Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Does a Scrum Master bring value to the organization?

Have you ever dealt with a skeptic in your organization who does not think that scrum masters bring value to the team? Who thinks that all that scrum masters should do is schedule and facilitate ceremonies, and everything else that scrum masters do - removing impediments, protecting the team from distractions, improving the process - the members of cross-functional teams would do without any problem. He views scrum masters as creating more work for team members in order to justify their own existence. 

I know this is not the case. Without the scrum masters, team members will have to spend hours removing impediments, fighting with external distractions, and implementing improved processes on their teams. However, this is hard to quantify, unless we remove a scrum master from a team and measure their productivity before and after. But if we don't want to be that radical, what can we do?

The more I have been thinking about it and trying to quantify Scrum Master value, the more I realized that the best scrum masters are not those who are highly visible and vocal but those who are most supportive of their teams, who encourage continuous improvement, and make their contribution to the team almost seamless. This is similar to the race car mechanic who's not visible during the race but plays crucial role in the team success.

This thought did not help me with coming up with the proof of the Scrum Master value and an explanation that it won't be right to have team members protect themselves or remove impediments, such as coordination of development and deployment activities with other teams, changing priorities, and changes in team composition. So I posted the question on linkedin forum for certified scrum masters (got several great ideas and a lot of encouragement) and did some research. What I found is fascinating! I truly believe that this is what defines a great Scrum Master:

Tao Te Ching Written by Lao-tzu Ch 17
When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists. 
Next best is a leader who is loved. 
Next, one who is feared. 
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don't trust the people, you
make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn't talk, he acts. When
his work is done, the people say,
"Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!"
Credit goes to Jeff O.
While this is so true, it is hard to prove the value of something that is not always visible and never is obvious. To understand the value that scrum master brings to the team, a good starting point is the checklist of things the ScrumMaster can look at and work on.  Michael James from Danube has an excellent Scrum Master Checklist available for download.  Another great Scrum Master checklist was put together by Bernd Schiffer who cites Scrum Master manifesto in response to a common misconception that Scrum Master is not a full-time job: "We believe the Scrum Master is a full-time position for one person on one Scrum team ."

I would argue that the team won't achieve hyperproductivity without a scrum masters described in this checklist whose value is well defined by Bob Hartman. Both Bob Hartman and Michael James speak of intangible things - influence, sense of purpose, commitment - which translate into tangible outcomes which can be measured. Similarly, Len Lagestee speaks of "transformational leadership" - the role that scrum masters play on their teams supporting their path to greatness and about leadership code of a Scrum Master.

This type of value is not easy to quantify. I like comparison of a scrum master with a football coach standing on the side-lines during the game. A football coach doesn’t play a position but they are constantly looking at how the team are interacting with each other. They know if the defensive line is being held too high and how the team aren’t working together to achieve a common vision. After the game the coach helps the team look at their performance for strengths and weaknesses, they’ll identify actions for potential changes and implement them incrementally. Although a football team may be able to play 1 or 2 games without a coach, other teams may eventually overtake them in ability and effectiveness. 

So I do not give up. I want to use Michael James' checklilst, testimonials from Scrum Masters and teams to educate the stakeholders on Scrum Master value. We also had a very good Scrum Master Forum discussion where Scrum Masters shared their success stories where something they did moved the needle for their team, removed a significant impediment, or motivated team members. This was a great celebration of Scrum Master value!


  1. A scrum master is the organizer for team and keeps in mind that Scrum team follows the practices of Scrum. The Scrum Master can also be considered as a coach for the team, guiding his team to work in the best possible way. Scrum study also has interesting ways to teach the students for agile scrum certification ( Scrum Master Certification ) courses. Check their website for some free introductory course in scrum.

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