Scrum Rules: Your Scrum Master Works With Only One Scrum Team

August 17, 2020
5 minute read

The Scrum Team needs a great deal of help from their Scrum Master. This help includes: removal of obstacles, advancement and reminders of the Scrum principles and practices, ongoing facilitation of effective Scrum meetings, accompaniment of the Team Members to develop new skills, building of relationships with those outside the team, and ongoing advancement of the use of Scrum by the team.

With all of this, the Scrum Master responsibilities are quite difficult to master. The Scrum Master must prioritize the most important work to be done, possibly using a list much like the Product backlog. If the Scrum Master is working with two teams he will at some point have to decide which team to work with for a given problem. Which team is more important? If he chooses another team, won’t the other team feel left out and unprotected? One of the most important duties of a Scrum Master is to remove obstacles as the team identifies them in a timely manner. This responsibility is extremely difficult in some ways since many obstacles have cultural or organizational issues at their root. For a Scrum team to be effective, it needs a Scrum Master who is full-time. One way to imagine this question is by comparison to a sports team. If the team is a bunch of kids doing the sport for recreational reasons, then its perfectly legitimate to have the coach also working with other kids teams. Not much is on the line. On the other hand, if the team is a professional, world-class team, you would never accept a coach who also wanted to work with another world-class team. The time, the conflict of interest would not allow such an arrangement. Do you want world-class, high performance Scrum Teams? The Scrum Master should only work with one Scrum Team.

Make sure the Scrum Team has five or more members in total so that the work of the Scrum Master is leveraged appropriately. If the Scrum Team is less than five people, then we strongly recommend considering an alternative Agile method such as OpenAgile or Crystal Clear. Since focus is so important, it is actually better for a Scrum Master to be “part time” but only part of a single Scrum team. The Scrum Master who is helping multiple teams then chooses one and may start to do some of the other tasks of the team in addition to Scrum Master related activities. By having membership on a single team, the Scrum Master is then much more focused and the potential conflicts of interest are eliminated. Of course, the other teams which are “abandoned” by this change of focus need to have their own Scrum Masters who, presumably, will also be part time. For example, if Mary is the Scrum Master for Team A and Team B, she may choose to focus on Team A. Mary also gives up being a full-time Scrum Master and participates in executing the tasks the team does during a Sprint. Team B then also nominates a person from within, Tom, who becomes the Scrum Master for that team while still maintaining some of his other Team Member duties. Two part time Scrum Masters each a member of only one team is far superior to a single Scrum Master split between two teams.

An alternative approach to accomplishing this rule is to acknowledge that a person working with more than one team, by definition, cannot be a Scrum Master, therefore, the teams in question do not currently have a Scrum Master. By thinking about the problem in this way, it may free up the organization to consider people who are actually members of just a single team as the person to be the Scrum Master.

Another less common approach to having a Scrum Master who only works with one team is to have the members of the Scrum team rotate the duties of the Scrum Master. This approach can be particularly effective if the organization is not certain who should be the Scrum Master. This rotation can be temporary or permanent, but the end result is that the critical focus of membership on a single team is maintained.

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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