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My understanding of the duties of the scrum master are as follows:

  • Enforce the process
  • Remove impediments (that the developers cannot remove themselves)
  • Prevent interruption from outside
  • Facilitate scrum meetings (stand up, retrospective, etc.)

If the developers on the team are disciplined, they will follow the process without someone coaching them. They will also have no problem holding retrospective and other scrum meetings. If the rest of the organization understands the sprint boundaries, outside interruptions and impediments that would require a scrum master are already minimized.

As a team becomes high performing and an organization understands the sprint boundaries, it seems as though the needs for a scrum master reduce. Is it possible for a team to eventually get to the point where a scrum master is no longer needed?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I wish I had a penny for every "Agile" team that asks "what is the correct way to do x". If you're truly agile, you don't need to ask such questions - there is no 'one true process', the only way to be agile is to do what works for you. People over Processes, remember.

However, if you really need some validation that you're doing it right - see this little article from one of the founding fathers of the Agile movement.

One member in the Crystal family of methodologies is Crystal Clear. Crystal Clear can be described to a Level 3 listener in the following words:

“Put 4-6 people in a room with workstations and whiteboards and access to the users. Have them deliver running, tested software to the users every one or two months, and otherwise leave them alone.”

I did, in fact, describe Crystal Clear in those words to a savvy project sponsor. He followed those instructions and reported five months later, “We did what you said, and it worked!”

I interviewed the team leader some months later and his report was about as short as my instructions:

“Following your suggestion, the four of us took over this conference room, which has network connections. We kept it for all four months, drawing on the whiteboards over there, delivering software as we went. It worked great.”

So, if you have such a team (lucky you) then you don't even need Scrum. Put them in a room by themselves and tell them to get on with it.

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A scrum master should always be appointed on paper in my opinion, if it turns out he does little, then so be it. On the occasions when developers are in a bad mood and arguing with each other, having a scrum master to keep tabs on the situation will be a necessity.

There is also menial admin work associated with elements of scrum, managing the backlog comes to mind - depending on the tool you use, the scrum master will likely take responsibility for this.

Not trying to be cynical, but I've never seen a process so finely tuned that there is never any detritus that someone has to clean up :-)

At the end of the day, even if there is nothing to actually do, the process of making sure there is nothing to do has to be someone's responsibility. Whether this is for accountability or whatnot is an internal decision.

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Interesting. On our team, the PO does the backlog management, but I see your point. Keeping the burndown chart up to date for instance, is one of those menial tasks. –  Dave Aug 8 '11 at 12:21
    
@Dave I use management as a bit of a catch-all. We have owners who will populate the tool with requests etc, and in sprints we take from it. But there are other parts, such as signing off stale tasks, tidying etc that get performed by the SM. –  Adam Houldsworth Aug 8 '11 at 12:22

I've been the Scrum Master of a highly functional team and I like to think I was essential. Scrum master duties took less than an hour a day on average. Demo days, retrospectives, and planning meetings were the bulk of my work. The rest of the time I'd split up and wear the hat of developer, tester, or customer depending on where we needed help meeting our goals.

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No! A Scrum master is NOT needed for a high performance team.

High performance teams existed before Scrum, and there are many other methodologies that are successful and create high performance teams that don't have a Scrum master. We shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that there is only one way of managing a project or developing code in order to have a high performance team.

But please don't confuse this with the answer to the question "Is a scrum master needed on a Scrum team?"

The answer to that is ... absolutely yes. Any team that doesn't have a scrum master isn't doing scrum regardless of what they might think. It is what Ken Schawber calls a "Scrum but" and comes from the phrase "We are doing Scrum, but ..."

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2  
+1 for well known ScrumBut :) –  Ladislav Mrnka Aug 8 '11 at 13:22
4  
+1 this is exactly the point. Scrum is a methodology with certain aspects to follow and that implies a team has a Scrum master. And as already said, it's fully possible to work in some other way, but that is not Scrum. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. –  murrekatt Aug 8 '11 at 18:08

Nothing stays the same. You may be able to get through a particular project, but why discrupt the team with these responsibilities? Company management can be fickle in a down economy and begin to make additional demands. New hires can be a disruption.

I just don't see the upside to not having one.

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If you want to use Scrum methodology, then make sure your team knows scrum. Send them for training. Whether or not there is a scrum master will not determine your success. The commitment of the team will.

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