Adopting Scrum into an organization is a big task. It’s a mindset shift that’s accompanied by a restructuring of existing teams and processes—and, most importantly, making sure all of this is done correctly to reach identified business outcomes.
During this process, one thing that often goes wrong is attempting to fill Scrum Master roles with those who were previously in project manager roles. The difference between these two roles might seem insignificant, but the approach to teams and work are very different. Bottom-line, the effects of having someone unskilled in Scrum serving as a Scrum Master can leave long-lasting damage on an organization’s efforts of adopting a Scrum framework.
Below we’ll dig into what is involved in the role of a Scrum Master and look at what repercussions a Scrum team might see if the Scrum Master isn’t sufficiently skilled.
Roles of a Scrum Master
Let’s first look at the role of a Scrum Master. Scrum Alliance defines a Scrum Master as, “a coach and a guide who ensures their team understands the Scrum framework and its principles, values, and practices. They are a servant leader who helps their team in many ways.”
In short, a Scrum Master is responsible for establishing Scrum and ensuring team effectiveness.
Day-to-day, this will include tasks like:
- Serving as the one person on the team who is an expert with Scrum and can speak with authority on how it works—and more importantly, why it works.
- Removing impediments from the team’s workflow and working with management to drive organizational change that will help all teams operate in a more effective way.
- Teaching the team how to be cross-functional and self-managing so they own decision-making for themselves.
- Teaching stakeholders how to participate in sprint reviews.
- Coaching the Product Owner on managing the product backlog so that the team is always working on the most valuable things.
Risks of An Unskilled Scrum Master
To dig into the outcomes of a project manager standing in the place of a skilled Scrum Master, let’s use a theoretical example.
Say an organization decides to adopt Scrum. Rather than hiring a new person—someone who is a skilled Scrum Master—they transfer an internal project manager to lead the Scrum team. The project manager will home in on what the objectives are for the Scrum team’s projects and build plans to arrive at the finish line. They’ll keep stakeholders informed and make sure meetings and agendas are set, and management will assume that they never needed a skilled Scrum Master in the first place. The assumption will be that Scrum is “working,” only because there is no one truly learned in Scrum to tell them they aren’t actually reaping the benefits of Scrum.
And therein lies the biggest risk: that Scrum adoption fails. What should have been an Agile transformation has become Agile theater, and no teams are self-improving or self-managing.
Bringing Scrum Masters into Your Organization
When considering the risks associated with having a project manager fill the role of a Scrum Master, it’s important to note that the problem is not the project manager. Project managers are highly skilled in their own field, it’s just that their field does not include expertise in Scrum.
So if the burden of a true Scrum adoption cannot be placed on a project manager, how can management inject the talent their organization requires?
One way is to simply hire Scrum Masters. The biggest pro here is having ready-to-go talent that can aid in achieving Agile transformation right off the bat. As ideal as that might seem, finding the right Scrum Masters and hiring them can be timely and costly.
The other end of the spectrum would be giving project managers the bandwidth they need to learn Scrum and begin applying it. This means that resources are already hired and familiar with the organization, but it takes time to train up on Scrum, meaning it’s still a lengthy process before the organization has the right talent. Also, without a mentor for the Scrum Master-in-training, this method can still lead to a failed adoption of Scrum.
However, the best and most effective way of getting the necessary talent for Scrum adoption probably lies somewhere in the middle of the above two methods. Rather than hiring a whole team of Scrum Masters, find one who can come in and begin the process of implementing Scrum. At the same time, identify some project managers in your organization that are interested in learning about Agile and Scrum. Allow those project managers to pursue this through independent learning but also through mentoring from the skilled Scrum Master. By having one expert join your team and partner with the people who want to learn the job, you can scale much more quickly to an effective Agile transformation.
Having a skilled Scrum Master is a must for Scrum adoption, but don’t let that deter your organization from experiencing the benefits of Scrum. If you’re looking for guidance on the journey to Agile, reach out to our Evergreen experts at the form below: