Part of a Scrum Master’s Job is to Lose It

Part of a Scrum Master’s Job is to Lose It

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Two weeks ago, a developer on our team told me that he wanted to have a sprint planning to go over a code change that he and another developer had been discussing (most of our work is done through Kanban these days).

A sprint planning session would have been overkill for what he was proposing and the number of people involved, but I was very pleased to hear him make the suggestion nonetheless. Last week, I proudly congratulated that same developer when he told me he had passed the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification exam. At this rate, he will hardly need me in a couple of years (if he even does right now).

The Scrum Guide states that one of the Scrum Master’s responsibilities is to “[coach] the development team in self-organization and cross-functionality.” Implicit in this statement is the notion that a Scrum Master should work him or herself out of a job.

A coach helps people understand and do what they still can’t understand or do themselves, with the expectation that they will eventually be able to. This is what nutrition coaches, fitness coaches and business coaches do. Therefore, a Scrum Master who serves as a coach should help the development team grow to reduce their dependence on the Scrum Master.

This is not exactly the same as helping individual contributors move into management. Some people want to become leads, managers or executives, and that’s fine. Some don’t, and that’s also fine. You should not force someone into a job role that they do not want.

But since a Scrum Master is not a traditional manager (though the name of the role continues to inspire that misconception), but rather a facilitator, you should expect a development team to continue to grow their skills that help them communicate and work with customers, business stakeholders and other development teams. That should be part of their natural career progression.

Of the three roles in a Scrum team, arguably the one you could most easily do without is the Scrum Master (although you would technically no longer be following Scrum). This does not diminish the Scrum Master’s importance, nor does it mean that the Scrum Master’s role ever really goes away, as Mike Cohn points out in this article.

It is, however, a reflection of the fact that the product owner and the developers must have hard technical skills in order to get their work done, whereas a Scrum Master is essentially a collection of coordination skills concentrated in a single person. You do not expect an experienced product owner to eventually develop coding skills, nor do you usually expect a developer to decide which backlog items are the most important to a company.

But you do expect both of them to become progressively better communicators, planners and collaborators. And that’s really all a Scrum Master does within the scaffolding of the Scrum framework: Foster better communication, planning and collaboration between the business and the developers.

Remember that your goal as a Scrum Master is not to still be chasing resources in five years the same way you do today, but rather to have guided the team to a point where you are their point of escalation instead of their first resort whenever they hit a snag. Coach the team on the importance of planning so that a sprint planning session is no longer just an hours-long ordeal to be endured, but something so natural and necessary to getting quality work done that they bring it up themselves.

By helping the team understand and do what you understand and do, you create a virtuous cycle that helps your current team members, future team members and other teams that your developers will eventually be part of.

Do you agree with my assessment of the Scrum Master’s role? Let me know in the comments section below.


Pedro G. Acevedo is a Scrum Master and project manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise in Puerto Rico

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