Let’s all blame the Scrum Master

“The Scrum Master is at fault when Scrum fails”

Are you serious? — Episode 61

Willem-Jan Ageling
Aug 18 · 4 min read

The ‘Are you Serious’ series tackles Scrum misconceptions. All it’s articles have this theme and can be read on their own.

Picture of six fingers pointing to a child with hands covering her face as to protect herself from the pointing fingers.
Picture of six fingers pointing to a child with hands covering her face as to protect herself from the pointing fingers.
Picture by https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/

Who is responsible for the success of Scrum in the organisation? Is this the Scrum Master? The first Scrum Guide from 2010 certainly appears to state this:

“The ScrumMaster is responsible for ensuring that Scrum values, practices and rules are enacted and enforced.” — Scrum Guide 2010 by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland

Before the Scrum Guide existed the book “Agile Software Development with Scrum” was the standard for Scrum. Here it was even more bluntly stated that the Scrum Master was the person to make Scrum a success:

“The Scrum Master is responsible for the success of Scrum. — Agile Software Development with Scrum by Ken Schwaber and Mike Meedle (2002).

This settles it, right? Well … it’s not that easy anymore!

The most recent version of the Scrum Guide has a totally different view on this:

“The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.” — Scrum Guide 2017 by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland

So the Scrum Master is no longer responsible to make Scrum a success. Instead she or he is responsible to promote and support Scrum. And the Scrum Guide comes with several ways to do this:

  • Coaching the Development Team;

I believe this is totally fair. A Scrum Master can be doing a great job in helping everyone understand Scrum, but there are some pivotal things that a Scrum Master can’t control: people might not accept the changes that Scrum brings.

Scrum is very disruptive for many organisations and people. It forces you to work in short cycles to build stuff, inspect and then adapt. It steps away from the idea that you can plan activities months in advance.

People that wish to have certainty might not want to accept this. They might continue to request delivery dates for a fixed set of features. And when they have received these dates they might want you to stick to these dates and expect delivery to be “on time”. This directly violates what Scrum is all about.

Misunderstandings of what Scrum is can also mean that people that wish to work according to Scrum aren’t allowed to do so. This could mean that Development Teams don’t have control over their own Sprint Backlog or their idea of quality of their work.

All of this is hardly the fault of the Scrum Master. What’s more: the Scrum Master’s job can be very daunting in these environments . It takes a lot of courage to coach people when they aren’t willing to accept your views. It would be even more daunting if the Scrum Master is responsible for the success of the Scrum adoption.

So… who is responsible for the Scrum adoption?

Is there any mention in the Scrum Guide? I don’t believe so. The below quote comes closest to answering this:

“The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events, artifacts, and rules. Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage.” — Scrum Guide 2017 by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland

Scrum has three roles: Development Team, Product Owner and Scrum Master. These three roles make a Scrum Team and are crucial to make Scrum a success. If only the Scrum Master is acting as described in the Scrum Guide then Scrum will fail. Here you could conclude that the Scrum Master, Product Owner and the Development Team are jointly responsible for the success of Scrum within a team.

But there’s more. The Scrum Master is supposed to be:

“Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development” — Scrum Guide 2017 by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland

This snippet of the Scrum Guide suggests that it’s not only the Scrum Team, but the (employees and) stakeholders of the Scrum Team that are also responsible for the success.

Conclusion

There was a time when the creators of Scrum said that Scrum Masters were responsible for the success of Scrum. But this has changed over the years. Now Scrum Masters are ‘only’ responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide.

I believe the reason for it is that the Scrum Master can’t be made responsible for the success or failure of Scrum when the organisation doesn’t want to accept the changes that Scrum implemented properly brings.

This is why the responsibility to make Scrum a success is with the whole Scrum Team and the stakeholders.

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Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

Thanks to Maarten Dalmijn

Willem-Jan Ageling

Written by

Interested in ways to work better together. I love the discussion with open-minded people.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

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