The Case for a Full Time Scrum Master

Mitch Lacey | May 16, 2012

Organizations often have difficulty transitioning to an agile process such as Scrum or XP. Even after they get past the “it’s a fad” or “we can’t work like that” excuses, some in the organization still have trouble letting go of old ideas and habits. One of the most common arguments teams face is that the organization can’t justify or afford a full-time Scrum Master. Organizations are used to having people wear multiple hats; having a team leader that doesn’t also contribute to the work of the iteration is hard for many to understand.

I am often asked how I measure the impact a Scrum Master has on a team or organization, and how I convince management to “allow” a person to take on the Scrum Master role full time. My answer: Start with rates of improvement and relate that to dollars and cents.

Though each team will have different velocities, run a different number of iterations, and have different overall results, the rate of improvement on an agile team follows the same general pattern: a marked period of improvement followed by a plateau.

Teams with engaged, empowered, full-time Scrum Masters, however, follow a different pattern. These teams reach the same plateau as other agile teams but then continue to improve, clearing blocking issues and obtaining training in many engineering practices. These teams perform at high levels, finding their sweet spot and hovering at a sustainable pace. Their trend lines flatten eventually, but at a much higher level than the team without a full-time Scrum Master.

Improved velocity is great. But to help bring the point home to your manager, we need to put it in terms of cost per story point. To get started, determine the cost of the team per hour. (A simple way to do that is to add together the loaded employee cost for each team member. The loaded cost is the salary plus benefits and time off.) If a team can bust out 10 points per sprint and the loaded team cost is about $440 an hour (team of four people at $110 an hour loaded cost), the cost of the team, per sprint, is $35,200 ($440 times 80 hours for a two-week sprint). This assumes a dedicated team working on one project and that the time spent on non-project-related tasks is still a loaded cost on the project. The cost per story point, then, is $3520 (sprint cost/velocity).

The higher the team’s velocity, the lower the cost per story point. And having a full-time Scrum Master who can actively work to improve team performance and remove impediments is one of the best ways I’ve seen to achieve outstanding velocities

Don’t handicap your Scrum Masters. Staffing full-time Scrum Masters gives them the ability to realize their true role of team coach and advocate. And it allows teams the opportunity to reach their full potential as well.

I discuss this in much more detail, including graphs of team performance and ways to measure cost, in my book, but this is too important a topic to not share. Enjoy!


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