Should a Scrum Master be Part Time or Full Time?
Note: the opinions I make in this post have shifted. See for Should a Scrum Master be Part Time or Full Time? – Revisited details.
My professional background is as a software developer but I have also been a Scrum Master for a few years now. So far I have been a Scrum Master for three sizeable projects while working for the same organisation. In every instance I have been both a Scrum Master and a team member. So far this has worked out fine. The projects have been a success and I have found that I am able to contribute directly to the team’s velocity by completing User Stories and indirectly by performing my Scrum Master responsibilities.
This set-up had always seemed to be perfectly natural to me. It never occurred to me that a Scrum Master would be anyone other than a developer because only a developer could understand the team’s activities to a degree such they could effectively facilitate the elimination of impediments. Likewise it always seemed a no-brainer that the developer/Scrum Master should be working on User Stories when not busy with Scrum Master responsibilities.
So all was well in my world. Ignorance is bliss, etc. Then I attended the London Scrum Gathering this year and had my eyes opened to other possibilities. I was in a session about identifying impediments when I had a brief conversation with the presenter (I forget exactly what started this exchange):
Me: “‘That’s true except when Scum Master is also a team member”
Presenter: “We won’t discuss that particular dysfunction just now”
Me: ** stunned silence **
This took me back a bit but I held my questions. The session was about impediments and I didn’t want to be pushy and take it off track. Besides a session entitled “Scrum Master – Role or Job?” had run the previous day. I had not attended preferring another session ‘Maximising Sustainable Pace” but now wished I had. That would have been the perfect time discuss the question.
Luckily in a later session another presenter also stated in their presentation that a Scrum Master should be full-time. I pursued this in the Q&A at the end by asking why this should be the case. The answer was interesting and I’ll paraphrase it here: “Ideally a Scrum Master will be full-time but in smaller organisations this may not be possible because of resource constraints. The reason they should be full time is that there is no end to the useful things a committed Scrum Master can do to help their team go faster”. At the time I remember stating to the presenter that if I had to choose between my two roles I would choose to be a developer. Now I am not so sure.
In my opinion there are two reasons that Scrum Masters in my organisation are part time. First off, despite it being a large organisation, there are resource constraints that mean that having dedicated Scum Masters is not practical. Secondly nobody considers the Scrum Master’s responsibilities to be substantial enough to merit a full time job. I cannot argue with the first reason but I am now not as convinced by the second reason as I used to be.
I have since checked out the presentation from the “Scrum Master – Role or Job?” session and found it to be thought-provoking reading. If you check it out then pay attention to the speaker notes as well as the slides as they add a lot of detail. The most important message I took from reading the presentation was that the more a Scrum Master acts as a Scrum Master as opposed to anything else then the more they can help their team to reach their full potential.
In the last few sprints I have been paying more attention than ever to impediments. I pay close attention to what team members say in the stand ups and during the day to see if there are issues developing which I can help eliminate. Identifying more impediments has led me to spend more time facilitating their removal. This has taken time away from me carrying out my other role as a developer. However, it has also allowed team members to go faster than they may have done otherwise. Recent sprints have also seen an improvement in the team’s velocity. As I can help my team go faster by being a Scrum Master more I will certainly be carrying that on.
So am I converting to be a full time Scrum Master? The answer is no for two reasons. The first is that it simply would not be allowed where I work. The second reason is more interesting. I think the reason I can facilitate the removal of many impediment effectively is because I am a developer. I carry out the same types of stories as the other team members I am helping. I develop in the same code base, do the same testing, follow the same definition of done, etc. In short I understand the team’s day-to-day job so I can bring more insight to the removal of impediments.
So where does this leave me on the part time versus full time debate? Ideally I think that the Scrum Master should spend most of their time being a Scrum Master. However, my own experience shows me that I am a more efficient Scrum Master if I do the same work as the team so that I share the same experiences as them. This doesn’t need to be a large amount of development work and may even take the form of the Scrum Master pairing with team members. Unfortunately I cannot dedicate as much time as I would like to being a Scrum Master where I work now. Hopefully I will have the opportunity in the future.