Luis Goncalves
Last updated on | Scrum Master

30 Fantastic Reasons Why a Part-Time Scrum Master is not optimal

by Luís Gonçalves
part-time scrum master

30 REASONS WHY A PART-TIME SCRUM MASTER IS NOT OPTIMAL

During the last several weeks, I have put a lot of thought in getting reasons why a part-time scrum master is not optimal.

I wanted to share some of my ideas here, and explain why I believe this approach is a Scrum Anti-Pattern. You will get extra insights if you read my other blog post: “Scrum Master Roles and Responsibilities“.

I would like to start my argument by restating one of the Scrum values: “Focus“. There are several organisations that believe Scrum Mastering is a simple job and can be shared with other roles inside of an organisation.

Of course, everything depends on the size of the team or project, but a normal scrum team (7 +- 2 people) will require a full-time Scrum Master. I believe that Focus is extremely important to become good at something.

For example, if you split your job between the developer and Scrum Master, I do not believe that you will master both. You will be a great Scrum Master or a great developer.

At some point in time, you need to choose which career path you want to take. Unfortunately, most of the organisations out there are built so that the only way to get a great salary is to go away from the development path. The result of this is most often losing great developers and getting ineffective leaders!

The second point that I have is related to the amount of work that is necessary to become a good Scrum Master. People believe a Scrum Master is the person who organises meetings, enforces time frames and deadlines, and responds to the impediments people explicitly report.

Certainly, some Scrum Masters only do that, but if you see a team that has great efficiency in accomplishing tasks that no one previously thought possible, most likely the Scrum Master did much more than what I have previously mentioned.

So what are the roles of a Scrum Master?

Scrum Master has dozens of different tasks, but I will give a small enough sample for you to realise that Scrum Mastering is a full-time job! I will write it in a question format to start your thought process, instead of merely giving you the answers.

ORGANIZATION TOPICS

  • How is the communication between teams and departments working?
  • Are the teams fullly cross-functional teams? Can they deliver alone without the help of other teams/departments?
  • Are you, as Scrum Master, meeting with other Scrum Masters and working on the organisational impediment list?
  • How is your organisation structured regarding bonus systems? Are they rewarding individuals or teams?
  • As Peter Senge said, an organisation only learns through its individuals. Are you helping the organisation to learn? Are you establishing Communities of Practice between teams and departments?

ENGINEERING PRACTICES

  • Are you helping the team to figure out the right balance between automated end-to-end tests system tests and automated Unit Tests?
  • Are you helping the team to write both system “functional” tests and unit tests in the same language as the system they are developing so that everyone in the team knows how to maintain the test setup?
  • Are you helping the team to discover the useful grey area between system tests and unit tests?
  • Do all the tests roll up into the continuous integration server?
  • Are you helping the team to mature their DoD?
  • Does your DoD for each functional Product Backlog time include full automated test coverage and refactoring?
  • Are you helping team members to do pair programming to get knowledge exchange during the sprint?

PRODUCT OWNER SUPPORT

  • Are you helping the Product Owner to prioritise the backlog based on the value that stories will bring to the customer?
  • Are you helping the Product Owner to create INVEST stories?
  • Are you educating the Product Owner about technical debt and how to avoid it?
  • Are you helping the Product Owner to make the backlog visible to everyone?
  • Are you helping the Product Owner to make the backlog an information radiator instead of the refrigerator?
  • Are you helping the Product Owner to print out the stories so that everyone knows what the team is working on?
  • Are you helping the Product Owner to create release burnups so that everyone knows where the team stands?
  • Are you helping the Product Owner with adjusting the Release scope based on what was delivered?

HELPING THE TEAM

  • Are you helping the team to reach the state of “flow”?
  • Do you see team members working well with each other?
  • Are you helping the team members to hold each other to high standards?
  • Do you have a trustful environment where people speak freely without problems?
  • Does the sprint board reflect what the team is doing? Or are they working on something that is not related to Sprint Goal?
  • Are you keeping the team artefact visible to everyone (TaskBoard, Sprint BurnDown, impediment list, etc.)?
  • Are you helping the team members to volunteer for tasks? Or do you have a more “command and control” approach to someone telling people what to do?
  • Are you helping the team members to leave their titles outside of the office room? Everyone should help to accomplish team Titles are not important.

As you can see, the role of a Scrum Master encompasses much more than organising meetings and keep track of time box.

If you are a Scrum Master, and you do all of this on your daily job and still have time to work with more than one team, please write a book on time management! I believe you are a GURU.

I hope this article can be used as a guide for everyone who does not understand what the role of a Scrum Master is, and why having more than one at a time is a Scrum Anti-Pattern.

I want to say thanks to Michael James for his list in “Scrummasterchecklist.org” without this list; it would be much harder for me to write this post.

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Luís Gonçalves

About Luís Gonçalves

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LuisGonçalves1979

Luis Gonçalves is an Entrepreneur, Author & International Keynote Speaker. He works with Senior Executives to implement his ‘Organisational Mastery’ system so they can greatly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their organisations; enabling them to become recognised and highly rewarded Leaders.

Comments

Share your point of view

  1. Luis, I agree with all you say as teams go through early learning curves. However, as management and development teams mature, I expect them to internalize and to habituate many of the items on your list including:
    – driving cross functional teams
    – cross team coordination through regular meetings – Scrums of Scrums.
    – effective story writing
    – team collaboration with the PO to balance new feature development, research, ops. support, debt prevention & reduction.
    – PO story writing and transparency in all respects.
    – Team-driven currency of Sprint board / Kansan board state.
    – Continuous Story acceptance by PO and BA’s as delegated.
    – Release (PI) burn-up by PO
    – and much more.

    On the other hand, for the same reasons a sports team needs a hands on coach or team of coaches is to support their learning in the context of constant demand and feedback.

    S, I can see the SM role being greatly reduced over the team learning cycle.

    1. Hi Jay,

      I fully agree with this:”I can see the SM role being greatly reduced over the team learning cycle.”

      I believe the role of Scrum Master is to become disposable 😉 😉

  2. Agree wholeheartedly! Did a presentation entitled “Day in Life of a ScrumMaster” for internal community of practice in 2014, highlighting everything a ScrumMaster should be doing, thus justifying it as a full-time role and for one team.

  3. Great post, Luis! I think it is crucial to understand that Scrum Master has as well other tasks than taking care about meeting and time boxes. This post should be mandatory!

  4. Hi,

    I’m a SM in my soft dev team. Many of the tasks/roles and responsibility that you’ve listed above are currently with our Project Manager (I help out at places) and I read your other previous blog for “Scrum Master Role” where you listed description, for me those also seem like Project Manager related. I’ve mostly seen the pattern where Scrum Master are slowly taking on Project Management tasks along with Scrum tasks. This I have noticed in a lot of job boards searching for “Scrum Master / Project Manager” position.

    Where do you see the SM role heading? Replacing a Project Manager or working in conjunction with Project Manager?

    Many times I’ve noticed Product Owners are unable to prioritize the backlog as they lack the technical details / dependencies of implementation details. a) How can SM help with this? b) How technically involved should SM be in the team?

    Thanks for the great article it helps to take charge on things an SM should be responsible for.

  5. Thanks for the blog Luis. We are a small BI team with 2 Sprint teams with both the developers and myself as SM juggling both product backlogs with BAU. We also have Product Owners who can’t always make morning scrums and other sessions. We therefore set our points targets realistically but lower than probably achievable. After 20 Sprints we are doing much better than the old Waterfall world. Can Agile be sustainable in this environment? We have great management support, by the way although we are breaking rules.

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