Are Organizations Undermining the Scrum Master Role?

Scrum MasterA place I previously worked thought they could fulfill the Scrum Master role by having Project Managers take on the responsibilities. Sound familiar? Though it isn’t specifically a bad thing, nor terribly uncommon; in this situation, the Scrum Master part of this PM’s role was never enforced or implemented. This leaves a much-needed function to fill. Not all organizations push the Scrum Master role to the side, but many misunderstand what a Scrum Master’s work entails or the importance they play in the Scrum framework.  This misunderstanding leads organizations to circumvent the crucial role in one “interesting” way or another.

Project Management tasks and duties do not directly translate to a Scrum Master’s responsibilities. A Scrum Master is not tasked with managing the Scrum team’s project, but rather they’re a member of the team and seen as an equal player – fostering empowerment, creativity, self-organization, improvement, facilitation, and success. Oftentimes, only one of many functions is emphasized within organizations when it comes to Scrum Masters, and that is making sure to remove impediments for the development team. Now, this is the mutual trait among Scrum Masters and Project Managers, but disregarding the servant-leader position and a majority of its intended responsibilities becomes an impediment in and of itself for the team.

Further Disadvantages Within the Scrum Team

Whether pushing these responsibilities to a PM, Project Owner, or other Scrum team member, someone is taking on two jobs. The stress of taking on two roles at your job will lead to a decrease in performance quality and it’s nearly inevitable you’ll end up focusing on only one of those roles.  Undermining the Scrum Master affects the dynamics of the entire Scrum Team – you are eliminating the backbone of the group.

Okay, so, you haven’t experienced working with a Scrum Master that is responsible for multiple roles.  Have you worked on a Scrum Team that doesn’t have a Scrum Master at all?  This can be an even more frustrating situation to be in – the prolonging of role fulfillment. In this scenario, management is telling the team that the role is not important enough to make a priority to fill. This can be compared to giving the team only half the instruments they need to execute a job efficiently. It demonstrates a lack of interest, support, and dedication from the company in the implementation of Agile. Is this what you want to be signaling to your development teams?

How This Affects the Organization Overall

There is a reason the business has decided to adopt Scrum in the first place, and change is hard to roll out since it challenges the norm and conflicts with cultural barriers. The Scrum Master is the Scrum Team’s advocate and they are driving for change. An absence of this important role diminishes the Scrum Team’s ability to push for transformation in the overall business.

The responsibilities of the Scrum Master end up falling to the rest of the team to try to uphold.  This becomes a major disruption within a Sprint and therefore reduces the value the business can produce from that Sprint. The organization then becomes responsible for producing a low-valued or even canceled increment for the customer, damaging its quality and reputation in the process. This can lead the business to technical debt and costly attempts to mitigate these issues by using other company resources. Eliminating or undercutting the very role that advocates for the Scrum Team framework will decrease your team’s agility, which will lead to technical debt for you and poor ROI for your customer.

If an organization wants to adopt Scrum, their best approach is to support the Scrum Master as they lead and coach the organization in this framework.  Change does not happen overnight. It might take a longer amount of time for an organization to see the importance of a Scrum Master, however, the value of the Scrum Team should be apparent as early as the first completed increment. The organization should also be reminded that the Scrum Master is an equal part of this. If the business invests in and supports the Team, then they should see the expected results.

Why is This Happening and How Can This Be Avoided?

Some organizations don’t fully understand why they need a Scrum Master in the first place, only that they’re part of the Scrum Team to either keep time-boxes or remove impediments. Budgets, lack of understanding, and the notion of implementing a “hybrid” version of Scrum can all contribute to this shortcoming. Management’s inability to see the value added with having a Scrum Master comes down to a lack of knowledge on how the Scrum framework functions.

Successfully educating management and key personnel will contribute to enforcing the need for a Scrum Master to make Scrum work. Having all Roles properly identified and supported in the company will enable the team the best opportunity for success.

Those responsible for implementing Scrum in their organization will be tasked with ensuring the Scrum Master role is viewed as a vital part of Scrum. Showing proof to upper management is most likely the easiest way to get the point across. Present successful stories consisting of Scrum Teams, highlighting the pivotal role and importance Scrum Masters bring to the team. Also, present examples of failed Scrum attempts due to the absence of such a role.

There are many formats you can utilize to educate yourself and your organization on this role. As always, check out the Scrum Guide on Scrum.org. Scrum.org has also rolled out a new tool to assist Scrum Masters in creating a learning path, which is a great way to research and understand focus areas. Aside from attending any training courses; it can be beneficial to shadow a Scrum Master to see them in action and witness first-hand the important skills they bring to the team and business.

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