Podcast Ep. 179: How Many Teams Can a Scrum Master Support? with Rosemary Atanga, Quincy Jordan, and Dan Neumann

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Episode Description

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by two of his colleagues, Rosemary Atanga and Quincy Jordan. In this episode, they explore the answer to a very common question: How many teams can or should a Scrum Master Support? Dan, Rosemary, and Quincy talk about the role of a Scrum Master and how it is affected by supporting one, two, or even more Teams. They dive deep into many examples of when different ratios could work keeping effectiveness and a healthy environment as priorities.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • How many teams can or should a Scrum Master support?
    • Sometimes supporting too many teams is a matter of budget and financing.

    • Effectiveness is different than being busy, someone can be busy doing nothing. Having one Scrum Master working with multiple Teams can really affect the effectiveness of his work.

    • There must be a process for a Scrum Master to take the lead of a second Team, making sure first this Team is stable and understands all the Agile principles.

    • Are you setting the Team up for success or failure? Are you wearing out your Scrum Master? Even if it works, it is not sustainable.

  • The role of a Scrum Master:

    • The Scrum Master needs to be an Agile Champion and to become the coach for his Team; it is crucial that every member knows about the accountabilities in order to grow into maturity.

    • The Scrum Master is there to coach and mentor the Team on good practices to really see the best benefits of Agile.

    • A Scrum Master has to foster a healthy Scrum environment.

  • One Scrum Master for one Team:
    • This is a healthy ratio, it is a very good starting point for a Team that is at the beginning of its Agile Journey.

    • If the Scrum Master is supporting a very mature Team, they will be less dependent, and then it is more suitable for the Scrum Master to think to take a second Team.

  • One Scrum Master for two Teams:

    • A one-to-two ratio is really ideal; in general, it works better this way.

    • The ratio usually depends on the projects, especially if a Team is taking more than one project at a time.

  • One Scrum Master for three or more Teams:
    • This is not a recommended scenario!

    • If the Scrum Master has two Teams that are pretty mature, and one that needs more help, it might be possible to be the support for the three Teams.

    • If it is only very temporary a Scrum Master could take more than three Teams; it will be very wearing on the Scrum Master, it is not a healthy situation but is something that could be done if there are strategic reasons to do so.

  • What can go wrong if the Scrum Master is overloaded?

    • Lack of focus. Every Team has different needs, so it will be hard to balance and give the same attention to all Teams.

    • The Scrum Master’s morale can be affected.

    • The health of the Team can be affected since they are not getting the support they need.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro (00:03): 

Welcome to agile coach’s corner by agile thought the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work band PA the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host coach band agile expert. Dan Newman. 

Dan Neumann (00:17): 

Welcome to this episode of the agile coach’s corner podcast. I’m your host Dan Newman. And today I’m joined by two of my agile thought colleagues, Rosemary, AGA, and Quincy, Jordan, Rosemary, Quincy. Thanks for joining today. 

Rosemary Atanga, (00:30): 

Thank you Dan, for having me, 

Quincy Jordan (00:32): 

Absolutely always a pleasure to be on agile coaches corner, 

Dan Neumann (00:37): 

Always exciting to have guests. We’re going to be exploring a quest that comes up fairly frequently, um, in all manner of different situations. And that question is how many teams can a scrum master support? Um, I dunno. Has, is that a question? Uh, you’ve come across Rosemary. 

Rosemary Atanga, (00:58): 

Yes, I have come across that question as a matter of fact, uh, several times. And, uh, I find it very interesting because, um, some people say a scrum master should have one team, some C two, some say three. So it’s a very interesting question. And I would like us to explore that and see what we all think about. 

Dan Neumann (01:20): 

Perfect. And, and Quincy, do you believe we’re have the one right answer before the show is over? 

