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Why Scrum Masters can’t be responsible for delivery

Someone recently asked me if I could point them to some reading about whether Scrum Masters should be responsible for delivery or not. I strongly believe Scrum Masters should not be directly responsible for delivery, but after hunting online I can’t really find anything that talks specifically to this point. So I thought a blog post was in order.

I like to think of it as the Scrum Master being responsible for the long term health of the team/product. Their focus is always much longer term that one release, and I tend to find if they are made responsible for the immediate release, then their focus shifts to that rather than the longer term. They also choose delivery over both quality and process which are the two things they are responsible for upholding.

The Scrum Master is perfectly balanced in Scrum against the Product Owner. With the PO worrying about delivery and ROI and the Scrum Master worried about quality, process and the team. If you make the SM responsible for delivery you collapse the healthy tension Scrum tries so hard to create.

Some examples of what might happen if you make the Scrum Master responsible for delivery:

  • If the client wants an urgent patch for some issues, usually the Scrum Master will be checking the team don’t release unless they have met the definition of done. If the SM is now responsible for delivery, he might be tempted to look the other way.
  • The team don’t finish their stories, and it’s time for a retrospective. A long term focused SM will hold the retro to understand how this can be avoided in future. An SM who is on the line for delivery might cancel the retro to get the stories finished.
  • A team with alot of bugs might want to ignore them to get the release out. A good SM will remind them that quality is more important that building more features. An SM responsible for delivery, might encourage them to focus on features not quality.

There are probably many more than this. If your organisation wants to make the Scrum Master responsible for delivery, you need to ask what problem they are trying to solve. Is it because the team aren’t delivering? Maybe seek to understand why that is rather than making the problem worse. Is it because your organisation doesn’t understand the Scrum Master role, and is trying to turn them into project managers? Is it because your management believes that without someone controlling the delivery it won’t happen?

If your organisation make Scrum Masters responsible for delivery, post a comment to let me know why you think that is. Maybe I can help suggest some other ways of looking at the real problem.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Karin, agree totally with you on this. I have had many debates around this subject and also why I do not always agree that a Scrum Master can be a substitute for a Project Manager. Also the jury is still out whether the PO can be or should be responsible for delivery. My view is that the PO should be responsible for functionality, features and priority which can be in conflict with delivery. The ideal would be a situation where there is a PM, PO and SM each with their area of responsibility.


    December 17, 2011
  2. Scrum Masters shouldn’t be responsible for delivery. I explain this in my classes like so: A football coach/manager isn’t responsible for winning any given game, the team is; however the coach shares responsibility across many games (or for a the team’s performance in a season/year). The team (and indeed many organizations) need some coaching and guidance, and that is what the Scrum Master is for.
    Also to remove impediments and to protect the team.

    I think the confusion many organisations have w.r.t role of SM is due to insufficient appreciation of how radically different Scrum is from the traditional manner of running projects. Therefore they make a simplistic mapping, unfortunately a dreadful misunderstanding.

    February 7, 2012
  3. Pham Lan #

    If so (as 2 above comments), it is not Scrum anymore, it’s Scrum-but. The organization would not accept all the roles PM, PO and SM presence concurrently in a project. This increases the project cost.

    October 30, 2012
  4. Ved #

    I feel, a product owner should be responsible for traction and vision of the project and Scrum Master should be responsible for ensuring interactions between all the employees.

    If according to what explained above, that Scrum Master should not be responsible for Delivery, who else should it be?

    September 23, 2016
    • Karen Greaves #

      The team and Product Owner are responsible for delivery. The Scrum Master is responsible for the long term growth and improvement of the team.

      October 21, 2016
  5. NS #

    So – who is responsible for delivery? As a program manager running SAFE project, there are 10-squads with scrum master for each. Whom does program manager go to for delivery on time, cost and quality? Beyond implementation there are activities like user training and change management that have to be planned – adding additional project manager will only increase cost + lack of clarity for team on whom to listen to – scrum master or Project manager

    June 20, 2017
    • Karen Greaves #

      Thanks for the question. The team is responsible for delivering in the sprint. The Product Owner is responsible at the release level. I think things like training and change management should be planned and included in the release plan and managed by the Product Owner. If that is too much for the PO to manage then they can ask the team to do it, or add a project manager if that helps them. I would add the project manager as a team member if that is a required skill.

      I am confused by the question about “who the team should listen to SM or Project Manager”. What do you expect the SM or PM to be telling the team? The Product Owner is the one telling them what to build and their team mates are telling them how.

      June 20, 2017

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