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The goal of a Scrum Master is NOT to make herself unneeded

August 22, 2014


Supporter being disappointed at bad Scrum Master coaching

A month has passed since the FIFA World Cup finals! With that, a number of less successful football coaches are probably looking for new jobs...

But as the disappointed countries ditch their old coaches, they will most probably hire a new one right away.


It seems that for elite teams and world class athletes, working with a coach is the default choice. In the software development business this is somewhat different.



Current misunderstandings

I keep hearing things like "The goal of a Scrum Master/coach is to make herself unneeded"  or "For a mature team, we can do with a part time Scrum Master/coach". None of these make any sense to me.

I can understand where it is coming from though. I think it is since we have little historical experience in our business working with team- and organizational coaches.

People, including most newly assigned Scrum Masters, do not know what to expect from such a role. What value does it add?



Commonly this also leads to the Scrum Master role being implemented as some sort of mix between a meeting booking secretary and a command and control rule enforcer.

But that is completely not the point of having such person assisting a team and an organization!



The actual idea with Scrum Masters

What a Scrum Master/coach brings is another focus and another perspective. For example, it is very hard to be focusing on the details and on the big picture at the same time.

That is why pair programming gurus recommend that the "driver" focuses on the details and the "co-pilot" focuses on the big picture.

And it is the reason why the Scrum framework has different roles. To give each person fewer things to primarily focus on.



For example, deep in the code, you will also probably not be thinking about how to effectively reworking the organizational structures that are impeding innovation and thus slowly killing your organization.

That is one of the reasons that we have Scrum Master. They facilitate change and improvement. They do this since it is their primary focus.



Mature teams

But how about mature teams? For sure they could work well together without a Scrum Master?

Well, I have never seen anybody, regardless of skill level, successfully facilitating a meeting where they also tried to participate. With that approach, less great decisions will be made and team health will suffer in the long run.

And for the problem solving part? For a mature agile team the low hanging fruits have already been picked. The remaining issues are probably deep entrenched in individual habits and organizational culture. Big problems require even more time and focus. But when progress are being made, payback can be equally large!



And if you think that things are working fine in your team, remember: This does not mean that you have no problems, it just means that you are clueless...



What to do?

Should all organizations invest in a 100% Scrum Master for each team then? Or is it a 75% job, or a 50% job? Well that depends doesn't it? It depends on how much value the Scrum master adds to the team and to the organization!

If the organization is able to produce significantly more value with some person being a full time Scrum Master for one team compared to with the same person splitting his time between two teams, then keeping that person focused on one team seems like a good idea, doesn't it?

You will just have to evaluate this. Just as with all changes in the complex species that are our organizations, there are no one-size-fits-all recipes you can follow.



What organizations need to learn is not how to follow some "agile recipe". Organizations need to learn how to learn. That is, how to come up with experiments and how to evaluate if those experiments improved things or not.

And if you happen to be a Scrum Master, to make this happen is your job! And it is a pretty challenging one. I've been at it for a while and it seems I'm nowhere near being fully trained for the job anytime soon...

If you are like me, and want to pick up the speed of your learning journey, there are lots of things you could do. Like reading some more books. Get yourself a coach. Attend some trainings. Visit a local user group. Do some more experiments at work. Learn in any way you like...and make sure that your role is a value adding position!

How would you do that?



Image: (c) 2014, A C Moraes, Creative Commons 2.0

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