The modern Scrum Master role

I don’t understand the modern Scrum Master role.

Recently when I worked in a full time Scrum Master role, I was been left wondering what do I do with the rest of my time (read about how that turned out). I mean, is it really a full time role for a single team?

Maybe it’s because I worked as a developer for 10 years before Agile became in vogue for “management types” – those who have never written a line of code in their lives but can throw around the term ‘API’ with the best of them (apologies, rant over). In the development team, we usually had one of the team members act as a lightweight Scrum Master, and that role often rotated any how so as to not breed dependence and over-reliance on one person.

Of course, there are Scrum Masters who are actually old fashioned PM / delivery managers but in disguise because any kind of project management is now seen as “waterfall” inside digital transformation programmes. Now that really would be a full time job. Here is a great example illustrating the point of a “Project Manager – Programme Manager – Scrum Master” for multiple teams combined into a single role, not paying very much either.

Unfortunately, I feel that having the Scrum Master assume all project delivery responsibility (aka “removing impediments”) is like throwing away the whole PMO without acknowledging the need for basic project skills to be present in/or around the Scrum team in order for them to perform.

Like risk and dependency management, critical path analysis, budget control, talent management, legal and compliance issues etc. Someone needs to handle these matters so the Scrum team can get on and deliver their component / system unimpeded within the wider eco-system.

This is a very big ask of anyone and has traditionally been performed by a Project Manager.

Should this responsibility now fall entirely to the Scrum Master? Who often is not adequately trained, skilled or supported in performing this expanded role.

The PM as Scrum Master?

In my mind, a good IT PM will already be embracing the aspects of Agile before they have even heard the term “Scrum”.

There is nothing new in delivering work in small packages, reviewing and re-planning based on user feedback and business priority, empowering the team doing the work, facilitating and coaching rather than command and control.

It’s often unnecessary and unhelpful, and usually to do with being “seen to be Agile” rather than anything else, to hire a full time Scrum Master who then assumes that role and also picks up all other project management duties.

My personal view is clear, that for projects beyond trivial complexity, someone needs to pick up the PM responsibilities. And to date, I haven’t yet observed the PO or SM being well placed to do this like an experienced and dedicated PM would do. Unless of course your PM isn’t very good and likes “hiding” behind long Gantt charts…

Do you agree? And if not, tell me more about why not. Comment below.

Frank Ray

Ask any project manager about the key to their success, and they will say that delivering a project is often more like a "dark art" or by chance, than a predictable science.

They may also say that a project going 'off the rails' was one of the most stressful things they have professionally experienced. And unfortunately, it’s all too common.

We developed our free project management tools to help.
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antony 3 December 2019 Reply

Hi Frank

Thanks for your input and link under my article on the PMTips website.
You raise some interesting points above and a few in line with mine.
One area though I have a concern, (maybe just read it wrong) was implying that PMs mainnly follow the “waterfall” approach. In my mind waterfall does not exits, its a misinterpretation of a standard way Projects need to be delivered (cap P intended). However, I note with real interest and complete agreement, that PMs (natural ones!) have been applying agility, and hence using the so-called “agile tool set”, for years. I certainly have: for 40 +!

antony 3 December 2019 Reply

PS – as for the “role mix” link above – what the $@£$£ – scary and I ran a “workshop” once for a woman in a programme for the SM role. The company wanting to runa a programme to digitize their services engaged an SM for the Prog Mgr role and owndered why the £5m prog failed

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