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Is the ScrumMaster Full-time?

Let’s Explore

Let’s explore the answer to the question, “Is the ScrumMaster full-time?”  The Scrum Guide doesn't explicitly address this question. However, when examining the accountabilities of a ScrumMaster, the answer becomes apparent to me: Yes. This conclusion arises from a careful review of the Scrum Guide's descriptions of responsibilities. These demand significant time and necessitate a distinct blend of subtle leadership and robust communication skills.

Many Administrative Functions

The ScrumMaster performs many administrative functions that wouldn’t equate to a robust, full-time position. Setting up meetings and sharing progress reports don’t take much time. However, the unseen aspects of the role are time-consuming. Some examples of unseen work include prepping for a conflict resolution conversation, seeking advice from a manager on working with a difficult personality or finding new ways to motivate others.

A ScrumMaster Inspires

A ScrumMaster searches for new ways to inspire innovation, motivation, and productivity. They seek out new Retrospective techniques to increase participation. They make it a safe place to be open, which means they may have to explore new ideas for shutting down a loud and negative team member.

Scrum Values

A ScrumMaster takes the five values of Scrum, the Agile Manifesto, and it’s Twelve Principles into the light. They do this by leading the Scrum Team through conversations to increase the team’s understanding, by addressing “Scrum But,” by educating the leaders on Scrum and Agile, and the list goes on. Simply put, they find ways to help the Scrum Team be Agile. That’s hard stuff.

What’s in it for Me?

Then of course there is working with the PO who doesn’t understand their responsibilities or isn’t on board with Scrum. ScrumMasters teach the PO (and leaders) how Scrum benefits them when done well.  This is a big job and it only gets harder when the business isn’t integrated into Agile very well.

Evangelizing Scrum

There are people outside of the Scrum Team who impact the Scrum Team. These groups may not be educated on Scrum or don’t care about it. The finance team focuses on doing things the old way, the sales team continues to make unrealistic promises to close the deal, or a shared services team whose lack of progress hurts the Scrum Team. Their manager needs to hear how they're impacting progress. Prepping for, carrying out, and following through with these conversations takes time.

Creating Psychological Safety

It isn’t easy for everyone to learn how to create psychological safety and developing these skills will take time for a new ScrumMaster.  It may require uncomfortable conversations with a Director who seems to lack the courage to tell the truth to the CIO (let’s face it, that’s hard). It could mean the ScrumMaster must confront a team member who always shuts people down or pushes his ideas too aggressively. Maybe it means practicing ways to demonstrate to the Scrum Team that being truthful won’t have repercussions. And of course, if there are repercussions, there’s another action item for the ScrumMaster.

It Takes Time

The point is, that these learning, prepping, and teaching moments take time. It isn’t something a brand new ScrumMaster will tackle because they’re just happy if they can get everyone speaking up in the Daily Scrum and still get it done in 15 minutes. A ScrumMaster performs functions that aren’t easy, even for the most skilled leaders. If the ScrumMaster is practicing on a part-time basis, it is much harder to find time to prepare for a difficult conversation with a team member who always likes to be right. When the ScrumMaster has another “job,” the easy administrative work will get done, but addressing the more difficult invisible work gets set aside. After all, there is no due date for creating psychological safety. 

Appreciate the ScrumMaster

ScrumMasters who are allowed to take the time to create a productive, fun, and safe environment will develop their skills faster. Finding a brand new ScrumMaster who can accomplish all this right away is rare. Give them time to grow. If a new ScrumMaster has three Scrum Teams, expect the administrative work to get done, but keep an eye out for the team’s well-being. It’s hard to be a committed and productive team member when psychological safety isn’t present.

Ship Navigating the Waters

Allow me to present an analogy. A Scrum Team resembles a ship navigating the waters and trying to stay afloat. The ship has holes, and it is the ScrumMaster’s job to keep it afloat by using their fingers to plug the holes. Those “holes” are the critical, time-sensitive tasks such as organizing and facilitating events, maintaining a burndown chart, and engaging in weekly one-on-one discussions with managers. While these tasks are crucial for keeping the "ship afloat," they could theoretically be handled by someone with intern-level skills. 

Navigating it Skillfully

However, what's far superior to merely keeping the ship afloat is navigating it skillfully. Sailing a ship goes beyond mundane, time-sensitive tasks; it requires seasoned skills. For instance, when confronted by a Product Owner pushing to overload a Sprint, the ScrumMaster must delicately educate them about the implications of excessive workload while preserving their relationship. Similarly, intervening when a leader usurps control during a Sprint Planning event, thereby impeding team self-management, is vital. This is where a proficient ScrumMaster steps in, fostering psychological safety within the team, educating leaders, and preserving her reputation as she also reports to the manager in need of guidance.

ScrumMaster Skills Must Evolve

As a less experienced trainer and coach, I used to advise students that as the Developers' proficiency grows, they should rely less on the ScrumMaster. While this holds true, the ScrumMaster's skills must also evolve. Initially, she may be content with ensuring the Daily Scrum lasts only 15 minutes or encouraging open dialogue during the Sprint Retrospective. However, her role gradually expands to tackling more substantial challenges like coaching leaders, promoting development practices such as pairing, and advocating for Scrum to external groups hindering the Scrum Team's progress.

Piece of Wisdom

Early in my Agile career, during a celebratory dinner for new trainers, I sat beside a seasoned trainer, Michael James. He imparted a piece of wisdom that has stayed with me. He said to me, "A good ScrumMaster can take on more than one team, but a great ScrumMaster... won't." This profound statement forced me to reflect on my journey into the realm of elite trainers. Michael has a comprehensive checklist outlining tasks new Scrum Masters should undertake, acknowledging that mastering them all takes time. If you'd like to read it simply go to our blog page to access it.

Aspire for Them to Sail

Returning to the ship analogy, leaders must ask themselves: "Are we content with our ships merely floating, or do we aspire for them to sail?" Both answers are valid if they are deliberate.

Updates to the Scrum Alliance Workshops

The Scrum Alliance is continuously enhancing its offerings, including modifications and additions. Here's the latest news regarding Sticky Agile's workshops:

Certified Scrum Developer® (CSD®): 

Our colleague, Judy Neher, has been appointed to lead Certified Scrum Developer (CSD®) workshops, a rare opportunity given the limited availability of trainers with this designation. The Scrum Alliance's updated Learning Objectives have contributed to improving the course, making it more appealing to participants. In this month alone, we've scheduled five public and private workshops. Judy may even be the sole female trainer based in the U.S. providing this workshop.

Agile Coaching Skills - Certified Facilitator (ACS-CF®)

The new Facilitation workshop, ACS-CF®, has been well received by participants. It includes many practice opportunities and attendees are enjoying it. It's suitable for any facilitator, not just ScrumMasters.

Certified Agile Leadership (CAL): 

Is undergoing significant changes at the Scrum Alliance. We anticipate having our revised materials approved in the next month, with workshops scheduled for this Summer.

Certified Agile Skills - Scaling 1 (CAS - S1):

This is exciting because I've never been a big fan of choosing a Scaling framework due to concerns about its impact on your success with Scrum. This class differs in that it delves into what Scaling entails and the factors to consider when contemplating scaling.

For further information about our classes, including descriptions and schedules, please visit our website

And Finally

We'd love to see you continue your learning by attending a Scrum Gathering.  We hope to see you in New Orleans in May 2024 at the Scrum Alliance's fabulous conference.  Let me know if you're going so I can meet up with you.

As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Best Regards,

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