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8 hours a day of Scrum Master stuff ?

When we coach teams new to agile we inevitable get asked how many teams a Scrum Master should have. We then use the quote “A good Scrum Master can have two teams, a great Scrum Master will only have one team.”. This is met with blank stares. The Scrum Master role is so different to traditional roles that people struggle to map responsibilities to it.

An analogy often helps. Think of a world class soccer team or an olympic sprinter. Do they have a coach? Most probably they have more than one coach. And all those coaches have 1 focus – helping that team or person grow and be the best they can be. Now think of the average school soccer team and guy running in the street. Do they have a coach? The soccer team might have a coach whose job it is to be a coach for 2 hours a week. It’s doubtful the guy jogging has a coach. The chances of that soccer team becoming a world class team are slim, as are the chances of the guy jogging becoming an olympic sprinter.

A Scrum Master who is dedicated to a single team, to help them grow and become the best they can be, is always working on this. A Scrum Master with many teams is often just juggling meetings. They usually don’t have much time to spend on improving the team. We also explain that if a Scrum Master of a team of 5 people can make them each 20% more productive, they have covered their own salary.

At this point, some people nod, and most are willing to at least give it a try.

Now the real challenge starts: Convincing new Scrum Masters that they have enough work for 8 hours a day. We were faced with this recently and instead of listing all the things that a Scrum Master should be doing, we instead talked through each scrum meeting with the Scrum Master and asked what they needed to be doing for their team. This particular Scrum Master had completed one sprint, and was about to start the second. We then talked about impediments the team faced and what the Scrum Master could do that week. Then we looked at how the Scrum Master was learning and what she needed to do that sprint for her own growth. Here is a photo of what we discussed:


At the end of the exercise, the Scrum Master felt quite overwhelmed by everything she needed to do that sprint. This particular team had use of a Project Administrator (outside of the team), and so we marked items with a red star that could be delegated to the project administrator.

The manager walked past and asked what we were doing. The Scrum Master explained to him, and for the first time I could see that the manager understood what this particular Scrum Master was doing all day. If you are a Scrum Master think about making your work visible, so that your team and manager can see exactly what you are doing for 8 hours everyday!