What the ScrumMaster Does NOT Do

August 31, 2009 Michael James

Does your ScrumMaster make business decisions for your team/PO?

Does he make technical decisions for your team?

Does he make promises on behalf of your team?

Is he your team’s representative at a “Scrum of Scrums” meeting?

Does he assign tasks to team members?

I’m alarmed by reports of ScrumMasters “managing” their teams, preventing them from reaching their potential.

The ScrumMaster facilitates team self-organization, and ultimately team self management. Facilitation is a million-year-old practice that not everyone has skills at doing at first. Organizations that don’t realize the full potential of Scrum often choose poorly when designating people as ScrumMasters.

Let’s say Adam on Team A has business with Bob on Team B.

It’s seductive for the ScrumMaster to coordinate work between the two teams. My job as ScrumMaster seems so vague, and finally here’s an easy, visible, concrete contribution I can make. We find ourselves busier and busier, and that work becomes self-justifying. What would they have done without me?

But my job as a ScrumMaster is to ensure Adam can (and will) talk directly to Bob. That means breaking through official silos, reducing geographic distribution, coaching shy team members with negotiation skills, or just helping Adam and Bob realize it’s now their job to talk to each other instead of relying on managers. Sometimes it means “management by leaving the room.” Maybe we can create an environment during the retrospective meeting where the team itself takes on the problem. That’s harder, and scarier.

The next time you feel the need to reach into your “manager’s toolbox,” ask yourself whether the short term fix is worth the lost opportunity in the long run.

For a list of what the ScrumMaster does do, please see An Example Checklist for ScrumMasters.

–mj

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