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There is multiple ways to be a good Scrum Master and multiple ways to be a … less good Scrum Master. One of this less better posture I’ve seen many times often carried on by big consulting companies is  reducing the Scrum Master role to A Time keeper, to be a clock.

Photo taken at Disneyland Paris

What do I mean by Scrum-clock-Master?

The Scrum-clock-Master is the person who has the title of “Scrum Master” –often this person has a “Scrum Master Certification©” to justify it– but who only cares about the time-box of Scrum events.

The rest of her time, this Scrum-clock-Master can be a developer, a project manager, a product owner or whatever, because she has a lot of time.

⏳ I even happened to see a “Scrum Master” ‒though coming from one of the largest consulting company in the world‒ interrupt the team’s daily after 15 minutes! That’s right, he prevented the team from continuing to talk and share.

Is it what we want from a Scrum Master? You certainly want to know the answer to this important question, so please continue to read …

The Scrum Guide has been read, but was it understood?

The timekeeper role of the Scrum Master certainly exists in the Scrum Guide, so let’s have a look at the 2017 edition (latest revision when this article has been written) and how it describe the Scrum Master role … Let’s go for a bit of academic reading, it can be good from time to time:

📖 The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

Err … 🤔 nothing specific about a timekeeper role in this, except maybe: “Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.”

What we have here is a notion of Scrum rules keeper, but not specific to a clock-man. Let’s continue.

📖 Scrum Master Service to the Product Owner

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
Understanding and practicing agility; and,
Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.

🤓 Nothing about timers.

📖 Scrum Master Service to the Development Team

The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:

Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;

Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;

Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;

Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,

Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

🤓  Ah! “Facilitating Scrum events” … One could argue that keeping the time is facilitation. Or not.

📖 Scrum Master Service to the Organization

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;

Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;

Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;

Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,

Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

Aaaaaannnnd … No!

So, it seems that the Scrum Guide doesn’t put the Scrum Master as the dedicated timekeeper, or at least, not exclusively.

This role does exist

The “timer” part does exist in the definition of the Scrum Master role. It helps the team to keep events to be as short and efficient as possible:

✅ He or she doesn’t do it instead of the team

✅ He or she helps the team do it

Rapidly, the team must take charge of this timekeeper role. Every member of the team can and should take on this role in order to become self-sustaining. Including the Scrum Master.

As a Scrum Master, I like to stay away very soon during events, especially during the daily scrum, to observe to be a reminder that discussions can be completed after the event, with anyone involved.

The Scrum-clock-Master role is to be shared

Of course, activities of a Scrum-clock-Master can and should be shared in the team. This has some virtues:

  • The Scrum Master is not seen as only a timer
  • If the Scrum Master is off, the team knows how to do it
  • The team benefit from this learning for all events (scrum or not)

Is it a big deal?

Is it bad if you are a Scrum-clock-Master?

Yes! It is! In a Scrum team, the Scrum Master has a more important role to play than just being a timekeeper. The Scrum Master is here to coach and  support the team.

The tasks of the Scrum Master are not easy to be precisely described. I am often asked: so, what are you really doing? Supporting a team, is supporting Humans and not two days are alike, because missions are not alike, because humans we work with are unique, which makes a team a unique mix within an equally unique organization.

It is dangerous and kills teams to believe we can call ourselves Scrum Master of one (or several) team just because we check that dailies are not exceeding 15 minutes or because we organized a retrospective. 

Don’t be this kind of Scrum Master.

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