Scrum Master as a Secondary Role

Switching Hats

Recently I’ve been seeing even more discussions on forums about members of the dev team taking on the Scrum Master (SM) role.  I’m beginning to wonder if the traditional resource managers are creeping their way in to staffing teams.  If you don’t understand the role and the value it can bring to a team it’s easy to just look at hours available on the team and who could be available to do the role. 

Having been an SM and individual contributor and observed others trying this as an Agile Coach, my experience is it only has a chance of being effective for someone who has a solid foundation as a SM and then takes on some delivery responsibility.  Also, I’ve seen it work where the team is an established, high functioning Agile Team and both the SM and the team can clearly identify when the person is switching hats.

First off, often when folks take up the role as a new SM, they have no experience in facilitation, let alone facilitative type leadership.  Why there isn’t more training for SM in facilitation? I don’t know.

The most common problem I see is that when the pressure of delivery grows during  a Sprint or release, the inexperienced SM abandons the role and doesn’t even know that they are doing it.  In the worst case, because they don’t know how to be effective in the role they abandon it on a regular basis, for example the daily stand up.

The other downside of splitting the SM role is that teams and the organization often never see the real value of a SM because they only do the minimum that a Scrum Master does for a team… process and bookkeeping.  If you would stop and make a list of all the things you could do to help the team, such as work on aligning the immediate team / environment and operations to Agile Values and principles, you would quickly have a long list of valuable things.  This can eliminate roadblocks for the team that they will never even have to experience.  BTW, how do you thing Scrum scales in organizations and who plays a key role?

If organizations are unaware of the value of the SM role and they feel they need more ‘leverage out of that resource’, then I’d rather see the SM serve two teams in that role than be a individual contributor and SM for one.  When they master the SM role then they can entertain doing a split SM / individual contributor role on a team.

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About Mike DePaoli

Mike DePaoli has been contributing to the IT community for over two decades and practicing agile and lean approaches to software development since 1996 in roles from programmer to CTO. His evolved approach to crafting successful lean-agile software development organizations was forged by the meaningful challenges he undertook at prior employers and as an Agile Coach at companies such as eBay, Adobe Systems, AOL, NetApp, Disney, Boeing, EMC, and Trizetto. Mike’s area of expertise is helping organizations craft strategic change initiatives that educate on and establish agile and lean values, principles and practices at every tier of the organization. Mike applies systematic thinking with a multi-discipline approach to his work. Mike is a Certified SAFe Agilist, Certified Scrum Professional, Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). He is a highly-regarded speaker in the Agile community having spoken at Agile conferences in North America, South America and Europe. He is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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