Scrum Master Q&A Fulltime Scrum Master Role

In my Scrum Master training courses, I get a lot of questions about the workload of a Scrum Master. One question I hear frequently is this:

Is the Scrum Master role a full-time job?

The answer is yes! In my opinion, the Scrum Master role is a full-time job. As a Scrum Master, you support the Development Team, the Product Owner, and the organization. You help others understand and master Scrum, and to achieve their potential at different levels.

Scrum Master activities can include any of the following:

  • facilitating Scrum events
  • working on the Scrum process
  • helping teams to become better
  • supporting empiricism
  • promoting inspecting and adapting
  • facilitating teamwork
  • removing and solving impediments,
  • assisting the Development Team to become self-organizing
  • help the Scrum Team to live by the Scrum values,
  • and observing team dynamics.

You will have your Scrum Master radar on at all time. You watch the things that are not being said, and you sense the things that are not on the surface. You can’t do that if you’re not there.

With this in mind, here are some answers to some other frequently asked questions.

Can you combine your Development Team role with the Scrum Master role?

No, you will lose focus and will not be able to excel in either role.

Imagine yourself as a developer, you are in the zone, minding your own business and delivering value. Then, suddenly, another developer has an impediment - the deployment to the acceptance environment did not go well because this environment is down. Your team member has tried everything to get it back up again, but it doesn’t seem to help. He asks you if you could help him. If you do not help your team member right away, he is not able to continue. So you leave your current coding and help your team member. When you finally have solved the impediment, you return to your work and continue. You have to connect with the subject again, since you were distracted for a while. Your focus is lost.

What if your company requires you to combine your Development Team role with the Scrum Master role?

If your company requires you to combine your team and Scrum Master role, make clear agreements with the Development Team about how to interact in the event of an impediment. Make it explicit agreements which role has priority.

Can we rotate Scrum Mastership amongst Development Team members?

No, you can’t rotate Scrum Mastership amongst Development Team members because not everyone on the team is a capable Scrum Master. The Scrum Master role requires certain capabilities, skills, and behaviors. Some of these Scrum Master characteristics can be learned, coaching, listening, facilitating, mentoring, observing, intervening but others are innate, such as servant leadership and being pro-active. If you have a role on the Development Team and you are also the Scrum Master, you will lose focus.

What if your company requires you to rotate Scrum Mastership?

If your company requires you to rotate Scrum Mastership, make sure that you are the Scrum Master for more than one sprint (e.g. three sprints) so you can start developing SM skills before you switch.

Can you combine the Product Owner and Scrum Master role?

No, it’s not a good idea to combine the Product Owner and Scrum Master roles because it creates a conflict of interest.

As a Product Owner, you’re busy with your stakeholders, changes in the market, exploring what delivers the most business value and helping the Development Team understand the requirements you have. As a Scrum Master, your focus is on supporting the Development Team, the Product Owner, and the organization. So, the people you contact the most are different and have different approaches.


As a Product owner, you want to deliver business value at the right pace. You can challenge the Development Team to take up a lot of items in the Sprint Backlog. As a Scrum Master, you protect the Development Team from overly demanding Product Owners (believe me, they exist). You do this by helping them asking challenging questions, like: Do we really believe we can finish this? Do we understand what is being asked? It is difficult to approach the team while wearing two hats. You will lose focus.


What if your company requires you to combine the Product Owner role and the Scrum Master role?

If your company requires you to combine the Product Owner role and Scrum Master role, make sure you have a clear distinction between them.  It’s also important to clarify which position you’re coming from with those with who you interact.


Can you work as a Scrum Master at a different location from your team or the Product Owner?

No, it’s not possible to function effectively in the role of Scrum Master if you are not onsite with the Development Team. You need to be present to sense the things unsaid or feel the vibe in the room. If the Scrum Master and Development Team work at the same location but the Product Owner and stakeholders are at another location, the necessary contact and collaboration are lost.


What if logistics require the Scrum Master and Development Team to work in separate locations from the Product Owner and stakeholders?

If you can't work in the same onsite location, interact with each other as often as possible. Make an all-day video connection if possible. Ask Development Team members who work on different locations to work together in the same location for a period of at least one month. The team members will get to know each other a bit, this will help to build trust in the team.

