The Importance of Dedicated and Full Time Role of Scrum Master

Standish Group has been publishing ‘Chaos’ reports since the beginning of 1990s. According to Chaos Report 2011 Agile projects are three times more successful than Waterfall projects. However only half of the Agile projects are successful in terms of within budget and on-time. In other words still 5 out of 10 Agile projects are in trouble or progress in uncontrolled and chaotic environment.

Standish Group's Chaos 2011 Report

The main reasons of the unsuccessful Agile projects are making arbitrarily changes in the roles and meetings and also not applying rules in a discipline manner. For instance in Scrum, the role of Scrum Master does not receive respect as much as it deserves and as a result, lack of Scrum Master role affects directly the success of Agile projects.

The role of Master Scrum is not a productive role but a supportive role. Due to this fact, it is not considered as a first class task. However when all the duties of Scrum Master considered as stated below, Scrum Master serves in horizontal and vertical slices of the management of the project.

Scrum Master’s daily duties vary from day to day according to the day of Sprint is run. First and last day of the Sprint Scrum Master mostly deals with Sprint Planning, Review and Retrospective meetings. In other days Scrum Master attends Daily Scrums and spends his majority of the time while helping Product Owner and removing barriers and impediments of the project.

Scrum Master’s Duties are:

Being Responsible for the Scrum Process

  • Training the team (3-9 people) about Scrum
  • Facilitating the team to obey and follow the rules, values, principles and practises of Scrum all the time.
  • Preventing Scrum from being given up in any case and keeping motivation up.
  • Assisting the team determining Definition of DONE and ensuring that the Definition of DONE for every PBI is applied without any exception.

Removing the Impediments

  • The primary task of Scrum is making visible the impediments that reduce team’s productivity.
  • Classifying and prioritization the impediments
  • Determining the impacts of the Impediments
  • Removing the Impediments as soon as possible
  • Providing sustainable productivity
  • Keeping or improving the velocity when necessary to challenge the team

Training and Mentoring the Product Owner

  • Mentoring the Product Owner for making Product Backlog value oriented
  • Managing Product Backlog and thus the scope
  • Making Product Backlog understandable by development team
  • Making ready PBIs for the upcoming Sprint according to Definition of Ready
  • Providing Acceptance Criteria for every BPI

Protecting the Team

  • Helping development team members become single focus on the subject and protecting development team from external forces which can prevent development team reaching the Sprint Goal
  • Making reasonable explanations to the ones who try to request uncommitted and extra work
  • Solving the problems among team members

Coaching and being Servant Leader to Development Team

  • Having mindset of ‘What can I do for the team’s being more productive today?’ instead of ‘What the team can do today?’
  • Scrum Master plays leader, the teammate and observer roles. First of all, he leads the team as Scrum Master. Then he stands by the team and work with them. Lastly he follows them, observes and supervises them.

Being the Representative of Continuous Improvement and Change

  • Establishing and preserving Kaizen mindset
  • Initiating and managing the transition period to Agile on organizational basis in other divisions of the company

Hyperproductive Team

  • The team members can disagree in times after the forming the team. Therefore Scrum Master has to resolve all conflicts in the team in a constructive in timely manner.
  • Providing the formation of organic structure of the team by not letting any dominant individual.
  • Reviewing the Sprint Backlog and looking into the trends on burndown chart
  • Making the Sprint Backlog tasks not idle instead of letting the team members remain idle

Providing Risk Management

  • Determining Sprint and Release risks
  • Taking precautions in order to prevent the formation of Sprint and Release risks by contingency plans.
  • Mitigating Sprint and Release risks by taking actions that reduces the impacts in case they occur.

Being Responsible for Technical Debt Management

  • Keeping the track of architectural and technical quality compromises of the developed product
  • Raising the awareness of the team about the matter of technical debt’s being paid by making extra work and rework in the future
  • Expressing the technical debt financially.

Increasing Morale of the Team Upset by Previously Failed Projects

  • Giving hope to the team upset because of the previous unsuccessful projects by showing evidence of successful Agile projects. Guiding the entire team in turbulent, ever changing and demanding era.

Scrum Master’s work load will increase accordingly when number of team members increases, having more than one Scrum Team, and distributed (distance and time zones) team members.

In regulated environments such as defense and healthcare, providing compulsory documentation and higher product quality activities for each PBI requires extra attention and effort. As a result the workload of Scrum Master increases dramatically.

In addition being self organizing team and having trusted team members is not a one shot activity but a process and demands constant improvement and monitoring

Being Scrum Master can be part-time or full-time and also in a short or a long time. It has been often experienced that being full-time and for a long time Scrum Master (at least 6 months) makes possible seeing the signs of real transition results in the organization.

Unfortunately organizations are not interested in full time and dedicated Scrum Master role since assuming it will increase the cost of employment. Organizations prefer to combine the role of Scrum Master with other roles. However it has been observed that the productivity of the teams inexperienced in Scrum or Agile will increase dramatically by the help of dedicated Scrum Master. A real Scrum Master doesn’t not only increase relative velocity of the team but also helps to keep a sustainable pace. As a result the effective and efficient application of Scrum will keep the cost of dedicated and full time Scrum Master at negligible levels. When Scrum Master have responsibility in more than one team and an active role in organizational development, the benefit of having a full time Scrum Master will pay off its cost in a few Sprints.

The real disadvantage of combining Scrum Master role with another role is the difficulty of deciding to play which role at a time. People usually prefer to do their primary work such as software development. Therefore when it is necessary to take actions required by the Scrum Master responsibility, will be postponed to future. This kind of prioritization will keep impediments to stay where that has been for sometime and will continue to prevent team reaching its productive state.

Having said that, in an ultimate state of Scrum the team is expected to have fully functional self organizing behaviour independent of the role of the Scrum Master. In other words, best Scrum Master leverages the team’s self organizing attitude at a level where Scrum Master role becomes unnecessary. However this journey takes long time and requires courage and trust.

Attila Alkoç, CSM, CSPO, PSM, PSPO
Agile Coach, ACM Software

Ahmet Akdağ

Ahmet Akdağ


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