In the perfect Agile world, a ScrumMaster is a ScrumMaster…and that’s it. There’s not a never-ending custody battle where a person goes back and forth between two roles. Unfortunately, we live in the real world. Often, people come to our CSM workshops with a divided workload and wearing different hats: Product Owner and Manager or Software Lead And ScrumMaster.
This post will discuss the pros and cons of various ScrumMaster combinations, beginning with the ideal combination, ScrumMaster – ScrumMaster (dedicated ScrumMaster).
As mentioned above, a dedicated ScrumMaster is the ideal situation.
- ScrumMaster as a career. This means they can invest time and energy getting REALLY good at the craft, which will have a positive impact on team performance and ultimately the organization. As they progress in their career, ScrumMasters can move up to a Coach title or even manage other ScrumMasters.
- Message that the organization is serious about the Agile investment.
- “Adding” headcount. The reality is that headcount is not added, but reallocated. Imagine if there was only enough budget for a team of 10. In scenario A, leadership can choose to hire 10 developers and make one developer, maybe the lead, also act as a ScrumMaster. In scenario B, leadership can hire 9 developers and 1 dedicated ScrumMaster. Which scenario will breed more productivity? Past experience helping teams transform shows us that scenario B, while counterintuitive, is the better choice as the ScrumMaster will help the nine increase productivity by more than 10%. Plus a good ScrumMaster is probably easier to hire than a 10th good developer.
A dedicated ScrumMaster should have the capacity to work with two teams. Anything more than that and the ScrumMaster spends all of their time being a meeting facilitator and does not have any time left to advocate for the team and remove impediments. So why wouldn’t you make the investment into a full-time ScrumMaster that is going to help two teams get 20%+ annual improvement in productivity?
The Golden Rule Of ScrumMaster Role Combinations
Before moving onto ScrumMaster mashups, let’s discuss the Golden Rule of ScrumMaster role combinations.
Anytime roles are split, the ScrumMaster role should always come first.
Even if the person is a manager or a critical team member, the ScrumMaster portion of their day is a top priority.
ScrumMaster & Team Lead Combination
- One silver lining in this scenario is it can groom the Team Lead to become a better manager. This only works if the team lead is already on the leadership path, meaning they are people-oriented and already mentor team members.
- The developer will trump ScrumMaster every time. If the person is someone who picks up technical critical path tasks, they will need to focus on development work and so are unable to focus on the team.
ScrumMaster & Team Member Combination
- Perception of no additional headcount or investment
- Stretched too thin. At best, the person is still good at being a developer and nonexistent as a ScrumMaster. At worst, the person is a bad developer and a bad ScrumMaster because they don’t have the time to be good at either role.
ScrumMaster & Product Owner Combination
- Save on headcount
- Roles don’t fit by Definition. A Product Owner is supposed to work with stakeholders to understand their needs in order to add to the product backlog. A ScrumMaster is supposed to advocate and protect the team, which can mean removing or stopping work from being added. This is a conflict of interest. In this combination, typically the PO side will always win, pushing for more work and cutting corners on the process.
ScrumMaster & Manager Combination
- A natural overlap. A ScrumMaster and a manager should both have the servant leadership mindset. The only thing “extra” would be to become the Agile and Scrum expert on the team and to have the time and ability to facilitate events.
- Awkward and somewhat unsafe environment. People may feel like they are unable to be honest during Retrospectives and may check out for fear of retribution.
- Less ownership from the team. If their manager is there constantly, team members may not feel the urgency or have the ability to take ownership of the work. The team may never evolve to a high powered self-organizing team.
ScrumMaster & Team Member (Rotation)
- Cross learning and shared understanding. Everyone has the chance to learn and appreciate the role and its processes.
- Nobody gets good at being a ScrumMaster. Just when you’re getting the hang of it, it’s time to switch.
- Part time mentality. Since you know you will only be doing this for a short time you don’t take it seriously.
A factor common among these various conversations is time. It is difficult to take on the work of two full-time positions, that would mean an 80-hour work week. However, if the organization leans towards combining the ScrumMaster role with something else, just remember the golden rule: ScrumMastering comes first.