Do you rotate Scrum masters in teams?

Rotate Scrum masterDo you have the same person acting as a Scrum master for every iteration in your team(s)? Or do different team members take the role on turns? I’d like to hear how you do it, what works for you, and why.

The Scrum master rol should be fixed *during* an iteration but it can change *over* the iterations. So for instance one team member can be Scrum master for iterations 1 and 2, then another team member for 3 and 4, then the first team member again for iteration 5 and 6, etc.

Having the same person for the Scrum master in every iteration is easy, and it makes things clear for everyone. Most teams do this, and it seems to work. So why would you rotate the Scrum master role?

One advantage of switching the Scrum master is that during an iteration the Scrum master can focus with the team on realizing the user stories from the ongoing iteration, while the Scrum master for the next iteration gives extra attention on grooming the backlog with the product owner, and having good user stories when the next iteration starts.

Another advantage of Scrum master rotation is that you have a backup in case the team’s Scrum master becomes ill, is away for a longer period or not available due to some other reason.

If there is more than one team members who acts as a Scrum master then they can support each other when things get tough. They can also learn from each other.

Have you rotated the Scrum master role? Or do you work with fixed Scrum masters? I would love to hear from you!

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Nikolaos Raptis

    Well I think rotating scrum master is not the best approach. The reason for me is that scrum master role is complex. If it was clear what a scrum master should do then everyone could do it.

    But its not that case. Scrum Master should have deep knowledge and understanding of agile principles. Also she must be ready to protect the team from external interruption which mean many times probably even some conflict with external stakeholders and managers. Not everyone can do that. Person character plays an important role.

    Removing impediments has a broad meaning and some organization environments. Not everyone can cope with all the challenges and that’s why scrum masters are hard to find in general.

    Rotating Scrum Masters has benefits if extra effort is applied in passing the state of mind that a scrum master should have. Its a role that goes deep and it needs continues improvement and training.

    1. BenLinders

      Nikolaos, I fully understand and recognize your concerns. I never said being a Scrum master is easy (the same is true for being a product owner or team member BTW).

      Your reply reveals something that has been bugging me and which worries me. If the Scrum master role is so hard to do, if specific skills are needed, if it’s difficult to find good Scrum masters, then something must be wrong here.

      Agile including Scrum are there to help us to do our work better. And yes, that can take time, can be difficult at times, and will need training and the development of skills. But it shouldn’t be so damn hard that only a few of us are able to play the game.

      1. Nikolaos Raptis

        Thanks for the reply Ben. Yes I understand what you mean. Sure that’s the spirit and the goal a team should have. Meaning that understanding why scrum master does what she does then you have a good chance to increase awareness and effectiveness in the team.

        In the end if you achieve this level scrum master role could be obsolete or better could be described more accurately in the environment of the organization.

        That because the team will be effective enough and the only part that it will be “missing” is just to specify trivial or repeated tasks that the scrum master must do.

        But first the team should reach that state which is the most difficult part. Personally I have experienced that most of the times people are not much interesting understanding the role or they search for well defined guidelines to feel more comfortable.

        Especially if they are developers too and have to write code and in the same time being in the position to remove impediments. Buts that’s another interesting topic.

        1. BenLinders

          I can relate to not having many people in the organization that are interested in taking up the Scrum master role. This usually goes back to the organizational culture, where people have become risk averse, afraid to take on new things or to make mistakes. Culture change and agile adoption need to happen in parallel to be successful.

          I’ve blogged about Why dedicated Full-Time Scrum masters are hard to implement – and what’s the alternative where I also mentioned that when the organization matures the role of the Scrum master changes and can become obsolete.

          And there a lot of stuff written on my site about handling impediments, including Why Scrum masters shouldn’t be the one solving all impediments. But that’s indeed another full story 🙂

          Thanks for sharing your insights Nikolaos!

  2. Alessandro Rabitti

    Hi Ben, I think rotation of Scrum Masters may be something very interesting. But it is different what me and my colleagues SMs started to implement in our company. The rotations concern not Developers (in the Scrum acceptation) within teams but Scrum Masters across teams.
    I think we need still a bit of time before to have some insights about it, because we would like to have a frequency of 4/6 months and we would like to see rotations at least a couple of times before to arrive to a good answer.
    I have to agree with @NikolaosRaptis, I also believe that is better to have a dedicated Scrum Master instead of developers doing it because it is a role that needs study, experience, experiments and dedication. Also because Scrum needs stability in order to give best results. A bi-weekly change is too short amount of time to keep stable the pace.

  3. Ben Linders

    Thanks for your comment Alessandro

    Rotating Scrum masters over teams is a different thing than rotating the Scrum master role and duties within teams, with a different purpose. I’ve seen organizations who do this with the idea that a new Scrum master can bring fresh insights to a team (the same is true when you rotate any member BTW). What is your reason for doing this?

  4. Alessandro Rabitti

    Hi Ben, I know I went partially out of topic, talking about scrum masters across teams, but I did it just because I think it may be better across teams and not within, simply for the reason I already explained.

    And why doing this (or trying this) across teams? First of all as you said, to give different insights / ideas to a team, and it can also bring
    an improvement for the Scrum Master him/herself in gaining and living different experiences. In our company we more or less know each other, so a change should not be that traumatic for the Scrum Team.

    1. Ben Linders

      No worries about being off topic, this is a great discussion and I value I that I you take time to I react!

      You can actually do both, rotate within teams and over teams. They suit different purposes and if used carefully can even strengthen each other.

      Scrum masters can indeed learn from working with different teams, good that you brought this up.

      It helps when there’s a culture where people know and trust each other 🙂

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