Scrum teams need Scrum Masters close by

Photo by Soren Cosmus

Photo by Soren Cosmus

It might sound odd that the Scrum Master needs to be close to the team since seems like an obvious requirement (where else would he be, right?), but that isn't always the case when dealing with distributed team members.  According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master's service to the Development Team includes:

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Teaching and leading the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

The Scrum Master's job is more than setting up and facilitating the scrum events, and it's unfortunate when the value of the role seems to be diminished to those few meetings. The Scrum Master does not disappear during a sprint until impediments are raised, and his job is more challenging when some team members are geographically dispersed:

  • A Scrum Master spends time getting to know his team members individually and coaches each of them; this comes more naturally when a team is co-located, but the Scrum Master needs to find a way to do this regardless through phone calls, IMs, video conferences, and if possible, the occasional face-to-face meeting. 
  • A Scrum Master is encouraging the sense of team and self-organization; again, this is easier when the team is co-located, but activities that are inclusive and add play can contribute greatly to this.  I've heard of a team that would include a distant team member in office birthday celebrations via webcam just so he would feel like a part of the team. 
  • A Scrum Master is observing and listening to the team as it works so he can reflect back to the team areas where improvement may be needed so they can see them more clearly and address them. Probably the most challenging, the Scrum Master needs to have a trusting relationship with team members so they can have "how was your day?" conversations without fear of micromanagement. 
  • A Scrum Master is ensuring that information radiators are created and reflect the team's reality.  I love posters and scrum boards on walls, and these same radiators need to be made visible to those outside the office, whether it be through an electronic tool, video, or photos.

A Scrum Master doesn't just attend a daily scrum and remind the team to update its task estimates each day until the end of the sprint.  He has a serious job to do, and his team needs him to be close by--no matter how far apart they might be geographically.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.