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Part 3: Do I Really Need a ScrumMaster for Agile Marketing?

not-so-easy-buttonIn my last post, I explained some pro’s and con’s for mixing the Scrum Master and Marketing Owner roles, and why it may look really appealing but it’s actually hard to pull-off successfully.  So who else can we get to wear the Scrum Master hat?  The next likely candidate is a member of your Scrum team.

To start, which team member is a good candidate?  You won’t like the answer so let me start with an explanation of who’s a bad candidate: your most inexperienced and/or least-critical team member.  We’ll call him “Junior”.

After all, since Junior doesn’t contribute as much critical work, there’s less impact on our team if we shift some of his time to being a Scrum Master.  So why is this a horrendously bad idea?

  • Other team members don’t respect Junior so they won’t listen to his feedback
  • Junior doesn’t know enough about the actual work the team does to have much insight into ways to improve.
  • Junior has no street-cred with key people outside your team who are often blocking progress (legal, execs, sales, etc.) so they won’t give his requests the attention they require.

In other words, while Junior can handle the administrative stuff like taking notes and updating burn-down charts, Junior will be completely ineffective at the highest-value Scrum Master activities.

Who’s the best candidate then?  You want someone that has a broad understanding of marketing activities, is respected by team members, and is well-known by people outside of marketing.  We’re likely talking about one of your most experienced and most valuable contributors.  We’ll call her “Sarge” – and for you military folks, yep, we really are looking for someone who’s like a senior enlisted person, e.g. a sergeant.  Which is why you’re getting chest pains just thinking about losing a significant portion of Sarge’s time to being a Scrum Master.  It’s actually not as bad as you think – in fact, it can be a great move:


  • Sarge has good relationships with team members and understands their work, making her effective at spotting collaboration opportunities and removing technical/internal obstacles.
  • Sarge has the experience and insight to “keep the team honest” for both estimates and amount of work committed-to.
  • Sarge has enough street-cred with the team to have their suggestions and coaching taken seriously.


  • Expectation that you’re going to decrease your team’s productivity because Sarge is doing less marketing work.
  • May be awkward for the Scrum Master to hold Sarge accountable for Sarge’s tasks when they’re the same person.
  • Early-on, it’s easy to underestimate the Scrum Master’s workload and wind up overestimating Sarge’s individual capacity to do sprint tasks.

The pro’s look good (and are really similar to those for the Marketing Owner filling this role).  And the one major con, the expected hit to productivity, may very will not happen.  Productivity may actually INCREASE.  How is that?  Once teams hit their stride with Scrum, they often find their productivity has increased MULTIPLE times over.  So even though Sarge is contributing fewer hours to finishing marketing tasks, the overall team’s productivity has gone through the roof, and that has a lot to do with Sarge’s effectiveness as the Scrum Master.

Another benefit to consider – this could be a really good career move for Sarge and for your team:

  • Sarge may currently be getting burn-out from being the overworked person always on the critical path for the most important marketing deliverables.
  • Sarge may currently be frustrated by the lower productivity of people like Junior.
  • The Scrum Master role will give Sarge a new challenge, a break from constantly doing the same work, and will give her the opportunity to mentor Junior and play a direct role in helping the entire team perform.
  • In short, the Scrum Master role may keep Sarge from getting fed-up and leaving.

That last point may ring a bell for some of you.  If you think re-allocating some of Sarge’s time would be painful, think how painful it will be when Sarge decides to quit out of the blue.  So this can definitely be a win-win for you, your team, and for Sarge.

That’s it for discussing other people to multi-role and wear the Scrum Master hat.  But let’s also make one thing really, REALLY clear:

DON’T set things up so the team members officially report to the Scrum Master on the org chart, e.g. don’t make the Scrum Master the team members’ manager.  And vice versa – don’t make the team’s manager their Scrum Master.  MANY bad things can and will happen if you do that:

  • Team members won’t keep their stand up status short and sweet.  Why?  They want their boss to know they’re really busy and that means listing off a million and one details.
  • Team members won’t give open and honest feedback in retrospectives.  Why?  Constructive criticism of other team members will feel like you’re “throwing them under the bus” in front of their boss.
  • It’s important to have a really effective Scrum Master, and it can be hard to give constructive criticism about your Scrum Master when they control your performance reviews, salary and bonuses.

So that’s a baaaaaaaad idea.  Got it?  Good.

In the next post, I’ll discuss how to help make the transition easier for the person who’s going to filling multiple roles.  In the meantime, have you ever had a team member also act as the Scrum Master?  How did that work for you?

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