“The Scrum Master role is distributed over the team”
Are you serious? — episode 27
It’s a week ago that I posted the following article:
Here I discussed that the Scrum Guide doesn’t say that there should be a 1:1 ratio of Scrum Master to Scrum Team and gave some pros and cons. One of the most intriguing responses On the article — on LinkedIn — came from sjoerd kranendonk:
“Good balance on this topic. Imho something the SG is purposefully vague on. Cos it depends. One thing to be sure though, is the reverse. Any scrum team should have one scrum master. But why shouldn’t the role be shared? What could happen if we distribute the SM role over multiple people or even the whole team (basically dissolving the role)? Some people claim ‘mature scrum teams make the scrum master obsolete’. Do they? Should they?”
My initial response was: “What? A shared responsibility? That can’t be! I have never seen these possibilities in my own environment!” But Sjoerd is a Professional Scrum Trainer at Scrum.org. He knows a thing or two (and more!) about Scrum. So I decided to dive into it trying to get a grip on the item and share my thoughts.
What does the Scrum Guide say?
The Scrum Guide doesn’t use a lot of words for this topic:
“The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, the Development Team, and a Scrum Master.” — SG
A product Owner and a Scrum Master. This suggests (at least to me) that one person is a Product Owner and one person is a Scrum Master. This is more specifically stated for the Product Owner:
“The Product Owner is one person, not a committee.” — SG
I would expect a similar statement for the Scrum Master. But this is not the case! The fact that there is this statement for the Product Owner role and not for the Scrum Master role makes me think:
Is the Scrum Guide intentionally vague on the topic of distributing the Scrum Master role over multiple people?
I don’t have the answer. Apparently the Scrum Master role could be distributed over multiple people. In theory.
How feasible is it?
So let’s assume that the Scrum Guide doesn’t rule out the option to split the Scrum Master responsibilities over the team. Is it feasible? I’ll share my thoughts by going through the Scrum Master’s responsibilities and I will take into account several factors:
- Maturity on Agile/Scrum
- The stages of group development
- Scrum Values
a. Organisational maturity on Agile/Scrum
The Scrum Master serves the organisation in several ways:
“* Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
* Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
* Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
* Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
* Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.” — SG
Organisations that are new to Agile and or Scrum or that are in a process of adopting Scrum definitely need the services of the Scrum Master(s). I can see scenarios where more than one person from a Scrum Team (2, perhaps 3) would be able to do this. They all should be well versed in Scrum and should have sufficient time to fill this part of the Scrum Master role. I could also see how only one of those people sharing the Scrum Master role within the team would take the lead in servicing the organisation.
However, it would take it one step further to distribute the responsibilities of the Scrum Master around the team, effectively dissolving the role. I don’t see how the organisations that are new to Agile/Scrum then can be served. This pivotal part of the Scrum Master responsibilities requires knowledge, coaching skills and focus. It is not something to be done on the side but often forgotten/ignored.
Organisation that are front-runners in Agile and Scrum might have this service to the organisation ingrained in the daily work of the employees. This is an entirely different context. In this context I could indeed see how this responsibility of a Scrum Master could be distributed over the team.
b. The stages of group development
The Scrum Master serves the Development Team by:
“* Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
* Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
* Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
* Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
* Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.” — SG
I love Tuckman’s stages of group development. If you regularly read articles at Serious Scrum you will have noticed that more of us do. I will use this model to assess the option to have a shared Scrum Master’s responsibility.
A team in the ‘Forming’ and ‘Storming’ stage most certainly needs a highly trained and skilled Scrum Master. They need a Scrum Master with focus. I will argue that in this case the role shouldn’t be distributed over 2 or more team members.
A team that is ‘Norming’ is in a considerably calmer phase. I can imagine that 2 or 3 from the team can share the Scrum Master service towards the team. And as I stipulated in the section of ‘service to the organisation’ I can see one of the Scrum Masters in the team take the lead in servicing the Development Team.
Teams in the ‘Performing’ phase might be in a situation where the Scrum Master role can be distributed over the team. However I think this is only applicable for teams with a high level of maturity and mutual understanding on Agile and Scrum.
c. Scrum Team maturity on Scrum/Agile
To complete the list here are the services of the Scrum Master to the Product Owner:
“* Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
* Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
* Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
* Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
* Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
* Understanding and practicing agility; and,
* Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.” — SG
When considering distributing the services of the Scrum Master around the Development Team, there is an important topic to consider. This subject also relates to the Scrum Master’s service to the Product Owner: the team’s maturity in Scrum/Agile.
Teams that have had some experience and knowledge on the topic could look into options to distribute the role. Distributing the Scrum Master role over the team, dissolving the role might be an option for teams with a high knowledge of and experience in Agile and Scrum, but it probably is a terrible idea for a team that is relatively inexperienced with Scrum or Agile approaches.
d. Scrum Values
I believe it is also important to discuss Scrum Values here, especially focus and commitment. A shared responsibility of the Scrum Master role can lead to a loss of focus on who does what and a resulting lack of commitment.
There’s yet another side to this. If you distribute the Scrum Master role over the development team you give these members of the development team additional tasks. Studies showed that multitasking and the switching from one task to another has a negative impact on productivity due to lack of focus. Also: when the pressure is high, will the Scrum Masters still be able to fill this part of their duties? Or will they only focus on their primary duty as member of the Development Team, ignoring the Scrum Master role?
I indeed can think of scenarios where the Scrum Master’s services to the Product Owner, to the Development Team and to the organisation can be distributed over multiple people or even the whole team.
For one the Scrum Master role could be divided between 2 or 3 people from the Scrum Team with clear agreements on responsibility. A simple example would be:
- Jill is responsible for the services towards the organisation
- Diego is responsible for the services towards the Product Owner
- Andrei is responsible for the services towards the Development Team
I believe this is only an option when Agile and Scum are well understood and practiced within the Scrum Team and the organisation as a whole.
To distribute the role over the whole team is taking it a few steps further. I believe this is only an option for organisations and teams that live and breathe Agile and Scrum.
Having said all of this I believe it is rarely a logical choice to have more than one person responsible for the Scrum Master role. Why would teams choose to add this complexity? You wish to reduce complexity!
I can imagine that this pattern is usable for a very small percentage of the Scrum Teams and organisations. Just like cycling is a good alternative for a small portion of the people that need to commute 50 kilometers daily. It’s like finding a four-leaf clover.
Therefore my conclusion is: it may be theoretically possible to distribute the Scrum Master role over the team, but it is rarely worth even considering.
Did you like the article? Then it would be awesome if you’d clap 👏🏻. I am also very keen to learn what you think about this topic.
My twitter profile is https://twitter.com/WJAgeling
Do you want to publish in Serious Scrum? Connect with us on Slack to make it happen!