Agile Forest

Find your path to agility with Renee Troughton

I have been pondering lately what the purpose of a Scrum Master or Iteration Manager is.

Many believe that it is a 100% full time role. Some are even concerned that there are formal positions springing up for this role.

Here is my stance (and work in progress model) on the role:

The purpose of the Scrum Master role is to create a self autonomous team through the usage of Agile.

  1. It should never be considered a 100% full time role.
  2. It is a transitory role – there to enable a change in the team.
  3. The change is a change from an environment of Command and Control to an environment of autonomy and empowerment.
  4. The goal is to deliver value to customers frequently and regularly through creation of this environment. The goal is not to have a Scrum Master job for life.
  5. They do this through a series of steps.
  6. These steps are based on Situation Leadership with some tweaking:
    • Directive – The Scrum Master is telling the team what to do and how to do it. This is sometimes common when the team is new to Scrum/Agile and are still learning the rulebook.
    • Facilitative and Advisory – The Scrum Master facilitates cadence activities and advises the team on possible options but is not the final say.
    • Cross Facilitative – The Scrum Master engenders an environment where other team members are starting to facilitate the cadence activities. At this stage the Scrum Master is no longer rounding up everyone for the Daily Standups, instead the team self form and remind each other.
    • Coaching and support – The Scrum Master is only there to course correct and even then only does it through team reflection. They don’t advise on options, instead they engender an atmosphere where the team can come up with their own solutions.
    • Double loop learning – The Scrum Master is ready to hand over the team to itself. The team reflect not only on how they are working together but why they are doing practices in a particular way. It is creating an atmosphere of learning transcendence.

So what, you may ask, does a Scrum Master do as their time with the team whittles down? They do what any good team member in a Scrum team should do – they deliver User Stories!

26 thoughts on “The purpose of a Scrum Master

  1. My personal take: you need to have a dedicated Scrum Master or Iteration Lead 100% of the time. In a mature team, that will take between 1-10% of their time, so they’ll need something else to do; that “something else”, though, is secondary to their role as a Scrum Master.

    The common practice of allocating Scrum Masters to multiple teams because one team isn’t enough to take up 100% of the SM’s time is seriously wrong – because there will come a time when the SM is needed by both teams at once.

    An external (to the team) coach can work with multiple teams, consulting with each one a few days a month. A Scrum Master, though, is a pig, not a chicken – and you can’t serve up the same piece of ham on multiple plates.

    Also – as with any role that you need to have filled 100% of the time, you need to make sure you have a relief person, which means day-to-day or iteration-to-iteration the SM hat should get passed around.

    Finally – the skills an SM needs on a team that is transitioning to an agile or Lean approach are very different to the skills that an SM for an empowered team. That implies that the original Scrum Master will probably transition out as the team develops – but the team should still have a Scrum Master.

    One good use of the extra time a SM on a performing team has: they can coach other teams on a part time basis. Just as long as their own team comes first.

  2. Just to clear up a few things:

    1) I agree that a SM should not sit across multiple teams. If they have time, then help the team deliver stories.

    2) I agree that if they do help deliver stories that their primary concern is ALWAYS to help as SM first and foremost until the team have reached level 5.

    3) I understand that most people’s model of a SM is to just build Agile capability. I think that is a sub-optimal position, a SM should be trying to do themselves out of a role.

    4) I do believe a job is different from a role

    5) When I say team that also includes the Product Owner

    6) Different people in the team may be at different levels on graph above. If that is the case the line should always represent the person who needs the most help – ie the SM role should only be non existant when the last person shifts into double loop learning.

    Thanks for @neil_killick and Robert Watkins for the discussion that led to these clarifications.

  3. Bob Hartman says:

    I think the ScrumMaster might work themselves out of a job if they can put a checkmark next to every item on the list at

    I’ve never seen a ScrumMaster get to that point.

    Bob Hartman
    Certified Scrum Trainer and Certified Scrum Coach
    Mountain Goat Software Authorized Trainer

  4. Mark Levison says:

    Renee – the idea that the ScrumMaster is only a short -> medium term role is at odds with what I’ve seen succeed in doing Scrum. A large part of a ScrumMaster’s role is to hold a mirror up to the team to help them improve. I think mirror needs to be held by an outside observer so that the team is honest about its flaws.

    If you consider the sport of Football (the European variety), even teams like the Evil Manchester United have a coach. The coach and their assistants act as the mirror, They help the players see how they played.

    I concede that a team might out grow a particular ScrumMaster but that just means they need a new one not that the role is short term.

    Mark Levison
    Certified Scrum Trainer

    1. Thanks Mark. I never suggested the role is short term (where do you see that?). I suggested the role should not be infinite. What if each person in the team evolved to self coach? Why is that so undesirable in your opinion?

  5. Mark Levison says:

    Even the best teams (ex Manchester United) still need someone to hold up the mirror and help them see their strengths and weaknesses.

    1. Yes I understand that is the status quo and that could be analytic thinking in play. I just wonder whether that is because:
      a) no one has ever tried a whole team approach
      b) it has been tried but doesnt work
      c) it was perceived unachievable due to players intelligence (ie command and control belief that they are mentally stronger)
      d) it was perceived unachievable due to players emotional intelligence (ie that they would be incapable to critically judge themselves without attachment)
      e) Upton Sinclair’s dictum at play

      1. Mark Levison says:

        I think the key point that is being missed is that a **good** ScrumMaster bends over backwards to stay neutral and so can hold a mirror that the team have more respect for.

