You Need a Scrum Master


You Need a Scrum Master


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“We can’t afford a Scrum Master.”

“What does a Scrum Master do other than schedule meetings?”

“Any developer can call themselves a Scrum Master and send meeting invitations!”

“We don’t need a Scrum Master, we do things differently!”

These are some of the statements often heard from management when asked whether they need a Scrum Master on their teams. These types of responses could reflect some of the misconceptions about the value of the Scrum Master role, and might also reflect a previous, unpleasant experience with an incompetent one.

Although this question has been asked several times in various agile blogs and has been answered with a clear “Yes” in almost all of them, it is still being asked every now and then, especially by smaller companies and startups. Some other arguments on this topic can be found here and here.

In this post, I would like to share two situations faced by friends of mine in two different companies which both decided against having a dedicated Scrum Master on their team.

The Team Lead/Scrum Master Knows All 

In a previous post, I shared my concerns about mixing roles in a scrum team, and sharing the Scrum Master role among developers was one of them.

In this real-life scenario, a developer (or the tech lead, to be more specific), was given the title of Scrum Master since he was “certified.” But, if we look at the team’s internal process, we will soon discover why such a team needed a dedicated Scrum Master.

In this team, they didn’t have sprint review meetings, the “daily” Scrum was done three times a week, there were no retrospectives or build automation and the tech lead was the only one doing code reviews for the whole team. It’s easy to imagine the massive queue of tasks that were waiting for review and deployment. The technical debt needed months to be fixed, and the product owner was anxious to get the features to production.

This team sorely needed a dedicated Scrum Master to coach the team on the value of core agile practices such as pair programming, automated tests and automated builds. Essentially, the team needed to understand the importance of collaborative code ownership as well as the power of frequent deliveries and early feedback.

We Don’t Need a Scrum Master

This next team was a small one, but the takeaway is similar to that of the first example. This team didn’t have a Scrum Master at all, and instead had a product owner, a distributed development team and a team lead. Like the previous example, the team lead was the only person who reviewed the code, which quickly created a lagging queue of tasks. Another challenge for the team was that some members of the development team were part-time employees, while others were dividing their attention between two projects simultaneously.

Some might wonder what a Scrum Master could possibly do for such a team. In short, a Scrum Master could act not only as a glue holding the team together but also as a grease to help the team get through challenges more smoothly. He or she could help the team organize themselves properly, improve communications, help the team share knowledge and improve code ownership.

In both cases, the lack of a Scrum Master increased and complicated the difficulties the teams faced. Without adequate understanding from management of the importance of such a role, teams like these will continue struggling to find their way and provide high-quality products.

Do you have other examples of a lack of a competent Scrum Master making a team’s life more arduous than necessary? If so, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.



 

Islam Kotb Ismail (PMP, CSM, CSPO) is a senior agile project manager and Scrum Master at Wirecard Technologies GmbH in Munich, Germany.

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