Quincy Jordan (01:25): 

Yeah, I, I would actually, maybe even almost rephrase the question from how many teams should a scrum master, can a scrum master have to, how many teams should a scrum master have? Uh, because I think it, you know, is very contextual, you know, in, in many ways, which I’m sure, you know, we’ll probably discuss and get into. Uh, but I also think it is interesting to think about, well, why, why is the question being asked to begin with, like what drives the question that comes up from, uh, different organizations that, you know, will say what, you know, can we have three teams to a scrum master? Can we have four, can we have five? Uh, you know, so what, what are the driving things to that question? You know, that’s one of the things I, I would probably be most interested in. And, and in my experience, the very first thing that tends to drive the question of what I consider to be oftentimes a lopsided ratio of scrum master to too many teams, uh, is budget. You know, it just comes down to finances and you know, how much can we basically squeeze out of this one scrum master? Uh, and how far can we them, you know, becomes the question. And I think in many cases, if it were better understood, you know, some of the reasons to consider, you know, when making that type of decision, I think that decision would be made, uh, less often, you know, than, than what is pushed for at times. 

Dan Neumann (03:08): 

Interesting. It almost sounds like viewing the scrum master role, filling that as a, a cost to the organization, if you will, without necessarily seeing a turn on that investment, is that somewhat in line with your, the budget being the driver? 

Quincy Jordan (03:24): 

So I think so, and really, I think it’s also a carryover from waterfall environments where, you know, if you remember back in the day and, and maybe still today, you know, in different environments, uh, you have a project manager that, uh, it, yeah, I remember, you know, times where there would be project managers and they, and they would say, oh yeah, this project manager has 15, uh, projects. And this project manager has 20 projects. This has, this one has 10. And I would just always think to myself, even in that environment before, you know, the age of agile and so forth that, or the, the era of agile, I should say, but, you know, even then I would think immediately, there’s no way they can’t tell me the, they can’t tell me anything other than what a spreadsheet might tell them. And that’s it, they’re not gonna know the details or the intimacy of those teams, because it’s too much, it’s too much for an individual, uh, to take on. 

Rosemary Atanga, (04:24): 

I totally agree with you. 

Quincy Jordan (04:27): 

Yeah. So I definitely think it’s that carryover. Yes. 

Dan Neumann (04:31): 

So carry over some from the kind of the efficiency based perspective of, you know, get the peanut butter out, scrum masters, being the peanut butter and spread around as thin as you can to, to make sure you’ve got all the bread covered. 

Quincy Jordan (04:44): 

Yeah. Okay. Interesting analogy. But yes, <laugh> 

Rosemary Atanga, (04:48): 

And, uh, I, I actually have this, uh, podcast that I listen to a lot or this person, um, Ryan Ripley, and it’s in one of his episodes. He actually talked about that. And what was interesting is, um, are they really looking at effectiveness or being busy because someone can be busy doing nothing. So if you’re looking at effectiveness, then it might not be a, a, a smart thing to have one scrum master working with multiple teams. But if you’re looking that effectiveness and just male logic, uh, you know, that one scrum master can focus 100% on a team and, uh, make that team a great team. Now I’m not disputing the fact that a scrum master cannot have two teams, but I, I think there should be a process, uh, that the scrum master that should be able to go through in order to adopt, or have a second team. 

Rosemary Atanga, (05:47): 

How about building the first team and making sure that that team is stable. They understand all the agile principles you’ve actually gone through, uh, maybe, uh, checking out their maturity level and they feel comfortable and confident to work independently. And then maybe three, four months down the road, you can get another team, but having one scrum master at the goal, just taking over maybe two, three teams might be a disservice. So while you’re trying to save money, you might end up putting the teams in a very, uh, uncomfortable position. And of course, uh, scrum stresses the importance of, uh, safety or safe environment. And I don’t think that it’s a safe environment for the person who is working and also for the teams. 

Quincy Jordan (06:32): 

Yeah. And, and I would even also add to that to say, I think it goes beyond discomfort. You know, I think it goes to the extent of, are you setting the team up for success or are you setting the team up for failure? Uh, you know, there can be scenarios for sure where, uh, three teams, uh, a one to three ratio with the scrum master could be a applicable. Uh, but I would say those scenarios probably should be very interim, very temporary. Uh, so, you know, you mentioned Rosemary about, you know, basically a scrum master going with one team, uh, having some level of maturity there and then maybe adding another. But one of the things that does happen is, uh, in different environments, there’s, they may have a shortage of scrum masters. They just don’t have enough team members at that time. And so when that is the case, I think it’s assuming the, that particular scrum master, uh, is experiencing enough, uh, and their own agile maturity level is high enough that they can take on a third team. 

