What the ScrumMaster Does NOT Do

Does your ScrumMaster make business decisions for your team/PO?

Does he make technical decisions for your team?

Does he make promises on behalf of your team?

Is he your team’s representative at a “Scrum of Scrums” meeting?

Does he assign tasks to team members?

I’m alarmed by reports of ScrumMasters “managing” their teams, preventing them from reaching their potential.

The ScrumMaster facilitates team self-organization, and ultimately team self management. Facilitation is a million-year-old practice that not everyone has skills at doing at first. Organizations that don’t realize the full potential of Scrum often choose poorly when designating people as ScrumMasters.

Let’s say Adam on Team A has business with Bob on Team B.

It’s seductive for the ScrumMaster to coordinate work between the two teams. My job as ScrumMaster seems so vague, and finally here’s an easy, visible, concrete contribution I can make. We find ourselves busier and busier, and that work becomes self-justifying. What would they have done without me?

But my job as a ScrumMaster is to ensure Adam can (and will) talk directly to Bob. That means breaking through official silos, reducing geographic distribution, coaching shy team members with negotiation skills, or just helping Adam and Bob realize it’s now their job to talk to each other instead of relying on managers. Sometimes it means “management by leaving the room.” Maybe we can create an environment during the retrospective meeting where the team itself takes on the problem. That’s harder, and scarier.

The next time you feel the need to reach into your “manager’s toolbox,” ask yourself whether the short term fix is worth the lost opportunity in the long run.

For a list of what the ScrumMaster does do, please see An Example Checklist for ScrumMasters.


Michael James

Michael James is a software process mentor, team coach, and Scrum Trainer with a focus on the engineering practices (TDD, refactoring, continuous integration, pair programming) that allow Agile project management practices. He is also a software developer (a recovering "software architect" who still loves good design).

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4 comments on “What the ScrumMaster Does NOT Do
  1. Dan Rawsthorne says:

    Very nice, MJ. Many people think that the ScrumMaster is a manager, but we now believe that the SM is not. Unfortunately, the “Black Book” does give credence to the notion that the SM is a manager. In fact, early on in the book it says that the ScrumMaster’s two main responsibilities are “making decisions and removing impediments.” Also, early writings of Ken Schwaber refer to the ScrumMaster as the “Agile Project Manager.” Things have changed… scrum has evolved… and changing these misperceptions is going to be a long, hard journey.

    Dan 😉

  2. Paul Hopkins says:

    >Sometimes it means “management by leaving the room.”
    Absolutely: a couple of things I do are:
    * leave the team to do sprint planning part II on their own. This significantly underlines the message “*YOUR* tasks, “*YOUR* commitment to the sprint goal
    * and of course, not looking at people during the daily scrum when I am Scrum Master, to prevent it turning into a “status meeting for the Scrum Master”. Strangely, this is the hardest thing for me to do…it seems so impolite (I’m British, btw, which is maybe why I get so hung up on this one!)
    Of course, the degree to which this can be done is highly dependent on the maturity of the team, but over time many teams can get there.
    Ultimately, I think the Scrum Master’s long-term target is to help the team get to and sustain a level of self-organisation such that he/she is no longer needed in that role. The day-to-day mechanics of everyday hectic project life sometimes make us forget the “facilitation” / “coach” / “moderation” aspect of the role.
    My 2 pennies worth 😉

  3. Dianina Andrei says:

    The URL to the pdf file is not working. Please fix it, since you made me curious :).


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