Do we need Scrum Masters?

Let’s first revisit what the Scrum Guide has to say about Scrum teams and Scrum Masters.

[…] Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team. […]

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules. […]

If you’re doing Scrum by the book, the Scrum Master isn’t part of the team, but stands between the outside world and the team. I’ve always found this a bit odd. When I’ve been working as Scrum Master, I’ve always wanted to take part in the development and be part of the team.

In my opinion, Scrum Master capabilities are part of that “competencies needed to accomplish the work”. In the team there should be someone who is naturally interested in agile stuff. Someone who is generally interested in continuously improving the workflow and promoting agile values around him/her. Someone who would be doing scrum mastering even without having an explicit role.

Not everyone has to be heavily interested in soft stuff. The team benefits if there are members with diverse interests. Perhaps one server admin guru,  one front-end wizard, one math expert with algorithm experience — whatever is needed to accomplish the work.

So let’s assume we have perfect set of capabilities in our team. That team has needed capabilities and intrinsic motivation to get stuff done.  Leadership emerges as it’s needed. In these kind of teams we don’t need labels — we don’t need Scrum Masters. Or technical leads. Or server architects. Or … Product Owners?

On the other hand I can come up with reasons to have assigned Scrum Master for the team:

  • If there is no assigned person to fulfill a certain role, groupthink might happen. Difficult questions might not be raised or group handles them ineffectively while trying to avoid conflict.
  • In practice there are always gaps in the team’s competencies. If no-one is interested in process improvement, how does the leadership around that area just automatically emerge? Some issues may not even be handled at all, since everybody assumes that it’s someone else’s responsibility. And nothing happens.
  • It’s might be easier for outsiders to find correct person to talk to. I need to talk about features… I go to PO. I need to ask about sprint reviews… I go to SM.

To conclude: We don’t need Scrum Masters. We need someone (or multiple persons) who has got intrinsic interest in people and process. However, if someone likes to call that person a Scrum Master, that’s fine.

PS. I prefer to call myself Scrum Shepherd. IMO it’s more descriptive. =)

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