Rotate Scrum Master

Can We Rotate the Scrum Master Role?

So can teams rotate the Scrum Master role? Sure, but should they? No, it most circumstances I don’t believe so.

First, I think high-performing teams can rotate the role, but I’ve run into only a handful of teams that I’d say meet that bar. Is your team one of those? Likely not. Maybe that’s cynical of me. However, over the years I’ve uncovered more collections of individuals than I have teams, and I like to believe that 10 years as a U.S. Marine has given me a trained eye for identifying kick ass teams.

Disheartening but true. Over time, I hope my contributions and the contributions of so many others tilt the scales, but the reality is we’re not there yet. Years from now, I intend to re-read this post, smile, and realize how far we’ve come.

So why do so many teams wish to rotate the Scrum Master role? Let’s talk about that today. And let’s start with a truly surprising tweet I ran across recently.

Really? 59% think the role should be rotated?! Crazy. I’m surprised to find myself in the minority, and I agree with people like John Miller and Neil Killick who commented on the tweet.

I have a few theories on the topic.

Few Have Observed a Good Scrum Master in Action

I’ve written about what makes for a good Scrum Master previously so I won’t rehash the topic here, and I think my flight instructor sums it up nicely.

Do you know what I like about my job? It’s clear who does and doesn’t know what they’re doing. I can hand them the stick and ask them to land the plane.

He’s right. Even a laymen can tell the difference between a good and bad pilot. How hard does he hit the runway? Or does s/he overshoot the runway and have to go around the first and second time up? Take my 16 year old daughter who’s currently learning to drive. It doesn’t take a skilled driver to know she’s not quite there yet. (For my and your safety though, fingers crossed she is soon.) Scrum Mastery though is a soft skill, difficult to quantify and equally difficult to master.

Because of this, I wonder how many of us feel we’re excelling when perhaps we’re not. This can be especially true if solid mentors are unavailable to provide quality feedback. I’m also quite certain only a handful of organizations understand what true mastery looks like and how beneficial it can be. Of course, putting this to paper makes me wonder if I know what I’m doing.

Asking Someone to Double as Scrum Master and Team Member is Too Much

I’ve run across many teams where a team member pulls double duty as the team’s Scrum Master. It’s a lot to ask from them so I’m not surprised when one approaches me and asks if rotating the role of Scrum Master would be helpful. It would certainly ease his or her burden. While talking it through with one of these team members, he said something that I thought was telling:

The consequences for being a lousy engineer are much greater than the consequences for being a lousy Scrum Master.

Wow! He’s wise to prioritize his time and efforts. But what’s that say about what’s incentivized? And how many team members in your organization would express a similar sentiment? Finally, do we think rotating the Scrum Master role would benefit teams with such a mindset, or would the role simply be further marginalized?

Many Don’t View Scrum Masters as a Domain Expert

Ron Jeffries tweeted something recently that speaks volumes:

How many of us are approaching our situations mindfully? Do we get buried in the noise and don’t make the time to talk to our teams about why we do the things we do? And if we are, are we measuring and discussing the delta between what we’re doing and what we should be doing?

How many surgeons ask the nurse to conduct the surgery?

Are we attempting to actively do nothing? Or because of the time investment this takes, do we continue to do all or most of the heavy lifting ourselves? How much of Michael James’ 42 can we check off? What about all the stuff we’re not checking off? If done well, this job can be a lot like a duck. It looks graceful above water but below our legs are furiously kicking. I suppose this could be one theory as to why organization often undervalue the role. They’re not looking below the water line.

So what do you think? Are you still convinced that teams should rotate the Scrum Master role? Or do you have your own theories as to why it seems rotating so popular? Let me know in the comments below.

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3 thoughts on “Can We Rotate the Scrum Master Role?”

  1. I do not think it is beneficial for the team or for the organisation to rotate the scrum master. Scrum masters build a wealth of knowledge while working with one team. They build patterns of knowledge about the team. For example, areas where the team need attention, situations where the teams have failed/succeeded in the past, team dynamics, dependency handling and so on. All this is simply lost when a scrum master is rotated. This experience cannot be just translated while rotation. Scrum masters also take pride and passion in servant leadership. Not everyone may be able to demonstrate these attributes, most difficult being this one

    1. I agree, Niranjan. Mostly. There’s one details I’d change in your sentiment, and I hope you’d agree. You say, “Scrum masters build a wealth of knowledge while working with one team.” I’d tweak that to read, “Scrum masters build a wealth of knowledge while working with one team and selflessly shares that wealth so the team can decide how best to proceed.”

  2. Yes Tanner, I fully agree :). I have been doing that myself, relaying back to the team, all the information gathered, knowledge built over time, and it has immenely helped the teams in times when team members leave and the team comoposition changes.

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