Scrum Rules: Your Scrum Master Has Final Authority on the Correct Way to Use the Scrum Process

August 20, 2020
5 minute read

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring the correct use of the Scrum process. Because the Scrum Master is usually the most well read on Scrum, always trying to improve the team’s understanding of Scrum, facilitating the Scrum meetings, and developing new ways to develop relationships and structures that allow Scrum to thrive, he is the most able to guide the team in its use of Scrum.

This authority holds within the Scrum Team where the Scrum Master is a member and overrides any external authority as applied to that team. However, this does not mean that the Scrum Master becomes a guru that withholds learning and understanding and guards it as if it is a treasured jewel. Instead, it is also the responsibility of the Scrum Master to enable understanding, learning, and action so that the team advances together. Having this authority allows the Scrum Master to stop any argument about the Scrum process, and ensure that the team is focused on action. If the Scrum Master does not have final authority on the correct way to use the Scrum process, it is very likely that the Scrum Team will flounder, argue, and limit the progress of the team by not continually improving how they use and interact with the elements of Scrum.

Granting the Scrum Master this authority is a multi-step process. First, the Scrum Master must demonstrate detailed knowledge of Scrum. Although the Scrum process is simple at a high level, there is a great deal of incorrect information about details that can be found online and in other references. There are two primary sources of correct, up-to-date information about Scrum: the Agile Atlas and the Scrum Guide. The authority of the Scrum Master rests on this knowledge. The Scrum Master then needs direct and explicit approval from their manager to help their team use Scrum “by-the-book”. The manager makes that approval known to the Scrum Team; it should not be communicated by the Scrum Master. As a third step, the same manager also needs to create a performance objective for the Scrum Master to create accountability for the Scrum process. Finally, the other members of the Scrum Team, including the Product Owner, must have their respective managers create official accountability for following the directive of the Scrum Master with respect to the Scrum process. The only limit to this authority is in the executive-level decision to use Scrum or not to use Scrum, but use something else (which may be Scrum-like). Since the Scrum Master does not control that decision, it is also important that the person in this role is willing to declare a team to be “not-Scrum”.

There are three stages of development in the use of Scrum: first, adopting Scrum, second, using Scrum, and third, transcending Scrum. The authority of the Scrum Master over the Scrum process is really most important in stage one and two where doing Scrum by-the-book is necessary. In stage one, the Scrum Master is educating the team and stakeholders about how to do Scrum properly and overcoming any obstacles to doing so. In stage two, the Scrum Master is ensuring that Scrum is running smoothly and the team is developing to a high-performance state. In stage three, the Scrum Master’s authority over the Scrum process still exists, but is relaxed in order to allow the Scrum Team to experiment with modifications to the process. All such experiments should be controlled with carefully measured results. If the results do not measure up, then the Scrum Master’s authority re-asserts itself and the experiment is ended. This may be a long process and going through the first two stages can take years for some teams and organizations. If your team has never done Scrum by-the-book, then it is still in stage one (assuming that the executive strategy is to use Scrum).

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 Guide

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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