composition, venue, or length. There is a tendency in this case that the Scrum team might revisit the same issues repeatedly–it’s Groundhog Day without the happy ending, though.

What you can do about it? For example:

  • Create a repository of Sprint Retrospective exercises for all five stages and never run the same Retrospective format twice.
  • Do you need ideas on how to run a Retrospective? Well, use Retromat, Tasty cupcakes—or be creative with Liberating Structures and Training from the Back of the Room exercises.
  • Talk to your fellow Scrum Masters; the Hands-on Agile Slack community—see below—is a particularly well-suited place to ask for help.
  • Don’t forget to have fun, for example, by theming Retrospectives. Why not have a Halloween-spective?

Possible Reasons Why Scrum Masters Leave the Path

The reasons why Scrum Masters violate the spirit of the Scrum Guide are multi-faceted. They run from ill-suited personal traits via the pursuit of their own agendas to frustration with the team itself. However, I like to point you to one particular reason—the frustrated Scrum Master:

The Scrum Master has been working his or her butt off for months, but the team is not responding to the effort. The level of frustration is growing. There are many potential reasons for a failure at this level: the lack of sponsoring from the C-level of the organization, a widespread belief that ‘Agile’ is just the latest management fad, and thus ignorable. The team composition is wrong. There is no psychological safety to address the team’s problems, and the company culture values neither transparency nor radical candor. Or individual team members harbor personal agendas unaligned with the team’s objective—just to name a few. If the Scrum Team does not manage to turn its ship around, it will probably lose its Scrum Master. Please note that the Scrum Master cannot solve this issue by herself or himself. This is an effort of the whole Scrum Team.

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The Conclusion: Three Wide-Spread Scrum Master Failures

There are plenty of possibilities to fail as a Scrum Master. Sometimes, it is the lack of organizational support. Some people are not suited for the job. Others put themselves above their teams for questionable reasons. Some Scrum Masters simply lack feedback from their Scrum Teams and stakeholders. Whatever the case may be, though, try and lend your Scrum Master in need a hand to overcome the misery. Scrum is a team sport.

What Scrum Master failure have you observed? Please share them with us in the comments.

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