Do I Need My Own Scrum Master? The Pros and Cons

Vector image showing a Scrum framework and the role of a Scrum Master.

Before deciding if you need your own Scrum master, let’s get a brief overview of what Scrum is. Scrum is a philosophy, theory, and structure of product development proposed in the 1990s by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. The resulting framework used an empirical (scientific) approach based on transparency, inspection, and adaption. Ultimately, Scrum identified the values of commitment, openness, respect, focus, and courage as crucial to a successful scrum environment.

A Scrum framework begins with the sharing of information in much the same way researchers share data when running experiments. Complete transparency ensures that all team members are working from the same set of facts. As results become available, the data is examined, inspected, or analyzed to determine effectiveness. Adjustments are made as needed and the process repeats. As a result, an environment is created where incremental improvements are made. Note, each iteration is called a sprint under the Scrum framework.

Scrum frameworks adhere to a set of values that direct team member behavior and inform their decisions. For example, every participant commits to the sprint’s deliverables and remains focused on the objective until the sprint is finished. Additionally, openness and respect are encouraged to facilitate problem-solving and innovation. Ultimately, infusing a Scrum project with these values builds trust. It enables teams to have the courage to face challenges and make difficult decisions that come with any development project.

What Does a Scrum Master Do?

Every Scrum team has developers, a product owner, and a Scrum Master – each with clearly defined roles. Developers are any individuals contributing to a unit of work during a sprint. They may be writers, designers as well as software developers. Product owners loosely correlate to product managers, who are responsible for delivering a solution that meets expectations on time and within budget.

Facilitating Developers

Scrum Masters establish and sustain the Scrum framework as it is used within an organization. In other words, they are responsible for ensuring that Scrum structure is followed. Additionally, they coach team members on Scrum theory and application.

As facilitators, Scrum Masters perform the following:

  • Daily Scrums. Schedule 15-min standup meetings.
  • Sprint Planning. Maintain focus on project scope.
  • Sprint Review. Capture feedback/discussion.
  • Sprint Board. Update scrum board or software.
  • Retrospectives. Note areas for improvement.
  • Reporting. Prepare reports for external stakeholders.
  • Obstacles. Remove external and internal roadblocks.
  • Coaching. Advise Scrum members on the framework.

These are just some responsibilities a Scrum Master may have.

A Scrum Master’s primary task is to make the Scrum team’s life easier. As a result, they can be more productive. If that means making a coffee run, a Scrum Master goes out for coffee. If friction develops between team members, Scrum Masters hold one-on-one meetings to eliminate the conflict.

Aiding Product Owners

Under a Scrum framework, product owners are responsible for maximizing product value. For example, a Scrum Master can:

  • Help with backlog management.
  • Ensure backlog items are well-defined.
  • Clarify framework functions.
  • Facilitate Scrum events.

Essentially, the Scrum Master focuses on maximizing the framework to deliver value.

Informing Organizations

Scrum masters have an obligation to their organizations. They must help others within the organization understand Scrum practices. In other words, they should be leading efforts to streamline processes and implement Scrum philosophy, theory, and structure. By implementing a Scrum framework, they can demonstrate the value such a structure has on a company.

Why Have a Scrum Master?

Two common arguments against having a Scrum Master are:

  • Scrum teams are self-organizing.
  • Scrum Masters are redundant.

Of course, eliminating a Scrum Master saves a company money. Although foregoing a Scrum Master may save financial resources in the short term, it can impact the bottom line when products do not meet expectations or go over budget. 

Self-Organized Scrum Teams 

Ultimately, Scrum teams see themselves as self-managing. They have delivered product features on schedule. Customers have been pleased with the deliverables. Why do they need someone to hold daily Scrum meetings or update a Scrum board?  The team can take care of those housekeeping tasks. They don’t need a babysitter.

Without a Scrum Master, developers lose sight of their Scrum framework. For example, management continues to pressure for more features in the current sprint. The team decides that those two extra features are not a problem until they are working overtime to meet the deadline. Because they rushed the delivery, developers can’t focus on the next sprint because they are too busy fighting fires as more bugs are discovered. 

As a result, developers have no time to review their sprints. In addition, improvements don’t happen and mistakes are repeated. Management becomes dissatisfied with performance and customers have more complaints. 

What the team failed to realize was how much effort is involved in managing a backlog. Ultimately, it means working with the product owner to deliver the best possible value without overwhelming developers. It involves addressing the pressures that others place on developers before they impact the team. Without a Scrum Master, teams cannot maintain the objectivity needed to ensure improvement.

Should a Project Manager be a Scrum Master?

Project managers and Scrum Masters fulfill two different roles. For example, project managers oversee the planning, scheduling, and risk assessments of a product. They often use project management tools to help develop a project plan and monitor the project’s progress against the plan. Additionally, project managers are concerned with maximizing product value and serve as a bridge between business and development.

Conversely, Scrum Masters focus on processes. They are concerned with the Scrum team’s effectiveness and productivity. Additionally, they mediate differences between business and development and eliminate obstacles that impede progress. Additionally, they operate from a place of mutual respect rather than one of control. 

Even if project managers were trained in Scrum, their focus is on timelines, budgets, milestones, and deliverables. Scrum frameworks would be down the list of priorities, especially if their reports were distributed throughout the organization. For example, trying to maintain a Scrum board, schedule standup meetings, and share information creates an impossible workload for a project manager. If the project manager cannot execute a Scrum Master’s responsibilities, the Scrum team will eventually travel the path of the self-organizing team without a Scrum Master. 

Scrum Master Outsourcing

Operating an effective Scrum framework requires a Scrum Master. However, having an employee dedicated to that role may be cost-prohibitive. Not every organization needs a full-time Scrum Master. Companies may need someone for a short-term project or a multi-year deliverable. In addition, they may need a Scrum Master to supplement their existing framework. Whatever the need, outsourcing can provide the resources to ensure your Scrum framework stays intact. At EC, we have Scrum Masters ready to establish or sustain your development framework.

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