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How many teams can one Scrum Master support?

And why two is the right answer.

Artful sayings

We all know the saying, “A good Scrum Master can lead two teams, an extraordinary Scrum Master can lead one team”. Why is this - in my humble opinion, of course - complete nonsense? And how many teams can a Scrum Master handle in order to support them optimally?

Let’s take a look at the arguments of the one-scrum-master-per-team-theory

  • The Product Owner needs someone to watch him all day long and make sure he does not get involved in the daily work because …
  • The poor team is completely helpless and can not defend itself against the Product Owner.

In addition, cultists of this theory like to list the manifold tasks a Scrum Master has. And their efficient fulfillment requires much time, leisure and dedication. But (and there is always a big but).

Reality check

Efficient is not the same as effective. Yes, as Scrum Masters we have a lot of responsibilities and obligations. Towards the organization we work for, but above all towards our team members. But - and for the religious Scrumers this might be a new realization - those team members are all grown up (as long as you aren’t working in an Agile Kindergarten). And I think we all can understand this quite well: they want to be treated like adults.

Burn all your checklists

Trust your teams! They can do it on their own. Forget all checklists for Scrum Masters that those High Priests of Scrum have recommended to you (except for this one of course). Use your common sense. Yes, our common sense often distorts insights, but here it helps a lot.

Let’s be honest: if I am on vacation for two weeks and when coming back, I find my team completely down the drain, I did something wrong. Not just before my vacation, but during my whole tenure.

The opposite of good is good intention

A Scrum Master who guards her or his team all day long often has the opposite effect of the actual intention. When the goal is to have someone dedicated to one team, the result is often that Scrum Master and team grate on each other. And in the worst case, it ends with them living side by side and sleeping through the Scrum meetings. Is that still Agile? Not as far as I’m concerned.

But why is that? Because our work lives are kind of opposite. The Scrum Master has a lot of roles, the team often has only one. And our job as Scrum Master is not obviously productive. We do not create anything. At least nothing you can show to a customer during a Review meeting. And when you’re sitting there all day, you’re tempted to play teambuilding-games and other funny things. And thus you kill the flow of your team.

Theory vs. reality

So who wins, theory or reality? As always in life: reality.
In other words, if a Scrum team does not have too many members (more than seven developers - but you are going to have other concerns with such large teams) and I am having some experience as Scrum Master, I should - in my opinion - be part of two teams. And if there is only one Scrum team in my company, I would go and find additional activities.

Think back to our childhood: you and your friends are sitting in one of your friend’s room and play some games. And there was always this type of mother who entered the room with some juice and cookies at least twice the hour. That was really annoying, wasn’t it? And we certainly do not want to be like that mother. So let’s give our teams some air and start trusting them.

Published 27 August 2018.

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Thoughts about modern project management - classic, agile, hybrid. You can find Stephan Weinhold on LinkedIn and XING. Oh, and you should follow him on Twitter.