Scrum master – This or that?

In my experience, the Scrum Master is one of the most misunderstood concepts in Scrum.
In this short post, I will try to answer based on my point of view five different “this or that” questions regarding the role.

Full-time role or additional responsibility?

Full time. Becoming a good scrum master is not an easy task. It requires a person to focus on learning and on aspects that are often not directly aligned with the value creation process.
Hence for a good Scrum Master being aware of the details may not be the most important aspect of the role. Moreover, examining the details may even get in the way so the Scrum Master cannot see the bigger picture. And that’s a shame because a good Scrum Master actively looks for system patterns and dynamics.
Also, the Scrum master is expected to look for opportunities for improvement in different elements of the organization. Assuming this is a part-time role is like assuming there are limited opportunities for improvement.

A development team member or not?

Not. The Scrum Master is a person that is expected to lead the Scrum adoption, hence they represent the organization. In fact Scrum Masters are a part of the organization’s leadership team.
The challenge with having a team-member\Scrum master is the need to try and balance between the team’s needs and the organizational needs. This is hard.
By definition the Scrum master is not directly responsible for the work outcome. This concept of separation allows them to focus on long term improvement and success instead of focusing on completing a specific task or backlog item.

Male or Female?


A Manager or not?

That is probably the million-dollar question. In general, my personal view is that managers in a healthy organizational culture behave in a very similar manner to Scrum Masters: They use coaching instead of authority; They apply  “power with” and not “power over”; And they avoid blame and are committed to the development of the organization and its employees.
However, sometimes the culture isn’t super healthy (yet!) and the required shift is so hard that I would recommend starting with Scrum Masters who were not formerly managers.
If you do choose your managers to be the Scrum Masters make sure both you and they understand the boundaries and expectations from this new role.

Technical or not?
Great question. This means that for this one I don’t have a clear answer.

In my opinion (and I’m biased since I am a s/w dev after all) technical understanding is a great advantage and allows the person to notice and understand the work system on a deeper level. It allows the SM to get more credibility from the team as they can take part in any conversation.
On the other hand, their technical background may pull them too deep into the conversation and work, which will effectively make them a part of the team, which, as mentioned above, is an undesired behavior from a good Scrum Master..

Homework – Ask yourself:

What attributes are important for a Scrum Master in my organization?
What could I do to encourage behaviors that motivate those attributes?
How could I detect their existence in an employee or candidate?

And finally, what do I need to let go of in order to have better Scrum Masters in my organization?


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