The Scrum Master - A role or responsibility?

At a recent industry event for publishers, I sat at a table with a number of agile development leaders and we discussed the ScrumMaster role. Do you have a dedicated ScrumMaster? For the most part, the answer came back as a ‘no’ for a number of philosophical and funding reasons.

Agile practitioners love to talk about roles and responsibilities. You need a product owner, largely responsible for representing the business and crafting stories. You need a ScrumMaster to manage the agile development practice. Most development teams will need an architect or lead developer to engage the team on implementation.

In larger (but not big) organizations, there is often a separate need for a project or program manager. At a minimum, this person oversees aspects of the project plan and delivery that are larger in scope than just the overall development process. Large organizations also will have a product manager responsible for developing business cases, establishing partnerships, setting priorities, and in some cases manages the p&l. Finally, larger groups may also have software development managers responsible for managing the overall development life cycle, overseeing resource allocation, and ensuring quality deliverables.

So when you look down at these roles and responsibilities you see some overlap in responsibilities and possibly too much overhead. So one question I’ve been tackling is whether a team needs a project manager, an architect/lead, a development manager, and a ScrumMaster. The answer to my colleagues, in simple terms, was that they couldn’t afford all the positions. So if they needed the ScrumMaster role filled, then this was something they were prepared to train and assign to either a project manager or possibly a technical lead. The consensus of this team was, if you found a project manager skilled enough to have a real technical dialog with the development team, then this person could be trained and perform the ScrumMaster role.

The Scrum Alliance published a survey that has some supporting evidence. Over 60% of the 1100 people that responded to the survey had nine or more years of industry experience, 15% of them had twenty or more years of experience, and 35% had Masters degrees. Also, of the people who responded, 22% were project managers and another 21% were either Managers or Directors. So my simple translation is that practicing ScrumMasters are managers (project or other) with significant (10+) years of proven experience. Training and assigning this role to experienced project managers or software development managers seems like a viable approach to have the responsibility filled and having a dedicated ScrumMaster separate from these roles may not be necessary.

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