Friday, February 6, 2009

Can I be a Scrum Master and a Developer.....

Can I be a Scrum Master and a developer (or business owner or business analyst or whatever)? Sure, um... yes... um... maybe......

Years ago, I had taken a Certified Scrum Master training course that was that was given by Ken Schwaber (who taught the first 2 days and Mike Cohn taught on the third).

As Ken was defining the role of the Scrum Master as one who removes impediments, empowers the team, ensures process, enforces the Scrum rules, etc…, I started thinking “was that all they did?”. Starting out as a developer and at that time being a Project Manager who would still get hands on in the code and architecture, I asked Ken if a Scrum Master could also be an active team member. Ken’s answer was something along the lines of “no”. That did not seem to make sense to me and he and I ultimately disagreed over this point.

Sometime later, I found myself working on a small team (3 ~4 people) developing software. I was the Scrum Master as well as a pseudo architect and a key hands on developer. What I had come to realize is that I spent the vast majority of my time coding and everything I was doing was clouded from that perspective. In my role as Scrum Master, I found myself using the position to drive things from the perspective of a developer. Instead of helping the team focus on delivering value and working with the product owner from that standpoint, I noticed myself addressing the product owner as a developer focusing on meeting development deadlines and telling the product owner what features they could and could not have versus really allowing the product owner to really define the features they needed and valued. Once I started noticing this behavior, I was able to address it …. more or less. There was a constant struggle between the Scrum Master hat and the developer hat and it was at that point that I started really seeing what Ken was saying.

Since then, the vast majority of my engagements have been as a Scrum Master. In most cases, I did wear the Scrum Master hat and often used my experience and expertise in other areas to help the business teams, technical or operations teams in their respective areas. Most of the time it worked out pretty well. The times where it is more difficult is when I become heavily involved in details and implementation and started taking ownership of ideas or deliverables that the lines get a bit blurred. That’s not to say it’s always a bad thing, but in some cases it does have effect on being an effective and fair Scrum Master.

So can someone be a Scrum Master as well as something else? Ken said “no”. I say, in a textbook world it’s not ideal. However, real world situations may dictate differently, so keep an eye on your perspective. Are you being a fair and effective Scrum Master if you are doing something else? If not, what can you do to fix it? Remember, Scrum does not fix your problems but rather it exposes it and if being both a Scrum Master and something else becomes an unmanageable problem that should be listed as an impediment and dealt with.


  1. As someone who is primarily a user-experience designer, I think a team really benefits when the scrum master is agnostic to the type of work being done, and focusing instead on what kind of overall value it delivers. Scrum masters who are also coders can indeed tend to see "value" through a somewhat smaller lens.

  2. Agreed Kurt. Upon more reflection, the Scrum Master who is agnostic is also better equipped to ensure that the stonger personalities, higher level team members, or more vocal functional units do not dominate the team focus, vision or delivery.

  3. agile certifications are a very good way to gauge an individual’s knowledge of what Agile really is and how Agile Principles are implemented across different scenarios. It is very important for an individual to participate in a good training session ahead of any Agile certification e.g. PMI-ACP™ by PMI, Scrum Master Certification (SMC™)by SCRUMstudy, The Agile Project Management (AgilePM®) certification by APMG etc.