Scrum Master Typologies

The Scrum Master role is difficult to understand and execute well. It’s not a manager, it’s not a technical role, it’s not a boss. It’s a leader, facilitator and coach. Not all Scrum Masters are at this level; what about you?

The Scrum Master is a very important role in Scrum. Like any important role, it’s not easy. People become Scrum Masters usually after following a brief training and being assigned to this role. So how do they deal with their new responsibility? We’ve seen a few patterns we’d like to share, hoping that you’ll use them to self-evaluate and find an improvement path.


1. The “Secretary” Pattern

What it is:

The “secretary” Scrum Master does two things only: makes sure that all Scrum meetings are held and that all artifacts are updated.

They add the meetings to calendar, find a room, make sure enough post-its, markers and flipcharts exist. They update the documents, tools and the board. This limited involvement in the team’s daily problems usually allows them to work with multiple teams, so it looks like they’re very professional and efficient.

When are they useful:

For teams that find and solve impediments by themselves, who are not afraid to go to the managers and negotiate for specific improvements and who can self-organize.

What they miss:

They miss all the opportunities for improving the team. An agile saying is “if you’re doing agile this year like you did it last year, you’re missing a lot”.

2. The “Facilitator” Pattern

What it is:

The “facilitator” makes sure that meetings are not only held in good conditions but also that they are effective.

They make sure each meeting has a clear purpose and agenda. They listen to the conversations, help the team members structure them, identify conflicts and mediate them. They know when to stop the meeting if it doesn’t advance towards its goal. They know various meeting formats that can be used for brainstorming, collective problem solving, negotiations, demo, synchronization or retrospective. They know it’s important to change the formats so that the team members don’t get bored with doing the same thing over and over.

When are they useful:

When historically the meetings in the company were a waste of time and everyone dreads the idea of having one meeting every day (the daily Scrum). Good facilitation skills alone can significantly increase productivity, in agile or non-agile environments. In Scrum, collaboration and communication are essential and cannot coexist with bad meetings.

What they miss:

The impediments are not removed, and the team doesn’t improve in time. Imagine that every meeting ends with a clear and quick decision that’s never implemented. This reduces the trust in the system and keeps the team’s pain to a constant or increasing level.

3. The “Improver” Pattern

What it is:

The “improver” extracts a list of impediments, solves a few of them and helps the team to solve others.

The good “improvers” are able to remove complex impediments of the type: we need a $10.000 piece of hardware, the room hasn’t enough oxygen or natural light, we need to renegotiate the deployment process with the IT department etc. They are careful to grow the team members by negotiating trainings. The “improvers” obtain needed licenses for useful applications and remember to celebrate team successes.

When are they useful:

Whenever you’re serious about continuous improvement. They will find out opportunities for incremental improvement that are hidden to everyone else.

What they miss:

Growing the team. While they might find learning needs, sometimes it’s important to push people ahead so that they can reach their true potential.

4. The “Teacher” Pattern

What it is:

The “teacher” knows everything about almost everything and is ready to tell you how to do it.

They are able to give a useful, clear presentation on a specific topic that helps clarify misunderstandings or learn a little bit of a new technique. They are avid learners and good speakers. Good teachers will challenge the team members to practice skills in a fail-safe environment to facilitate their adoption.

When are they useful:

Whenever your development schedule is relaxed or when you’re serious about having a learning organization.

What they miss:

There’s not enough time in the world to learn everything. “Teachers” have to balance their love for new topics with the realities of the team who probably needs a good selection of those topics. They also need to make sure they don’t spend too much time learning or teaching and leave enough for the recurrent activities that are less exciting but equally important.

5. The “Coach” Pattern

What it is:

The “coach” can look at a context and understand quickly what needs to be done to improve the team.

They have extensive knowledge of agile practices, technical practices, psychology, communication and how people learn. They can influence the context so that hidden impediments come to light. They can expose the team members to new ideas and gently push them towards reaching their potential.

When are they useful:

When you are mature enough to face your shortcomings and take action to overcome them.

What they miss:

Mastering coaching takes a lifetime. They will always feel that they miss a better or faster way to achieve a purpose, so they are constantly trying to improve themselves.

Have you seen any other patterns? What type of Scrum Master do you have? Which one applies to you?

If you want to better understand the Scrum Master role, we can help you with:

Want to learn something else? Let me know and we will create a customized package for your needs.

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