Mission Possible: ScrumMaster and Technical Contributor

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Summary:
Teams trying out Scrum might not be able to justify a full-time ScrumMaster to the organization, so the role is filled by a contributor on the team. This can be a challenge and, if done incorrectly, a problem. Learn some potential issues to be aware of and how to make the hybrid role work.

In a Scrum project, the person in the ScrumMaster role is responsible for keeping the project following the Scrum process. Classically, the ScrumMaster isn't a (people) manager and isn't a technical contributor, because Scrum Master can be a full-time job. It's sometimes the case—especially with teams adopting Scrum organically— that it's difficult for teams to justify having a full-time ScrumMaster, so, for better or for worse, someone on the team needs to assume the role in addition to his other responsibilities.

The ScrumMaster

Facilitation roles such as ScrumMaster are often looked upon by organizations as having low value, even though coordination can enable a team to be more productive. On many projects—especially on small, dynamic teams that can benefit greatly from the low-overhead approach of Scrum—a ScrumMaster might be hard to justify. But, without someone fulfilling the role of "shepherd of the agile process," the team will quickly revert to old habits and not benefit from agile. This leaves two choices: hope that the team can adopt a new method organically without filling a ScrumMaster role, or fill the role with someone who already fills a coordination role in the team and who understands Scrum.

One option is to have a manager fill the role, since a manager’s role generally encompasses both the tracking and facilitation roles. Having a manager perform the role can be problematic, as people-management responsibility conflicts with the ScrumMaster's role of removing roadblocks to a team’s self-organizing, as Johanna Rothman has discussed.

Since the manager is often not the right person to fill the ScrumMaster role, another option is to use a technical leader or contributor. Mixing technical contributor and ScrumMaster roles, while a challenge and contrary to good practice, can work and can even work well if you are aware of and address the issues of this mixed-role structure.

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About the author

Steve Berczuk's picture Steve Berczuk

Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and Scrum Master at Fitbit. The author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, he is a recognized expert in software configuration management and agile software development. Steve is passionate about helping teams work effectively to produce quality software. He has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT, and is a certified, practicing ScrumMaster. Contact Steve at steve@berczuk.com or visit berczuk.com and follow his blog at blog.berczuk.com.

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