Several times I've read

...good scrum masters make themselves superfluous...

I am aware that this is not quite true.

In our company we work for quite a long time with the agile concept and scrum. Therefore most employees know about scrum and the process is respected. As our scrum masters rethink their role and tasks, they name themselves agile coaches and take more and more tasks outside the team. So there is a little hole, which we want to close by installing a proxi scrum master (so called scrum guard), which is in fact a dev-team member.

So the scrum master tasks are split up between an agile coach and a scrum guard.

Now I've asked myself, which tasks make sense to be taken over by scrum guard?

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    Maybe you still have to meet a truly good Scrum Master? Because I think they do make them selves superfluous. As the team becomes fluent in their process they do not need a Scrum Master to remind them. As they see how impediments are removed, they can do that themselves. As the team learns to defend the process, they do not need a Scrum Master. If they understand how to deliver value iteration after iteration, do they really need a overseerer? – Niels van Reijmersdal May 12 '17 at 8:46
up vote 8 down vote accepted

In the talk "The land that Scrum forgot" of Robert C. Martin (one of founders of the Agile Manifesto) says:

A Scrum Master was a coach. A Scrum Master was not a manager. The Scrum Master was responsible for defending the process, but nothing else. He/she did not defend the schedule, not the budget, not the stories, not the backlog. Only the process and the role was supposed to rotate between the different team members. The idea was the role would slowly fade away. This was the initial concept.

(this quote is from around minute 20, but start at 18m12s to get the full story.)

Then he goes on about how the (project-)managers didn't like that interpretation and how these people wanted to be permanent Scrum Masters.

I would call your "proxy" just plain and simple Scrum Master and rotate someone in the team. Let the Agile coaches focus on getting the organisation to become truly Agile.

If we look at the Agile fluency model. The Scrum Masters would focus mainly on levels 1-2 and the Agile coaches on level 3-4.

Which tasks that is open for discussion, but I would focus on the typical Scrum Master tasks and add technical excellence focus on top of that. So that the team stays clean and can keep going fast over time.

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    Thanks for the input, I will have a look at the given sources. I think that the "serving PO"-part (scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#team-sm) is never fully done, so a real Scrum Master is never obsolete. Due to a lack of Scrum Masters (people), we can't manage having both Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters. A double role Scrum Master and Developer is forbidden and makes no sense :) – ppasler May 12 '17 at 9:06
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    You mean it makes no sense that it is forbidden? Social developers make the best Scrum Masters. Project-managers make the worst. – Niels van Reijmersdal May 12 '17 at 9:09
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    I mean that a Developer shouldn't be a "real" Scrum Master at the same time. To me this a conflict of interest, especially if there a re personal conflicts. – ppasler May 12 '17 at 9:14
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    Team members should own their process, therefor being a Scrum Master once in a while gives them that position to really feel it. Which is good in my book. I don't see how personal conflicts are different between developers and non-developers. A non-developer Scrum Master could have similar issues with developers. Scrum Masters should have no power. They only facilitate and defend the process. Personal conflicts should be resolved as soon as possible. As a manager I would even think if they cannot resolve their conflict I fire both of them. Self-organising teams have no room for conflict – Niels van Reijmersdal May 12 '17 at 9:36
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    I was a developer and a Scrum Master on a team and we kicked ass. Eventually, other team members started taking on more of the responsibilities as well. There is no conflict of interest when everyone's goal is the success of the project and team. Heck, my current SM has lamented that the team doesn't need him... – RubberDuck May 16 '17 at 1:10

Just making sure I understand your situation... Once your full-time Scrum Masters feel that they are 'done/ready', they want to graduate to 'Agile Coach', and nominate a developer as a part-time Scrum Master called 'Scrum Guard', yes?

The problem is that good Scrum Masters are supposed to work themselves out of their jobs. As servant/leaders, they perform, at a basic, high-level, two tasks:

  • Instruct on and enforce the Scrum process, both in the Team and organizationally. If the Scrum Master has done this successfully, then both the Team and the organization will have internalized the values of Scrum, and this step becomes no longer necessary.

