On ScrumMasters Serving a Dual Role

What do you think about companies that are trying to implement Scrum asking for a Technical ScrumMaster? Can one person perform more than two tasks?

I am currently the Agile Champion for our organization.  Until recently I was the technical lead for our project which consists of four teams in two locations. When we first started using Scrum, there were just two local teams. I was ScrumMaster for both teams, but when it came to my role as “technical lead”, it began and ended in Sprint Planning.

During planning, when chickens can attend and speak, I helped lay out plans, and communicated designs. The team’s responsibility was to gain understanding of the features and by the end of the planning session, to commit to delivering them.

During the Sprint, I was ScrumMaster. I facilitated discussions, I helped them identify and remove impediments. I redirected idle question that were aimed at me, back to the team to handle internally. When a problem came up that needed expertise from outside the team, I found them help. I viewed my role as helping the team to essentially put me, as lead out of a job. Occasionally, the team would reach an impasse, and was unable to resolve a conflict internally (e.g. two ways of solving a problem, which do we choose?) They would request a ruling from the Lead. Only then would I slip out of ScrumMaster role … and then only long enough to say, “I prefer A or B, and here’s why.” I would then sit back, and the ScrumMaster would return. “There’s another data point for you. Decide as a team what you guys want to do about this. You have X days remaining in the sprint.”

This worked for me. I had to sit back and hold my tongue several times when they went in a direction I wouldn’t have chosen. I needed to let myself trust that they were taking responsibility for the decision. To do anything else would have destroyed any chance I could have succeeded in the dual role. Trust me, if the ScrumMaster starts directing the team, you’re going to have a problem.

When we added the third and fourth teams offshore, they had their own ScrumMasters, who I met with, along with a representative from each team, for a bi-weekly Scrum Of Scrums.

I suspect I don’t represent the norm when it comes to a Lead acting as ScrumMaster, which is unfortunate. I have tried advising other Leads who were put into a similar situation, and they were unable to take that step back. They couldn’t let go of the fact that because of their lead status, they were ultimately responsible for the outcome.

Because of this, I am a strong advocate for ScrumMasters from outside the group. It is too easy for someone in the inner circle to get caught up in the politics of the project. Also, I have found too many teams that are all too willing to slip back into command&control. After all, being told what to do is easier than taking responsibility.

Author: Michael Marchi

Michael Marchi CSM, CSPO Co-Founder and Board Member @ APLN Chicago (michael.marchi@aplnchicago.org) Manager, Delivery Leadership / Agile Coach & Trainer @ Strive Consulting (mmarchi@striveconsulting.com)

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