If you’re still stuck in a situation that prevents your Scrum Team from performing at its best, please contact us:


Scrum Master Scan

There was a point you were a Scrum Master for the first time. Maybe you read about Scrum and decided the Scrum Master role would be perfect for you, or maybe your company chose to work with Scrum and pointed you out as the Scrum Master. Either way, there was a day one as a Scrum Master, you started learning about Scrum, about people, about organizations and a lot more.
As Scrum Masters, we never stop learning. I learn every day, I experiment, I broaden, deepen and share my knowledge, and I challenge myself to keep learning. To find new suitable ways to facilitate, new models to use when coaching people, games to bring things across, etc.
I fail, and I learn, I succeed, and I learn. I do assessments, and I fail; I do assessments, and I pass. But in all these activities I learn. But in which areas can I learn most?
As a part of the learning process of a Scrum Master, we developed a Scrum Master Scan.
To see at which points you have learned and at what point you have room to learn more. The scan is an online survey with almost 90 questions. The result is a graphical display with a score on three areas, attitude & behavior, craftsmanship, and results. Are you a Scrum Master and want to use the Scrum Master Scan, please contact 

Will Agile be trashed?

treeAgile is hot. Almost every Fortune 500 company is “Doing the Agile Thing”. But with the success also the critics are growing rapidly. The post “Agile is Dead” from Matthew Kern was extremely popular. Many of his arguments are dead right. For example, Agile has become a brand name and a hype and the original Agile Manifesto has lost most of his power and purpose by bad interpretations of it.  But there is a lot more to add to this discussion which is often based on misinterpretations what Agile actually means.

Read more →

Scrum Day Europe 2016

During the 5th edition of Scrum Day Europe, Laurens and I facilitated a workshop on how to “Add Visual Flavor to Your Organization Transformation with Videoscribe.”

The theme of the conference, “The Next Iteration,”  was all about the future of Scrum. We wanted to tie our workshop into the theme of the conference, so we had a creative brainstorming session and identified four key elements that we think are important in the future of Scrum.

Scaling: Do Scrum well first, before scaling Scrum.  You should only scale when needed and if the organization is ready.

Done: A “done” increment means actually done, all the way into production. We hope that future Scrum teams will be able to put things into production themselves. We still see a lot of teams with dependencies on other teams for delivering increments to production.

Product Owner: We’re still searching for great Product Owners who understand the product and the market. These Product Owners work well with teams and are empowered, mandated and have a product vision.

Scrum everywhere: We already see Scrum in construction, health care, schools, marketing and many other places. In the future, we see Scrum used everywhere.

Since Laurens is such a great drawer, he sketched out the four elements, and we made a VideoScribe of them. You can find our video here:

During our presentation at Scrum Day Europe, we demonstrated each of the seven steps required to produce this video. To bring Videoscribe to life, we asked the attendees to suggest a fifth element for the video on the future of Scrum. They came up with “Happiness.”   We then went through the steps to make a video, asking for different volunteers to record a voice over and draw pictures for the message. Here are the results:

The attendees were impressed and amazed to see that they could produce a very smart looking Videoscribe themselves.  Overall, the workshop feedback was very positive. We also received some tips for improving it, such as showing examples of how real companies have used this method. But because Videoscribes are usually made for internal use only, we could not show these at the conference.  For our next session, we probably  make an example Videoscribe for a non-existing company which is shareable with the audience.

One of our attendees was so inspired by our session that we are invited to facilitate a workshop for her management team!



"Tealing" The Capitol using Holacracy, Lean and Scrum

Something absolutely revolutionary (or should I say evolutionary) is currently unfolding @WaTech. This CIO-department of the State of Washington is transforming towards the first Teal governmental organization in the US and perhaps even worldwide.

C24DFB21-3029-4E3A-BC31-A6C9CEB01A34Invited by initiator CIO deputy Michael DeAngelo, Joe Justice and I visited the WaTech offices in Olympia to observe and coach the Scrum teams applying Scrum, Lean, and Holacracy.  What we’ve seen there can be described best as energizing, accelerating, customer centric and dedicated.   Characteristics you’ll expect from a start-up, not from a governmental organization.

This was exactly what Michael DeAngelo had in mind starting this journey in order to be more competitive with WA-State based companies like Microsoft, Disney, Expedia, Amazon and Boeing by creating an awesome "Smell of the Place".

Ingredients for this tasteful recipe were Agile, Lean and Holacracy.  These methodologies paved the way for a different, more empowered mindset of WaTech employees.

WaTech is using Scrum to enable fast learning and acceleration and stay focussed on the most important Minimal Viable Product (MVP). In combination with the core principle of Lean, how do I create a maximum of customer value with as little effort as possible, a powerful combination was born.

