Rotating the ScrumMaster Role

Some teams that struggle with choosing the best ScrumMaster decide that an appropriate strategy is to rotate the role among all team members. I don’t advocate this, as I don’t think it demonstrates an appropriate respect for the challenges and significance of the role. In my family, we rotate who cleans the table and loads the dishwasher. Any of us can do that job. We do not, however, rotate who cooks dinner. My wife is a far better cook than anyone else in the family. We want the cooking to be the best it can be, so we don’t rotate that job. If you want your Scrum team to be the best it can be, I do not recommend that you make a habit of rotating the job of ScrumMaster. However, there are some occasions when you may want to rotate. The most common is when you want to create learning opportunities. For example, if team members are struggling to understand the duties of the ScrumMaster, they may want to consider rotating each team member through the role. This may allow each to develop an understanding of what it means to be a ScrumMaster. Similarly, if a team identifies four or five good ScrumMaster candidates among their ranks, it may want to rotate among them, giving each a chance to try the role. Then by considering the performance of each, the team will hopefully be able to choose the most appropriate ScrumMaster.

Bob Schatz and Ibrahim Abdelshafi of Primavera Systems point out another reason why rotating might be useful.

With time the team can begin to treat this position as their manager. And the person in that position typically detects and dutifully fills the apparent need. The result is a breakdown in the team’s self-management practice. By rotating the responsibility at the start of each sprint, it diffuses the role and makes it a shared team responsibility and establishes a balance of power. (The Agile Marathon in the Proceedings of Agile 2006)

So, although it is possible to rotate the job of ScrumMaster, I recommend doing it only for specific reasons, such as those just given, and only temporarily. Rotating should not be a permanent practice. There are simply too many problems with it, including the following:

  • Someone who has rotated into the role usually has other, non-ScrumMaster tasks to perform during the sprint, and these often take priority.
  • It’s hard to train enough people to do the role well.
  • Some people will use their time as ScrumMaster to try to push through changes to the process.
  • Designating someone as ScrumMaster for a sprint or two does not automatically make someone value the job, which can lead to ScrumMasters who think Scrum is a mistake.
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About the Author

Mike Cohn is the founder of Mountain Goat Software, a process and project management consultancy that specializes in helping companies adopt and improve their use of Agile processes and techniques. He is the author of User Stories Applied for Agile Software Development, Agile Estimating and Planning, and Succeeding with Agile. Mike is a co-founder of the Agile Alliance. He is also a co-founder and current board member of the Scrum Alliance. He can be reached at info@mountaingoatsoftware.com or connect with Mike on Google+.