September 23, 2015

1, 2 ,3 or 4….What’s the right number of teams for a Scrum Master?

Written by Bhavneet Sethi

 “How much scrum would a Scrum Master master,
If a Scrum Master could master scrum?
He would master, he would, as much as he could,
And master as much as a Scrum Master would.
If a Scrum Master could master scrum.”   —-Cindy Bloomer


When recently meeting with a client a very interesting question came up: How many teams should a Scrum Master Scrum? They had been hearing that a Scrum Master’s role is just a facilitator role and all the Scrum Master has to do is run the ceremonies, so a person in the role should be able to run 2-3 teams without any issue. Therefore a novice Scrum Master should just be Scrumming one team, an experienced Scrum Master can safely handle up to 2-3 teams and a very experienced Scrum Master can handle more than 3 teams.

In my opinion, the experience of the Scrum Master does not translate well into the number of teams they can handle. Although it is a factor, in all honesty, there are a number of factors that influence the decision, such as organizational maturity, team maturity, project type, the value of the project, and the effectiveness of the Scrum Master role.

Is the Scrum Master just a facilitator? If so, then yes, the Scrum Master can be over 2-3 teams.
Because then the expectations are just to run the ceremonies and make sure teams are running well, are working towards the objectives set in PIs, and are meeting the sprint objectives. And even for this scenario, the team needs to be a mature team. A team that has been together for at least 6-8 months has worked through the forming, norming, storming, and are now in the performing phase and no one on the team is very role specified. They believe that they have to accomplish stuff as a team.

It also depends on the Organization’s Agile Maturity. If the organization has just started the Agile Transformation journey and has yet to establish Scrum Practices, then the Scrum Master should just be dedicated to one team.  This is because they will have many impediments to resolve, and they will need to help team members understand and see the value in Agile practices. Helping a newly formed team adopt Agile practices will be a full-time job for the Scrum Master.

With all that said, I believe there are many factors that help determine the “best” number of teams for a Scrum Master to handle; the experience of the Scrum Master is just one of these factors. I have seen many experienced Scrum masters running just one team and declining to work on multiple teams at a time. Although I agree in some organizations Scrum Masters don’t have a choice – the number of teams a Scrum Master handles is a key differentiator in performance, both team performance and Scrum Master Performance.

I want to hear about your thoughts and experiences with the effectiveness and the Scrum Master role when it comes to scrumming multiple teams…

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3 Responses to “1, 2 ,3 or 4….What’s the right number of teams for a Scrum Master?”

  1. Flemming Bermann says:

    Agree with the above point that if the Scrum Master (SM) is only a facilitator, and the SM is working with teams that are mature and have adopted scrum already, yes, then a SM can quite easily run more than one team.

    However, a SM role, which just involves facilitating is in my view a rather idealistic view on what a SM should be doing.

    For starters the SM is expected to remove obstacles for the team so that the team can deliver. In other words, the SM is partly responsible for the success of the team’s performance.
    What constitutes an obstacle is a matter of definition, but if the team is finding that the code review process is impeding delivery, then this falls within the SM’s area of responsibility. How the individual SM removes this impediment will depend on the SM’s experience and drive. Experienced SM’s may write a proposal for the management team and help implement, while less experienced SM’s may simply write an email to point out the issue.

    SM’s who operate in a development environment where there is a lack of management – for example there is no dedicated test or development manager – can add a lot of value by helping to implement suitable engineering practices – an aspect, which is not defined or considered within the scrum framework.

    So within the definition of the SM’s role, there is a lot of value a SM can add to the organisation, in addition to being a facilitator. However, the more responsibility and value the SM contributes in addition to being a facilitator will determine if the SM will be able to run more than a single team.

  2. Bhavin says:

    If scrum master is absent during scrum call or he is not present during scrum call, then what should be the solution to resolve the blockers.

  3. Jannette says:

    When the Scrum Master is absent from the Daily Scrum, you have a couple of options. If the Scrum Master is available, but just didn’t attend; appoint someone from the team to record impediments and then pass those on to the Scrum Master after the Daily Scrum. If the Scrum Master is out sick, the Product Owner may be able to help out with facilitating the removal of an impediment. Otherwise, a team member will need to volunteer to take the lead.

    There are two concerns to think about; first as our sprint duration is typical short, the team can’t sit around waiting for impediments to be removed or they won’t finish the story; and second, if team members have to resolve impediments rather than having the Scrum Master facilitate resolution, it will likely impact the team’s velocity too.

    Remember we succeed or fail as a team, so when things aren’t going along “by the book” anyone can volunteer to do what is necessary to help the team succeed.

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