Do You Need a Dedicated Scrum Master?

Maybe we should first address what a SM does exactly. Summarized by Scrum Hub, a Scrum Master is responsible for…

  • Facilitating (not participating in) the daily standup
  • Helping the team maintain their burndown chart
  • Setting up retrospectives, sprint reviews or sprint planning sessions
  • Shielding the team from interruptions during the sprint
  • Removing obstacles that affect the team
  • Walking the product owner through more technical user stories
  • Encouraging collaboration between the Scrum team and product owner

You can see why, based on this list of responsibilities, some wouldn’t think these duties call for a full-time, certified Scrum Master. But to all my people out there wondering, and to all the CSM haters out there, here’s a list of reasons why teams might want a CSM on their team…

Are you new to agile/scrum?

Many teams that switch from their current methodology to a Scrum or Agile workflow struggle in the beginning. Taking on new things can cause confusion, and, when it involves switching to a system which forces management to relinquish some control, fear. A dedicated Scrum Master to help the team through a time of transition can make or break the success of the team’s implementation of Scrum.

Sure, a team can try to implement the methodology on their own without help, but in order for this to happen there needs to be total buy-in from all team members. CSM Randy Roosekrans sheds some light on the matter:

“In the case of new Scrum teams or new team members, an Agile specialist must be available not only to educate the new members initially but also to address future inquiries regarding how and why certain processes are applied. In the absence of an onsite Agile coach, this responsibility frequently falls to the ScrumMaster. ‘I don’t yet understand the purpose of story point estimates or what factors we should consider when providing estimates.” “Why do we even participate in backlog grooming if we have sprint planning meetings?’ ‘Who is involved with determining how stories are prioritized, and how is it determined which stories will be scheduled from one release to the next?’ ‘What if the technical team wants to submit a story? How can I persuade business that my story provides value?’ With team members who are new to Scrum, such questions are constant and nearly infinite . . . and all of them are important! Even mature Scrum teams occasionally have questions about processes or suggestions on how to improve their efficiency and output.”

Teams who bring in a Scrum expert are able to have their questions answered. It’s hard to build something from the ground up if you don’t know what it’s supposed to look like in the end.

Are you bad at agile/scrum?

Maybe your team isn’t new to Agile, but you’ve never fully gotten the hang of it. Or maybe you used to be good at it, but for some reason weren’t able to keep up with the demands. Bringing in someone to hold the team accountable and encourage them in the process could be very beneficial to your team’s productivity.

Dan Radigan, Agile Evangelist, reminds us that “Scrum masters are project leaders in an agile team who focus on optimizing performance, working between the product owner and the team to ensure consistent, successful sprints. Scrum masters also own cross-team coordination so that the core team can focus on product development.”

Don’t give up too quickly if things aren’t going well.

Are you stalled in your scrum?

Have you reached your full potential? Is it not what you expected? Maybe bringing in a dedicated Scrum Master would increase your velocity beyond what you could have imagined. Sometimes when we’ve existed in a space for a long time, we have trouble seeing the whole board. We have tunnel vision for where we’re setting our pieces. Bringing in a set of fresh eyes helps you see new ways and categories of doing things that you might never thought of yourself.

But what if…?

All three of these questions are reason to bring in a dedicated Scrum Master, but teams implementing Agile who claim that they don’t need a scrum master aren’t necessarily saying that these duties don’t need to be performed, they’re just saying that they don’t need to be performed by a dedicated Scrum Master. If you don’t feel strongly compelled by any of them, then here are three other things to remember…

Natural leadership can occur, it doesn’t always need to be assigned

If no leader is assigned, typically one emerges naturally. Whether or not they’re a good leader is another question, But don’t be afraid to try this rout if you think your team has potential to succeed this way.

Anyone can have good ideas about getting stuff done

One of the biggest mistakes an authority can make having the unwillingness to listen to the ideas of the whole team. Anyone can have good ideas about what will work for your Agile team.

Labels are fluid

See who on your team is maybe up for taking on some new responsibilities. If someone has the strengths of a Scrum Master, maybe they’d be willing to absorb that role, have their duties shift towards that role, or even become certified.

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