Ask a Scrum Master about the number one question they get about their role, and chances are they’ll tell you it’s whether that role is full-time or not. Sometimes, this question arises from skepticism. At other times, it’s born of a genuine curiosity to know. The answer, like many things in Scrum, is it depends.
To make a long story short, it depends on the Scrum Master, the Scrum Team, and the organization itself.
When Is Scrum Master a Full-Time Role?
In an early-stage startup, the Scrum Master may very well be the most senior Developer on the Scrum Team. They may be double-hatting their Scrum Master and Developer responsibilities as they help the team understand Scrum theory and put it into practice while working on items in the product backlog. In this case, the Scrum Master’s role will not be full-time.
In a large corporation, the Scrum Master’s role is likely to be full-time. First, because that’s how large organizations work — they hire for specific roles, and roles with too many responsibilities would not attract the best, if any, candidates. Second, because in a large organization, the Scrum Masters usually devote the free time they have left during a Sprint on participating in an Agile Community of Practice, coaching stakeholders or the organization as a whole on agile.
Of course, no two large corporations are the same, and each will have a different maturity level when it comes to its agile adoption. Organizations who are far along their agile journey may have Scrum Masters facilitating two to three Scrum Teams at the same time; those early along will need their Scrum Masters to devote as much time and focus as necessary to establish Scrum in single teams.
Another important consideration when determining the full-time status of a Scrum Master is the complexity and scale of the product that the team is working on.
For large and complex products, a full-time Scrum Master is often necessary to provide the required level of servitude and guidance to ensure the team stays on track, meets its goals, and gets the support they need. In contrast, for smaller and less complex projects, a part-time or shared Scrum Master may be sufficient.
Also, the Scrum Master’s role in fostering a culture of continuous improvement within the team should also be taken into account — and that’s hard to quantify on a timesheet.
A full-time Scrum Master can spend dedicated time on facilitating retrospectives, gathering feedback, and identifying areas for improvement. By doing so, a full-time Scrum Master can ensure the team is always working to improve its performance and processes, which leads to greater success in the long-term.
Why Scrum Master Should Be a Full-Time Role
Regardless of the organization’s size and the product’s complexity, the Scrum Master’s role should be viewed as a full-time role. At the end of the day, they are responsible for facilitating the Scrum process and acting as a servant-leader of the Scrum Team.
The Scrum Master is responsible for creating an environment in which the team can adopt agile principles and practices, establishing Scrum as prescribed in the Scrum Guide so they can work effectively and efficiently towards their goals.
The Scrum Master is the one who ensures that the team follows the Scrum framework, that the ceremonies are conducted as they should be, and that the team members understand and adhere to the best practices. The Scrum Master also plays a crucial role in communicating with stakeholders and representing the team’s needs and concerns to upper management.
The Benefits of a Full-Time Scrum Master
A full-time Scrum Master can provide:
- Consistent facilitation, coaching, and tutoring to the team, improving their ability to set goals, groom the backlog, plan out their sprints, and deliver in an iterative and incremental fashion.
- More opportunities to observe the Scrum Team’s ways of working and identify areas for improvement, as well as to coach and serve the Product Owners and the individual Developers on the team as needed.
- Greater capacity to engage with the Scrum Team’s stakeholders — including peer teams, upper management, and customers, internal or external — and to assist in resolving friction, misunderstandings, or roadblocks as they arise.
- More time to develop and maintain relationships with other Scrum Masters and Agile coaches in the organization, which can lead to better sharing of knowledge and best practices across teams.
The benefits of having a Scrum Master (or Scrum Masters) who have the time and opportunity to devote themselves to the role, in other words, are many.
Whether the Scrum Master’s role is full-time or not depends on the specific context of the organization and the team.
However, the Scrum Master’s responsibilities are vital to the team’s success and should not be underestimated. Whether the Scrum Master is also fulfilling another role, such as a Developer, or whether they are focused solely on their Scrum Master duties, their role is essential to the team’s effectiveness and should be treated as such.
Scrum Master is a key role in the Scrum framework, and if they are not full-time, the team may not be getting the support they need. The Scrum Master should be given the time, the resources, and the empowerment necessary to succeed in their servant-leadership role.