Can a Scrum Team Run Without a Scrum Master?

March 26, 2020
3 min read

Rhythm is the heart of Scrum. The right rhythm emerges from consistent processes. In a theoretically perfect world, processes are smooth, communication happens, and people are happy. But we don't live in an ideal world, inadequate processes are lining up to happen and will essentially translate to waste.

To strive for consistency, especially in an environment that lends itself to distractions, organizations need to provide focus. Prioritize on few things and do them well; what's getting in the way need to get out.

If you've ever been in a Scrum Team, you'll know there are only three roles in Scrum. You are either in the team itself, the Product Owner, or the Scrum Master.

The team (development team) will be the people getting things done. They have all the necessary skillsets to finish the job. The Product Owner is the dreamer. The one with the vision, the roadmap, the what, and the why. But what does a Scrum Master do?

Kanban Board

Primarily, there are three things Scrum Masters bring to the table.

They collaborate closely with the Product Owner

One of the goals Scrum Master and Product Owner share is creating a viable product through the Scrum framework. They make an effort to improve the following areas:

  1. Maintaining & prioritize product backlog items
  2. Define the Definition of Done (DoD)
  3. Make release plans
  4. Arrange pre-release demonstration

On top of that, the Scrum Master also helps to keep the team in line with the Product Owner's vision.

They act as a multiplier force.

Scrum Team's productivity can be measured by their sprint velocity. Scrum Master continuously provides feedback and insights to improve the team's efficiency.

Scrum Master facilitates various engaging scrum meetings such as backlog refinements (also known as backlog groomings), sprint plannings, daily stand-ups, etc. They help clarify and communicate product vision to the team and making sure they understand the game plan.

At the end of each sprint, Scrum Master conducts a sprint retrospective to address what went wrong, what could've gone better, and what improvement can be made for future iterations.

They remove obstacles.

Sometimes, team members over-commit themselves due to pressure from aggressive Product Owner.

The other times, interruptions, excessive meetings, miscommunications, conflicts, unreasonable demands, and blockers happen due to management dysfunctions. The development team relies on the Scrum Master to protect them from such disruptive behaviors.

Scrum Team Without a Scrum Master

Can a car still run without a turbocharger? Yes, but...

Is it possible to play football without a coach? Yes, but...

A Scrum Team without a Scrum Master per definition is not a Scrum Team. But we're not here to talk about definition, are we?

To answer if Scrum Master is needed at all solely depends on the team and the organization's needs. The level of autonomy varies across teams—higher the autonomy, lesser the need for Scrum Master's interference.

A three-person or less development team certainly does not benefit much from Scrum Master's presence. In this case, the organization needs to decide whether hiring a Scrum Master is a necessary investment.

Scrum Masters' primary function is to keep the team going at full speed and detect issues far before the team themselves can see. They identify areas of improvement and facilitate them thoroughly. Without them, there are gaps that need to be filled.

Scrum Master is a unique role with a full page of responsibilities. It's a role that doesn't always require a separate person. Someone from the development team can always step up and fill the gap. But he/she needs to be capable and knowledgable enough to juggle several hats at the same time. And due to the capacity limit of one person, it comes with a cost, namely, a potential conflict of interest.

Conclusion

Great organizations are built on three important aspects, purpose, people, and process. Which is what Scrum is all about. We need a visionary leader to convey purpose to the people so that the people can create values through the optimal process.

Scrum Master holds no authority over the team, only the process. With that, he/she must gain a substantial amount of influence to be able to coach and guide the team, the product owner, and, ultimately, the organization.

I believe the Scrum Master role in a Scrum Team should never go away. Even the best Scrum Team continues to benefit from proper guiding by Scrum Master.

This article intends to share what I think about the significance of the Scrum Master role in a Scrum Team. Does your organization implement a similar framework? I'd love to hear what you think of it. 😉

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