“A Scrum Master did a good job when his team no longer needs him”.
I hear various versions of this saying a lot.
It’s one of the most harmful Agile-related adages. We should kill it, bury it deep, and erase it from our collective memory.
Wait, but why!? Isn’t it true?
Metaphorically speaking, it is. It conveys an important principle that a Scrum Master should teach a team to self-organize, not micro-manage it.
But the key word here is metaphorically. The problem is, it’s often taken literally. I witnessed many such situations, from asking a Scrum Master during an interview if he will be willing to take another team when his current one becomes mature in half a year to actually dismissing a Scrum Master by management “because the team reached maturity and no longer needs him”.
What’s even worse, in all of the cases I witnessed, the so called “maturity” of the teams was merely a basic competence. They just stopped tripping over their own Scrum feet and started to deliver more or less regularly but still had a long way to go to become truly Agile and performant.
Consider this: who employs the best, highest paid coaches and trainers? And who has the highest number of coaches per team member? Pro sport teams and military special forces. Organizations already operating at the world-class level of excellence.
The more mature a team, the harder it is for them to further advance. Grasping the basics of Scrum and putting them into practice is easy. It can be learned even from a book if the team is already jelled and not afraid to experiment and fail. At this stage, the role of a Scrum Master is mostly to accelerate learning and ensure it goes without bigger hiccups. The hard part is to gradually fine-tune all the little details that make the team perform at the top level. It takes years of deliberate effort and is extremely challenging – and this is where the role of a Scrum Master really starts.
The idea that a Scrum Master has nothing to do after a year with a team is a huge misunderstanding. In the world of sports, a single trainer can teach many groups of beginners but pro-teams often employ several dedicated coaches and assistants per team. True, most IT organizations aren’t as focused on training and achieving world-class excellence as pro-sport teams, but the general principle still applies: the more mature a team is and the more effective we want them to become, the more attention and the more experienced Scrum Master they need.
Of course, if we don’t want continuous improvement, if all we aim for is to settle at a basic level of competence, it may be true that we don’t need a Scrum Master as a full-time job or maybe even not at all. But in a current super-competitive market this is rather a short-sighted strategy for an organization.
Over to you
How does it work in your organization? Do you employ Scrum Masters to help teams achieve excellence or just to bring them up to speed with the basics? I’d love to hear from you!