The Scrum Master’s Burden

I came across this suggestion on the Scrum Guide’s User Voice forum. Here is the suggestion:

In “The Scrum Master” chapter it says:

“The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted”.
Change to: “The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting the Scrum implementation”

Then it says “Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.”
Change to: “Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, and rules.”

Rationale for change: this whole paragraph makes the SM a process enforcer rather than a servant leader. Suggesting a better way of phrasing it.

I’ve struggled with this language, but I am not in favor of changing it in this way. This language is challenging and has caused me to read more deeply into the SG. I’ve had to work to reconcile the larger context presented in the guide with phrases like this. As a Scrum Master, it has spurred me to act with more courage being given so weighty a responsibility.

Given the context of the rest of the SG, I do not find a basis for an SM to act as a process enforcer. The SM is described as the “servant-leader” of the Scrum team. It seems unlikely to me that an SM as process enforcer will pass the following test of servant-leadership, “[Will those being lead], while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

Moreover, if responsibility is understood within it’s connotative range of meaning, the Scrum Master may instead be “taking on the burden” of ensuring that Scrum is understood enacted.

To accomplish this as a servant-leader, an Scrum Master is forced to deeply understand Scrum and deeply respect those in her Scrum team and organization. Her expert and referent power must grow and she must avoid coercing, rewarding, or seeking “legitimate” power by being appointed to a position of authority.

An alternative is to read “responsible” as meaning that the Scrum Master’s neck is on the line for Scrum being enacted. Surely, if such were the case in environments where Scrum is not well understood or adopted it would be a harrowing and precarious role indeed whether or not the Scrum Master has the authority to mandate behavior.

The language could probably be tweaked to be clearer in it’s intent, but I find the context of the Scrum guide is sufficient for accurate interpretation. Furthermore, the language has had a positive effect on me and my growth as a Scrum Master.


Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, aspiring agile coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.