But still, bureaucracy and time-taking decision making would still be there without Holacracy.  How does Holacracy eliminate this?   Holacracy is a system that makes accountability in an organization crystal clear.  Decisions don’t need to travel looking for a home.  They belong to the person who is empowered for the specific role.  As a result, 80% of team members feel empowered and confident they can lift impediments themselves.

hola sergeAnother powerful mechanism in Holacracy which prevents long decision making, is consent.  Unless you have a tangible example how a proposal could cause harm or move the organisation backward, the proposal will be accepted. Currently, an average decision in a governance meeting takes less than 2 minutes. This means a decrease of 93%(!) with the situation before Holacracy.

Step by step but determined, WaTech is moving towards a self-organizing Teal Organization.  WaTech employees feel more empowered, valued and happy.  It's no rocket science to draw the conclusion this a blessing for the citizens of the state of Washington.

Perhaps the most important outcome is team members don't think in restrictions anymore but use their imagination again pushing borders achieving the unthinkable: projects which would have taken 3 years before, are now executed in just 3 months.

The next phase of this transition will be even more exciting and challenging; Leadership from the local government is needed to enroll Agile, Lean and Holacracy in more departments. However, new elections are underway later this year.  Let's see what happens. But I'm convinced the teams we've seen in Olympia would even survive the biggest storm!

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 10.12.11 PMCurious about a more in-depth analysis and the current situation @WaTech?  Join our presentation and panel discussion @Agile2016 in Atlanta!  See you there on July 25th!


Solving Agile portfolio planning for Lawns 'R' Us

Agile portfolio planning is a great (chief) product owner tool to plan and trace initiatives across various teams. Implementing it can be difficult and cumbersome at times. This post explores the number one critical success factor to do Agile portfolio planning right; Outcome oriented decision making.
Outcome goals are valuable for streamlining your Agile portfolio planning and engaging people involved. Having them clear, enables you to judge all initiatives and ideas based on their contribution to these goals. This creates focus and clarity. For product owners this means it will be easier to explain to others where and when people will work on certain ideas, as well as saying no to the irrelevant ones. Simple two by two frameworks can help you clarify the details and course of action, be it directly product related or impacting you from the side-lines.
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Common Sense Agile Scaling (Part 1: Intro)

Agile is all about running experiments and see what works for you. Inspect and adapt. Grow. This also applies to scaling your agile organization. There is no out of the box scaling framework that will fit your organization perfectly and instantly. Experiment, and combine what you need from as many agile models and frameworks as you can to do “Common Sense Scaling”.

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Bringing Agile to the Next Level

The Best is Yet to Come written on desert roadI finished my last post with the statement Agile will be applied on a much wider scale in the near future. Within governmental organizations, industry, startups, on a personal level, you name it.  But how?  In my next posts I will deep dive in this exciting story lying in front of us in five steps:

Blogpost/Step I: Creating Awareness & Distributing Agile Knowledge
Change is a chance, not a threat.  Understanding and applying the Agile Mindset and toolsets will help everyone riding the wave of change with more pleasure and success.  This is the main reason why I’ve joined initiatives like Nederland Kantelt, EduScrum, Wikispeed and Delft University’s D.R.E.A.M. Hall.

Blogpost/Step II: Fit Agile for Purpose
The Agile Manifesto was originally written for software.  Lots of variants of the manifesto emerged the last couple of years serving different sectors and products. This is a good thing if the core values of the agile manifesto are respected.

However, agile is not applicable for everything.  For example, Boeing will never apply Scrum directly for producing critical systems.  They’re applying Scrum for less critical parts and R&D processes. For determining the right approach they use the Cynefin framework.  In this post I will explain this framework making it a lot easier where you could apply Agile and where you should be careful.

Blogpost/Step III: Creating a Credible Purpose or “Why”
You can implement a new framework or organization, hire the brightest minds and have loads of capital, in the end it all boils down to real passion and believe. Every purpose should be spot on in hitting the center of the Golden Circle.  But how to create this fontainebleau in spring?

Blogpost/Step IV: Breaking the Status Quo and Igniting Entrepreneurship
Many corporate organizations are busy or have implemented existing frameworks like SAFe or successful Agile models from companies like Netflix and Spotify.  But the culture change which goes with it, is the most important step. How to spark a startup mentality in your organization?  How to create real autonomy?

Compass with needle pointing the word organic. Green and grey tones over beige background, Conceptual illustration for healthy eating and organic farming.Blogpost/Step V: Creating Organic Organizations
Many Agile implementations do not transform organizations in being intrinsically Agile.  To enable this, organizations should evolve organically, like Holacracy.   They will become stronger and stronger by setbacks and uncertain circumstances.  Organic organizations will be more resilient and anti-fragile.  In fact, it’s exactly how nature works.  But how can you work towards this ideal situation?