Question of The Week: Can a Scrum Master service more than one team?

I’m often asked if the Scrum Master can service more than one Scrum Team. The short answer is yes. However, the answer to a similar question; "Should the Scrum Master be on multiple teams?" is not as easy to answer. Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum, often comments about how the Scrum Master role was originally created to take up half of a developer’s time. By that fact alone, it’s safe to conclude that the Scrum Master should be able to service at least two teams.


The role, however, has proven to be such a valuable role that I often challenge organizations to think about how much they are giving up when they try to stretch the person into multiple teams or even into multiple roles.


The Scrum Master is one of the three Scrum Roles. Aside from being a servant leader to the team, responsibilities include:


1. Upholding the Scrum framework

2. Encouraging Scrum teams to self-organize and make decisions

3. Acting as the impediment remover catalyst for the Scrum team

4. Protecting the Development Team from external distractions

5. Facilitating the Scrum Events


Having a facilitator that allows the teams to focus on completing their goal can increase productivity by as much as 50%. In addition, having someone to focus on impediments by keeping and prioritizing an impediment log has shown to increase the team’s productivity by more than 10%.


But what about the BOGO benefit? Don’t organizations get more by having one-person work on multiple teams? The short answer to that is no. It’s also been long established that the more simultaneous projects we tackle, the more productivity we lose due to context switching. Each additional project can cost individuals as much as 20% in productivity. In other words, handling two projects will reduce our productivity by 20%, while handling three projects will reduce it by 40%.


Some organizations think of the Scrum Master as a secretarial role that simply schedules meetings. This is where the value of a dedicated Scrum Master is often lost. I have observed that Scrum teams do well when they have a strong and focused Scrum Master that looks for continuous improvements. These Scrum Masters are actual change agents that are always looking at how the team can deliver in better ways. As they succeed, they improve the productivity of the whole team. So why save on the cost of half a person, when you can gain the productivity equivalent to five team members, depending on the size of the team.


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