One of the discussions I often have with clients is on full-time versus part-time Scrum Masters. Often the arguments against a full-time Scrum Master is related to cost. Typically organizations have one project manager per project and they see it as double the cost having both a dedicated Product Owner and a dedicated Scrum Master on each team.

In a recent post, Mike Cohn shared his view on the topic. Mike elegantly compared having a full-time Scrum Master to the luxury of having a full-time barista available to the team. He argued that having both will definitely be an advance to the team, but it might not be financially feasible in all situations. As much as I agree with Mike, I think it’s a stretch having a Scrum Master to having a barista on the team.

When I talk to clients about the Scrum Master role, my recommendation is usually to start out with a full-time Scrum Master and then inspect and adapt regularly if it’s still financially feasible. Especially when the organization is first introducing Scrum, there will be plenty of work for a full-time Scrum Master to do. Usually, the Scrum Master is also new to the role and needs to find her own feet. Secondly, she needs to teach the team and its stakeholders about Scrum, often in collaboration with me or another external coach. Finally, when the team is starting to become self-organizing, there is usually still plenty of work to do in order to help the rest of the organization adopt Scrum and interact efficiently with the team. In no particular order, I believe a Scrum Master should strive to:

  • Challenge the team to keep improving collaboration and productivity.
  • Help the Product Owner work with internal and external stakeholders to improve the value and quality of requirements.
  • Share insight and challenges with colleagues. This could be by organizing internal conferences or establishing and driving a community of practice.
  • Challenge yourself to try out new ideas and practices and keep up with (and maybe contribute to) the latest development in the agile community.
  • Make sure that teams have fun. I truly believe teams having fun are more productive and deliver better quality work.

The list above cover the basics and applies to both a full-time and a part-time Scrum Master, but just as with Mike’s example of a dedicated Barista, a full-time Scrum Master will probably be able to do a better and faster job.

Some would also argue that I should have included teaching and coaching management, HR and other supportive functions of agile on the list. I actually almost did, but I believe that that’s a lot to ask of a Scrum Master, especially one new to the role. The Scrum Master is the team’s tactical coach and that is not the same as working with agile at the organizational level. However, I do think that Scrum Masters can make great contributions to enterprise adoption of Scrum, but it usually takes an experienced agile coach to successfully drive this change.

Another follow-up question I often get is what the Scrum Masters do once the organization has adopted Scrum and teams become self-organizing. It’s true that there is organizations so agile mature that they actually don´t need dedicated Scrum Masters. This is, however, a state so rare and hard to reach, that I wouldn’t worry up-front about what the Scrum Masters will do once you reach it. It’s also a catch-22, since you will need help from a considerable number of enthusiastic and dedicated Scrum Masters to have any chance of getting there.

For more ideas about what a Scrum Master could do, I recommend looking at some of the great resources below:

And as always, please feel free to share your thoughts on the subject using the comment field below. I would love to hear from you.

Link to ScrumMaster – Full Time or Not? By Mike Cohn (2015): https://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/blog/scrummaster-full-time-or-not

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5 Comments

  • Nice post, Martin.

    I just want to clarify that I never intended to say that a ScrumMaster and barista are equivalent. My point was that we point have a fulltime barista because it’s not economically justified. The same type of logic should be applied to the ScrumMaster role. There are plenty of situations in which a full-time ScrumMaster is economically justified, but there are some when it will not be.

    • Thanks Mike,
      I totally get you point and agree on your point about looking at what is economically justifiable.To add to your point, I think the need for a full time Scrum Master changes over time. When a team is new to Scrum, they usually need more guidance and a full time Scrum Master might therefore be the best option. Later on, as the team matures, and especially if the organization around them also matures, they will often need less guidance and a full time Scrum Master might no longer be economically feasible.

  • Perhaps a correlation can be established between team size, sprint duration, velocity etc and whether Scrummaster is needed full time or part time.

    • Hi Sudheer,
      Interesting thought – I’m sure there is a correlation between some of the parameters you mention and the need for a full time Scrum Master. I would however only use it as a generel guideline, since the people factor is so import in Scrum. I have seen large teams almost able to figure Scrum out by themselves and small teams needing full time coaching to make any progress at all. I have also seen the opposite and probably everything in between 😉 It’s so individual from team to team and I think it will be very hard to put on a formula.

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