Full steam ahead but who is steering the ship?

One of the key roles for an agile team is the Scrum Master (or otherwise known as the Iteration Manager). Hartman (2009) summaries the Scrum Master's responsibilities as:
"The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the Team adheres to Scrum values, practices, and rules.
The Scrum Master helps the Scrum Team and the organization adopt Scrum.
The Scrum Master teaches the Team by coaching and by leading it to be more productive and produce higher quality products.
The Scrum Master helps the Team understand and use self-management and cross-functionality. However, the Scrum Master does not manage the team; the team is self-managing."

But who should be a Scrum Master, when the team may already have a team leader or manager? I'll briefly explore the opportunities and challenges of two main approaches.

Team leader as scrum master:
  • Opportunity: As Hartman stated above, the team should be self managing but when disputes arise, the team leader has the authority to give directives which can save time during dispute resolution.
  • Challenge: If the team leader is consumed by important work requiring extensive attention, they can lose focus on scrum management, and the team’s iteration/work may suffer as a result.
  • Challenge: If the team leader continues to exercise their management rights, the team loses opportunities to learn self management.

Team members sharing the role of scrum master:
  • Opportunity: There are development opportunities for team members to share the role and this practice establishes a balance of power amongst team members.
  • Opportunity: New Scrum Masters may inject fresh perspectives on team operations.
  • Challenge: New Scrum Masters may allow the team to inconsistently create and prioritize new story cards or the relationships between the story cards and the team's business plan or strategy may become unclear (creating confusion).Therefore, the team may lose awareness if the team are delivering the cards of greatest value for the customer.
  • Challenge: The Scrum Master has no authority over team members, just the process. Similar to a personal trainer or coach, the Scrum Master can make recommendations or give guidance but only the team members can perform the work (Cohen, 2010). This may extend time lost due to dispute resolution.

While there are good arguments for both approaches, I prefer allowing team members to share the role as I feel it aligns more closely to two (2) of the Agile principles:
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done, and
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams (Principles behind the Agile Manifesto. 2001).

With this in mind, here is my list of suggestions of providing consistent Scum Management for teams who share the role of Scrum Master:
  1. The team leader/manager (or product manager) must provide time for the nominated team member to focus on scrum management,
  2. Develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) & RACI matrix for iteration/scrum management to provide consistent direction for new Scrum Masters,
  3. Ensure all team members have read and understood the Scrum Master SOP,
  4. Ensure each story card meets the minimum data requirements to show alignment with the customers' or team's strategy or clearly details the business value of the card.
  5. Further to the data requirements, applying consistent data management including the use of a hierarchical categorization model (e.g. customer strategic goal > epic > feature > story card) will clarify the business value of each story card.
  6. Run retrospectives on iteration/scrum management after each iteration (or sprint) and discuss any lessons learnt with the team.
  7. Conduct proper handovers between the incoming and outgoing Scrum Masters to ensure smooth transitions between the iterations.

As I’ve outlined above, successful scrum management with numerous team members relies on a consistent set of practices and procedures. Once the procedures are established, the self managing team can refine its practices with regular retrospectives and continuously improve its service delivery.

Cohen, M. (2010). Succeeding with Agile. Pearson Education. Boston:USA.

Hartman, B. (2009). New to agile? What does the ScrumMaster do anyway? Retrieved 13 April 2013 from
http://www.agileforall.com/2009/09/23/new-to-agile-what-does-the-scrummaster-do- anyway/

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto. (2001). Retrieved 13 April 2013 from


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