Scrum’s Deep Dark Secret

Scrum has a deep, dark secret. It all started when Scrum was originally defined. One of the key goals was to empower the software developers to self-organize and take control of their destiny. This is often viewed as anti-management but I don’t believe that was the intent.

Self-organization demands that the team take responsibility for it’s work. This in turn means that the team will be held accountable for the decisions it makes and the results it delivers.

Here’s the problem. Scrum defines two powerful roles on the team — Product Owner (PO) and Scrum Master (SM). Filling these roles with high-quality people becomes a critical success factor for the team. That’s the deep, dark secret.

The Scrum Product Owner Is Powerful

The PO has qualities like the following:

  • Actively involved in the project and readily available
  • Knowledgeable about the software and the needs of the end users
  • Empowered to make business decisions
  • Collaborative, willing to discuss and negotiate
  • Decisive and able to make on-the-spot-decisions

These qualities comprise a lot to ask of a single individual. They place enormous responsibility on the PO and make the PO an easy target if the project gets into trouble.

The Scrum Master Is Benevolent

Similarly, the SM has a tough role to fill:

  • Responsible for adherence to Scrum principles
  • Humble in the sense that the SM serves the team not vice versa
  • Encourages collaboration among team members
  • Able to discuss business and technical issues
  • Influential without being controlling

Again, we have enormous responsibility placed on a single individual. Another easy target.

One could surmise that Scrum was designed to protect the software developers while setting up two non-developers as scapegoats should the project get into trouble. That’s not self-organizing and it’s not teamwork.

Honestly, I don’t believe that was the original intent of Scrum at all. I think the original intent has been distorted by a minority of developers trying to avoid accountability.

Scrum needs to get back to it’s roots. PO and SM are just two of the many roles on a team. The PO and SM have no more to do with the success or failure of the project than anyone else. That’s agile!

What do you think? Is there too much emphasis on the PO and SM roles?

Updated: March 30, 2011 — 10:05 pm

1 Comment

  1. Interesting take on this. I agree, they are members of a whole team, but it’s a balance of power.

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