Stefan Roock

All About Agile and Lean

Shades of Scrum: The Scrum Master role

The Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland states about the Scrum Master role:

„The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team.
The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.“

This definition states what the Scrum Master has to do but not how. And this is not a bug, it’s a feature. How to assume the Scrum Master role is highly dependent on the context. I like the situational leadership model to think about how the Scrum Master should do his job.


  1. Telling: When a team hasn’t done Scrum before it is unable to do Scrum and insecure if Scrum would really work for them (bottom right cell of the diagram). In this situation the Scrum Master should tell the team members what to do. Providing lots of options to the team will often result in paralysis. The team just doesn’t have the experience to choose one of the options. In addition to the Scrum framework the Scrum Master may tell the team to estimate in story points and use Planning Poker for it.
  2. Selling: After a short period of „Telling“ and delivering shippable product increments the team will move up to the top right cell. Now the team is secure that Scrum could work for them but is still unable of doing it (since it just did what the Scrum Master told them to do). Now the team is ready to take over a bit more responsibility and the Scrum Master moves to selling. He gives advice to the team and tries to convince them to do the right thing. In the „Selling“ state the Scrum Master explains in much more detail the whys of his advices. Now the Scrum Master may let the team decide if that want to estimate with story points or ideal days and wether they would use Planning Poker or something else. But the Scrum framework would not be modified by the team.
  3. Participating: Now the Scrum Master leaves most of the decisions to the team (and just jumps in when there is something really critical). The consequence is that the team becomes more capable but insecure again. „Can we be successful with Scrum when we do it ourself without the Scrum Master managing the whole thing for us?“  The team starts to self-organize in the „Participating“ state. Now the team may decide to do the Sprint Planning in another way and may remove the Daily Scrum (but not the Sprint Planning, Review or Retrospective).
  4. Delegating: Then the team experiences that it can succeed with Scrum without being dependent on the Scrum Master. Now the Scrum Master really acts as a coach leaving all decisions to the team. That means that the team may remove or adapt every single part of the Scrum framework.

In my experience switching between the left and right columns of the diagram is a challenge for most Scrum Masters. Some Scrum Master have the tendency to adhere strictly to the Scrum rules and give strict rules to the team. They are successful in the „Telling“ and sometimes in the „Selling“ state but often mess up the transition to the „Participating“ state. They just can’t let the team go.

And there are the Scrum Masters with a coaching mindset. They work successfully in the „Participating“ and „Delegating“ states but are challenged by unable teams. They often have problems providing the concrete guidelines to the team that it needs then.

One interesting question is of course: „Where is my team?“ A simple test is to not show up in a Daily Scrum. Will the team do a proper Daily Scrum? Then it is probably no longer in the „Telling“ state. What about the retrospectives? Is the team creative in finding solutions for its problems and does it implement the solutions successfully? Then the team is probably in the „Participating“ state. Or does the team just creates a list of things that other people should do? Or does the team create action items but fails in implementing them regularly? Then the team hasn’t reached the „Participating“ state yet.

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9 Antworten zu „Shades of Scrum: The Scrum Master role”.

  1. Hi Stefan, your use of secure/insecure in the telling and selling paragraphs doesn’t seem to match the diagram…?

  2. Thanks for sharing the Situational leadership model. I agree with you, that getting stuck in one of the phases is very likely and happens often. In my opinion it’s a task for the Scrum Master to really think about the team and his/her and the teams current state more often – to see what steps towards self organization could be the next. This model will help as it adds one more idea to support thinking about the state you’re in.

    I like your questions and mapping, although it would be interesting to have more challenging questions to ask for the different states – as this could help Scrum Masters 😉


  3. Ilja: Thank you for the for comment. You are right. I corrected the diagram.

  4. Avatar von bastiaanharmsen

    Hi Stefan, thanks for this. Very helpful and instructive. I watched Scrum Masters (including myself) being locked in a coaching role and sometimes not having done basic work for coaching: ‚contracts‘ with the coachees. Scrum Masters needs acceptance before starting to coach.

  5. Avatar von bastiaanharmsen

    The question ‚where is my team?‘ is great, thanks. Having to deal with this reality brings me to the question ‚where am i?‘ as Scrum Master. Do i think, the team is unable to do Scrum at all? Do i think, some members of the team will stay unable? What are the (psychological) games i play?

    And why is the question posed ‚where is MY team‘? Do i have the right distance? To guide and coach needs empathy, but also enough distance, to let the team sometimes go in a ‚wrong‘ direction without trying to correct that instantaneously. The opportunity to learn and steer increases the team’s capabilities and secureness.

  6. Avatar von bastiaanharmsen

    A simple question … why is ‚capable‘ left of ‚uncapable‘ in the diagram? You are going from the right lower quadrant to the left upper. If you swap, you get a nice management compatible diagram (always going up) 😉

  7. bastiaanharmsen regarding the left/right positioning of capable/unable: I just copied the most common form of the diagram and I have no idea why it is nearly always drawn this was.

  8. […] The ScrumMaster role: The article explains how the ScrumMaster role may change over time according to the ever growing capabilities of the team. […]

  9. […] For the Scrum Master it’s important to know the maturity level of the team to know how much to guide the team towards the sprint forecast. As a Scrum Master you ensure that the right questions are raised in the right moment. You can influence the sprint outcome with your guidance – either heavily or lightweight. Consider e.g. the situational leadership model (also nicely describe in shades of Scrum – the Scrum Master role). […]

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