Divided loyalties makes for a bad scrum master. Don’t be a fox watching the hen house!

Not everyone who has the characteristics of a scrum master should be a scrum master. Here are five very simple guidelines to let you know who shouldn’t be the scrum master:

  1. The project or program manager.
    Classic project managers make very poor scrum masters in most cases. Project managers that have plied their trade by directing, controlling and enabling teams are the antithesis of a scrum master. It can be very difficult for project or program managers to shed their role as an enabler. I often see scrum masters with project management backgrounds revert to directing work in periods of stress.
  2. The product owner.
    Ruma Dak talked briefly about this recently on her blog. I agree with the thesis that product ownership is a full time job, making it difficult to do another full time job at the same time.  Even if both roles could be done at once, as the product owner it is very easy to sacrifice the team’s needs to attain more of the business’s needs. This can set up a classic ‘fox watching the hen house’ scenario.  While I strongly believe that having a product owner act as a scrum master is a bad idea, I have seen it work well for a short period of time in one project.  In this circumstance the original scrum master had left the company and the product owner stepped in while a replacement was found. It worked, but it was not sustainable as the product owner already had two jobs (his normal day job and the role of a product owner).
  3. The team’s line manager.
    One of the worst scenarios for the scrum master role is the team’s line manager. I can’t conceive of how this would facilitate the creation of an empowered, self-organizing team. Consider most anything else rather than this option.
  4. The busiest person on the team.
    The next worst person to fill the scrum masters role is the busiest person on the team. Interestingly if you ask for volunteers, this will be the person that is most apt to put their hand up. General rule (you can violate a guideline with proper caution, you should not violate a rule), if the person you want to be the scrum master does have time to do the job well find someone else.
  5. Anyone that does not want to be the scrum master.
    If you do not want to be a scrum master you will not do a good job.

Finding a scrum master begins with understanding the role and finding a person that has the necessary characteristics.  Next, does the person have the time and the passion? Finally consider whether there are conflicts of interests that using a product owner or line manager can cause.