Should Scrum Masters make themselves redundant?

Over the last 1-2 years; I have conducted SCAMPI Appraisals for several companies where SCRUM methodology is followed.

The major reason for adopting SCRUM is client demand. While evaluating processes, I observed that projects that have adopted SCRUM methodology are mostly gaining the following benefits:

  • Due to short delivery time, constant feedback from product owners and stakeholders leads to transparent communication and it becomes easy to cope with the changes
  • Consistent delivery of workable product increment adding to main product/application.

During my interaction with various project teams, it came out that dedicated involvement of the Scrum Master was one of the major factors contributing to the success of these projects.However, I also observed that in some companies one person doubled as Scrum Master and Project Manager. The reason behind this being many Project Managers were getting cross-trained trained as Scrum Master, and as usual, the need for organizations to optimize utilization.

Can one person perform both Roles?

This has been a debatable issue over a long time,  and one would get logical reasoning for both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. However, while going deeper through such projects where one person is allocated to play both roles, we could see following challenges:

  • Use of daily stand-up meeting for problem solving (so team spending lot of time in stand-up meetings)
  • Allowing changes within a sprint
  • Shifting focus from ensuring quality and good team practices to % completion
  • Constantly growing product backlog
  • Using authority to control delivery

So, what is expected of the Scrum Master role?

People Perspective:

  • Protect the development team from undue influences
  • Coach the team
  • Be a Servant Leader
  • Be an enabler to delivery (Do not have any authority on the Development team)
  • Facilitates Trust between SCRUM team members and external stakeholders

Process Perspective

  • Facilitates SCRUM Process
  • Facilitates self-organization within delivery team
  • Finding Techniques for effective Product Backlog Management
  • Facilitating Product Backlog Prioritization
  • Facilitates Daily SCRUM Meeting
  • Facilitates Sprint Planning Meeting
  • Facilitates Sprint Review Meeting
  • Facilitates Sprint Retrospective Meetings

Delivery Perspective

  • Facilitates Backlog Refinement activities
  • Remove impediments

Now if you go 10-15 years back, you would find that all these mentoring and process focused activities used to be the responsibilities of SQA (Software Quality Assurance) function. Based on project size, either SQA used to be allocated to one project or group of projects to utilize his/her time appropriately. The responsibilities of SQA were:

  • Train the Project teams on the defined process
  • Facilitate the Project team to interpret the steps involved in the process & assist in project process tailoring.
  • Assist PM in planning for the project as per the selected process
  • Review the Project Plan, Quality Plan & other related plan
  • Participate in project status meeting & facilitate team in identifying corrective & preventive actions.
  • Plan & Schedule projects audit as per scope
  • Prepare report and present to Senior management
  • Track corrective actions to closure. Escalate the issues, in case noncompliance is not tracked to closure
  • Identify the areas where improvement is required

As usual since SQA were not responsible for deliveries and adding direct $$$ value, this role became redundant. Now with Scrum, again, role of Scrum Master has evolved.

I do hear that “Biggest success of SCRUM master is to make himself / herself redundant”.

In reality however, it should not be. Organization can decide based on project size/scope whether to allocate Scrum Master to a single project or group of projects but this role is must to sustain processes and of course increasing Scrum Success.

What do you think?

-Kiran Chaudhuri

AVP, Process Improvement Consulting

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