  • Stand up for the Team's interests. You note in a comment that "a Developer shouldn't be a 'real' Scrum Master at the same time. To me this a conflict of interest". However, the Scrum Master is supposed to understand and represent the Development Team's interests. Who better to do this than a developer? This is the reason many consider it a good idea for a developer to be a part-time Scrum Master, and a bad idea for a Scrum Master to be a part-time Product Owner. (The downside of a part-time developer Scrum Master is a full-time Scrum Master has more time to focus on Scrum Mastering). If the Scrum Master has done this successfully, then the organization should be more receptive to the Development Team's concerns, and the Development Team should be more courageous and effective in bringing their concerns to the light.

If the Scrum Master has not already worked him/herself into obsolescence, then I would posit that s/he is not yet ready to give up the job and take up the mantle of 'Agile Coach'. If s/he is ready, then there would be no need for a 'Scrum Guard'. The Development Team will handle all of that itself.

  • I understand your point, but I think a Scrum Master is never superfluous, there are always tasks that requires contiuous contemplation. But the Developers and PO may take most of the tasks and have a look at processes and stuff. Installing a "Scrum Guard" is the attempt to have a role to make sure anybody is watching and reaches for external help if necessary. As you mentioned '...The Development Team will handle all of that itself' the Scrum Guard won't have much work if everything works fine. – ppasler May 12 '17 at 14:17
  • @ppasler What do you mean by "make sure anybody is watching"? – Sarov May 12 '17 at 15:04
  • I mean having somebody who is responsible to have a look at the Scrum Master tasks - for example somebody dedicated to watch the timebox or make sure the backlog stories are ready. After re-reading your answer I can't agree with your all or nothing approach - having a full Scrum Master or the team does everything. I think especially while the transition between those states, there has to be some kind of "workaround" - which might be the scrum guard. – ppasler May 13 '17 at 12:38

TL;DR

  • The Scrum guard role may be unnecessary, even distracting
  • Scrum Master may be a much bigger role than you're are considering it to be
  • The goal of a Scrum Master is not to be come superfluous (adding no more value) but to find higher order ways of adding value outside team dynamics and operation.
  • A Scrum Master skilled in coaching may still bring great value to a Development team and Product Owner even when they can function independently of that Scrum Master.

I want to affirm the rightness of a Scrum Master working to ensure they are not a bottleneck for the Development Team to function. Indeed, they should work to multiply the effect of the Development Team's work without creating dependence; however, this is very different from saying that a Scrum team de-coupled from a Scrum Master could derive no more value from having say, a skilled coach dedicated to them. Be careful of the Duning-Kruger here.

With respect to you and your organization as capable and independent people, I wonder if the Scrum guard role could be a distinction without a difference? If a Scrum Master's responsibilities are truly being split between two people, that would give me pause to consider the reason the distinction is being made. What value are you all getting from calling them a Scrum guard instead of a Scrum Master? Perhaps you are finding value the Scrum defender role, yet I do not see it from reading your post.

The goal of a Scrum Master extends beyond simply spreading knowledge of Scrum and ensuring events are conducted smoothly. It extends into the audacious and worthy challenge of coaching Scrum teams and whole organizations towards radically high performance. I know this to be fully within the contextual aim of Scrum and therefore the ultimate responsibility of a Scrum Master. This does not seem to me to be a job for which one would likely ever become superfluous. Unless...

...your organization is considering the Scrum Master role to be much smaller than it is intended to be. Perhaps this is why some consider rebranding themselves as agile coaches, a role that seems bigger to them.

  • I don't fully understand why the Scrum Guard might be distracting? Can you name some "higher order ways" sounds really interesting. Names are hollow, don't pay to much attention to Agile Coach, Scrum Guard or whatever you call a role. Scrum Guard and Agile Coach should work closely together and divide the tasks a real Scrum Master should take. – ppasler May 13 '17 at 12:45

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