Recently I have been asked by some stakeholders why it is always me in the role of ScrumMaster instead of just rotating it periodically inside the team. The motivations following this remark have been:
- It is recommended by agile.
- It has been done by another Scrum team inside the company and it worked well.
Is it really true that the SM role should rotate inside a team?
I don’t agree with the idea of having a permanent rule to rotate the SM role specially when it comes from outside the team and those motivations seemed to me not really valid ones. I also clearly remembered what is written in “Succeding with Agile” by Mike Cohn about rotating the SM role. What he says is that the habit of rotating the job of SM is not recommended and it could be done in some occasions and for specific reasons but not as a permanent practice. The risk to rotate systematically the role is that the stakeholders don’t really understand the duties of the ScrumMaster and they can start thinking that everybody can do it. We know instead that to be a good ScrumMaster we need particular skills.
Furthermore in companies that haven’t fully transitioned to agile and are mainly organized in a different way (ex: waterfall development) I find that there isn’t always a clear understanding of what a ScrumMaster really is. In such organizations the role of ScrumMaster can be a little different from team to team and it can depend on the context. Sometimes when these companies need a ScrumMaster they need also other skills and other responsibilities and in this case I think rotating the role is even more complicated and risky.
Why it worked well for one team inside the company? Why the rotation cannot be applied on every team?
The asnwer is simple: every team is different. It’s a mistake to think that what worked well for one team should work well for another and in my particular case between the two teams there were some differences: my team was a cross-functional team with no manager inside and working on different functionalities of the application (from UI to DB), the second team was a UI team working in a dedicated UI project with a manager be also part of the team. The context was different and the role of the ScrumMaster in the two team was a little different too. As we told earlier, the context is important.
I didn’t think the motivations were really valid and I didn’t think it was a good idea too to put in place a permanent rotation. I clearly expressed my position to stakeholders but I didn’t want to defend this position alone… I was there to represent the team, I was the servant leader for the team so what the team thought about this? Did they feel the need of this rotation of SM role?
What I did as ScrumMaster
I decided to schedule a retrospective meeting with the team, dedicated to the subject of rotating the SM role, to know what the team thought about it and what they wanted to do.
The results of the Retrospective have been that the team didn’t feel the need to rotate the ScrumMaster role and they didn’t want to have a predefined rule to rotate it. It should have been a team choice when someone in the team wanted to try the ScrumMaster role. One team member told in the retrospective that he would have been interested to try the role temporarly in view of taking then a CSM certification, but not immediatly. The team agreed also to put in place something to improve the situation when the ScrumMaster wasn’t available (back-up).
As a result of the retrospective we added in the team wiki a section dedicated to the role of the ScrumMaster with all the responsibilities and the tasks to do. This guide is actually used as a reference for the back-up ScrumMaster and to give also visibility outside the team on the duties of the role.
What I learnt
As ScrumMaster I tried to express my position to stakeholders giving the reasons why the habit of rotating the role wasn’t really a good idea but sometimes is not easy to convince people. In these situations you can do a step back remembering that as ScrumMaster you are a servant leader for the team and you can let the team decide. It’s much more easier if all the team agrees on a position to defend and legitimate it.