Updated: Jul 3
Dr. Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum, often talks about how the role of the Scrum Master was originally designed to be filled by half of a developer's capacity. This means that by its “original design” a Scrum Master can technically serve two teams. I reference its “original design” because I have found that the more focused a Scrum Master is on one team, the better the team performs.
The entertaining and informative TED Talk by Tom Wujec “Build a tower, build a team” shares the hidden lessons in the Marshmallow Challenge, a game designed to have members work as a team and iterate through the goal. In his talk, Wujec shows that a team of CEOs performed 50% better when a facilitator was placed in the team. If we do basic math, it’s easy to see how we can be a penny-wise and a pound-foolish when sharing Scrum Master responsibilities between multiple teams.
If having a dedicated facilitator can have the productivity benefits of hiring half of its team, it makes more sense to pay one full-time Scrum Master salary and save half the salary of everyone on the team. This is what an organization might be leaving on the table when it stretches the Scrum Master too thin by assigning him or her to multiple teams.
In addition, the misconception that a Scrum Master is merely a facilitator has plagued the agile practitioner industry for some time now. Let's end that misconception. The new revision of the Scrum Guide changed the definition of the Scrum Master role from “a servant-leader for the Scrum Team” to “a leader who serves the Scrum Team”. This was done to emphasize the “leadership” aspect of the role.
So, what does a Scrum Master do? It turns out that the role of the Scrum Master goes way beyond that of a facilitator.
The Scrum Master is accountable and responsible for:
1. Being a Scrum Teacher. 2. Being a Scrum Coach. 3. Being a Scrum Facilitator. 4. Being a Change Agent. 5. Removing impediments for the team by working directly with the Scrum Team and Stakeholders 6. Improving the efficiency of the Scrum Team.
7. Upholding the Scrum framework. 8. Ensuring that events produce the intended outcome in their allotted time. 9. Driving collaboration between the Product Owner and the Developers. 10. Focusing the Scrum Team to deliver the increment. 11. Facilitating the Scrum Events. 12. Being a leader who serves the Scrum Team and the organization.
If this list sounds like a lot, that is because the role demands a lot. In addition, this is all being executed without exerting direct managerial authority to allow the team to foster a self-managed mindset that helps them to inspect and adapt faster than any command and control structure can. Therefore, oftentimes, the work of a Scrum Master goes unseen. A Scrum Master is a person who leads the team through services that increase their performance. The role was never meant to be a secretarial or meeting scheduler role. So, although you are not breaking any scrum rules by assigning a Scrum Master to multiple teams, be sure to allow enough time for him or her to be successful at their role. The benefits will by far outweigh the savings of a single salary.