        In addition I’m sure that there are very very rare teams that get to the point where they no longer need a ScrumMaster because they have transcended Scrum and done their own thing. However their path is not the one that most of us will succeed in following.

      2. postagilist says:

        Really? Those of us who transcended Scrum “aren’t succeeding?” Where is the evidence for that?

        Where is the evidence that people using Scrum are succeeding more than failing? I haven’t seen it.

        What teams need is someone to advise them on software development — that is what most teams are failing at — coaching doesn’t help in that aspect.

        Hard (eg technical) skills do.


      3. Mark Levison says:

        @postagilist I’m confused. Where did I say transcending Scrum is bad thing. If you manage to get to that level you will undoubtedly be rolling your method. Nothing wrong with that.

      4. postagilist says:

        You seemed to imply that it’s too much to expect for that to happen for most of the world. Or at least “most of us” is the phrase you used, whatever us is supposed to mean.


  6. staf42 says:

    Love this model Renee, it matches exactly to my experiences with teams and I have seen the teams take back the SM role so that it was no longer any more than a random hat in the team.

    1. Thanks and welcome to the blog!

  7. Mark Levison says:

    @postagilist You’re not using a real name so I’ve idea who you are. I get the feeling I’m being trolled.

    Some teams move beyond Scrum, in the sense they climb the Shu-Ha-Ri scale to Ri. For them rules are no longer important. In most things in life we don’t achieve the Ri stage and so rules continue to help the rest of us.

    That’s all I was trying to say.

    1. postagilist says:

      Uh huh. Did you check out my website?

      You say it’s “nearly” impossible for people to transcend scrum.

      Is there a financial reason for that? You are a CSM perhaps?

      What I see is you are spreading FUD — attempting to paint a picture that “only the very very few” can transcend scrum, and thus, the vast, vast, majority of them have to use Scrum right? That’s your point, right?

      As far as trolling, you seem to do a good job of trolling websites and twitter, describing a **good** scrum master — (that’s you I suppose).

      In contrast I’m not out here selling anything.

      Thanks for checking though. It never hurts to ask.

      Shu-ha-ri is an illusion — propagated by the Scrum industry — to get people to not question anything.– I don’t believe in fortune cookie level eastern thinking either.


      1. Side note: My understanding of “Ha” is to question the norm -including any practices in whatever method we are using.

      2. Mark Levison says:

        @postagilist I make my living helping people succeed. Some choose Scrum. Some choose Kanban. Some choose OpenAgile and maybe someday someone will choose Crystal again. I’m not picky I help people however they want help.

        As to my trolling hobby, aside from your differences with me here please help me see where I troll? Seriously if I was trolling I would want to know because that doesn’t fit the style I choose to engage in. I tease people who know me well enough to know I smiling.

      3. Mark Levison says:

        FYI Shu – Ha – Ri comes from Japanese martial arts (one of which I practice – at the Shu level). It was made popular by Alistair Cockburn in his Software as a Cooperative Game book. Alistair wrote that book before he tried his hand at the Scrum game.

      4. postagilist says:

        That’s true. Ha is to question the norm. After you have gone through the training and expense of the Shu stage.

        When you get to Ri they don’t make any money off of anyone, whether it’s’ aikido or scrum.

        So, the thing is, can one bypass the “Shu” stage of endeavours that are non worthwhile, without spending any time or money?

        To me, the answer is yes.

        To Agile, Inc, the answer is heck no, right?

        I’m not buying it — the notion that one cannot question an endeavor until one has spent shu amount of time and money on it. People could come up with 20 methodologies and force everyone through the shu stage before they are even allowed to question it.

        Not only is the patrician, and outdated, it’s beyond the pale when it comes to telling the customer they are too ignorant to question anything until they have bought shu cars etc.

        Love the free flow of ideas here that may not occur elsewhere.


      5. postagilist says:

        @MarkLevison of course you’re not picky. You’ll do anything to get the sale. Anything else you’d like to add to your press release? Discounts this month?

        In the meantime thanks for sharing that you folllow “some” martial art. If you can get around to answering the question I asked, which you’ll conveniently find repeated if you scroll down far enough, instead of tap dancing to avoid answering it (seemingly of course), that would be great.

        Cheers mate!

      6. I believe Mark won’t return to this thread so you will unlikely get a response to this emotive reply.

    2. As frustrating as it can be sometimes when people are anonymously replying they are choosing to do that for a reason and we should respect that. Yes it does mean sometimes it feels like you are being trolled however PostAgilist is renowned for taking a converse view ( He is not trolling or baiting in anyway outside of their normal behaviour. Some things he says are controvertial and may be incorrect to our understanding but there are nuggets in the rough (and he would hopefully say the same in converse about us).

      It is through respect, listening and understanding that we will all learn.

  8. Mark Levison says:

    @Renee I wondered if I was being trolled because I clarified my original statement to make clear my intentions were good. Instead of appreciating best intentions @postagilist appeared to make an effort to continue to mis-interpret what I wrote.

    While you and I don’t agree on the role of the ScrumMaster I think you’ve made an effort to consider the point I was making. I respect that and would even be happy to help a team that decided to it your way.

    I don’t respect it when someone makes an effort to find meaning in my words that I don’t intend.


    1. postagilist says:


      You still haven’t answered my question: “attempting to paint a picture that “only the very very few” can transcend scrum, and thus, the vast, vast, majority of them have to use Scrum right? That’s your point, right?”

      Is that what you believe or not? Everything else is a sideshow. I asked a clarification question and still haven’t seen the answer.


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