Is Scrum Master a Full-Time Job?

Having been around the block a few times, I know this topic is going to spark some discussion and disagreement. I welcome it all, because out of discussion, ideas emerge. I have seen organizations treat the Scrum Master role in different ways.  Some view the role as merely a schedule keeper that also has project management responsibilities.  Others view the Scrum Master as a part time role that has other responsibilities within the team, (such as writing code or testing) or some responsibilities outside the team.  Reasons for this and other similar examples I have found generally happen for one of two reasons.  Either 1) financially a company can’t afford or justify having a full time Scrum Master.  Or 2) there is a lack of understanding around the value and details of the role itself.

Michael James, author of ScrumReferenceCard.com said

“An adequate ScrumMaster can handle two or three teams at a time. If you’re content to limit your role to organizing meetings, enforcing time-boxes, and responding to the impediments people explicitly report, you can get by with part time attention to this role. The team will probably still exceed the baseline, pre-Scrum expectation at your organization, and probably nothing catastrophic will happen.

But if you can envision a team that has a great time accomplishing things you didn’t previously consider possible, within a transformed organization – consider being a great ScrumMaster. A great ScrumMaster can handle one team at a time.”

What?!?!? How is that possible?  An adequate Scrum Master can handle 2 or 3 teams, but a great Scrum Master can handle only 1?  That’s pretty counter-intuitive, isn’t it?  Wouldn’t you think it should be the reverse?  A “great” Scrum Master should be able to handle 2, 3, even 10 teams, right?  After all, they’re GRRRRRREAT!

Much of what a great Scrum Master does is observation, thought work and strategic planning. You see, the Product Owner’s focus is on the value of the product being delivered to the business.  A Scrum Master’s focus, or “product” if you will, is in fact, the team itself.  Within all the jobs a Scrum Master does (facilitator, impediment remover, servant leader, referee and coach), every action the Scrum Master takes is in service to the team they serve, with the goal of helping that team become high-performing.  The level of concentration needed, and even required for a Scrum Master to be great necessitates that the Scrum Master have no other job beyond that of serving his/her team.  This can manifest itself in any number of ways from team building exercises, 1 on 1 coaching, chasing down impediments, shielding the team from distractions, rounding up subject matter experts that the team needs, modeling correct behaviors, encouraging and empowering self-organization, asking powerful questions, identifying team weaknesses and planning activities and retrospectives for specific purposes etc…  I submit to you that this cannot be done effectively and to its fullest potential if the Scrum Master is not dedicated full time to one team.

What are your thoughts?

Eric Tucker

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