Quincy Jordan (07:49): 

I think they can, but I think if they do, it needs to be very established that this is only until we can bring in another scrum so that we can go to a one to two ratio, um, because the one to two ratio or the one-to-one ratio, depending on team maturity and all that stuff, I mean, that’s pretty much typically gonna be, you know, the sweet spot areas. Uh it’s. And even with what I just described about taking on a third team, they’re still risk involved with that and in a level of high risk, because, uh, if that, if that scrum master is doing a really good job, uh, and the three teams are doing well, then there’s a tendency to say, well, obviously it works. They can do it. Okay. But you’re completely wearing out that scrum master. Uh, and it’s not very sustainable, uh, in, in my experience in a pain. 

Dan Neumann (08:46): 

So you were kind of, I think a little bit of what you were describing there was, I wrote down the phrase, you know, do what you can with what you have. There are situations where there aren’t, you know, X number of people with scrum master skills or deep scrum mastery. And so you’ve got to do what you can with what you have for some period of time. Hopefully these people aren’t spread too thin for too long. 

Quincy Jordan (09:13): 

Yeah. And you know, when, when we, we had some previous conversation, you know, before, and one of the things that, you know, I thought about then was like, you go to the emergency room and, you know, you have an accent, you go to the emergency room. That’s great. Okay. You, you want people to jump on it and take care of whatever that situation is, but you don’t wanna stay in the emergency room. You know, you won’t eventually get outta it, just something that’s a lot more accommodating and sustainable and, you know, and so forth, even if it’s a longer term, you know, issue. But, uh, and I think it’s very similar or very analogous to a scrum master that takes on three teams. That’s, it’s, it’s an emergency type situation. It requires, you know, something different than the norm. Uh, and it’s not the healthiest thing to do, but it is a decision, a calculated decision of risk, uh, that an organization may take at that time, you know, for, for that period of time, 

Dan Neumann (10:12): 

I’m going to show my age. But the, what the mental picture that came to mind was Ash, like, whatever, I dunno, when that was on where, you know, the surgeons in the mobile, I mobile arm, a mobile army surgical hospital, right. They’re hopping from patient to patient trying to, you know, this one needs that taking care of this one needs that. And I just had that mental model of a scrum master, just splitting about trying to triage the patients. Yes. Patients being the scrum teams there. 

Quincy Jordan (10:35): 

And, and thanks. And thanks, Dan, by the way, now I can’t get that mash tune out of my 

Dan Neumann (10:41): 

<laugh>. 

Quincy Jordan (10:44): 

Oh 

Dan Neumann (10:44): 

Man. The helicopters coming in <laugh> 

Quincy Jordan (10:47): 

Anyway. 

Dan Neumann (10:48): 

All right. Yeah. So, um, other things, Hey, Rosemary, one of the other, uh, potential drivers, I think we’ve seen is viewing the scrum master role as administrative old, you know, set up some meetings, make sure they happen. Um, how familiar is that, uh, with, with you as well, is, is a, a driver for being able to spread a scrum master around a bunch? 

Rosemary Atanga, (11:11): 

Um, I, I think that there is also that aspect of people looking at a scrum master as an administrator who has to be running around, uh, running little errands for the team. But I think there is much more than that, uh, you know, responsibility of just being an administrator. If, uh, there is any such thing, you know, a scrum master does a whole lot and, uh, making sure that the team even understands what they are doing. And I can give you an example from teams that I’ve worked with in the past. Sometimes you’re really assuming that they understand the agile framework very well and that they understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. And then when you start, uh, going one on one to really, uh, find out maybe in a retrospective, what the team understands, you see that there is a whole need, uh, that the, you know, the team has, uh, that need, first of all, to understand, uh, the different ceremonies, what their roles are. 

Rosemary Atanga, (12:07): 

Sometimes it put a lot of pressure on, uh, certain members of the teams. It could be a PO, could be somebody who seemed to know a whole lot about the project. So a scrum master has that, um, you know, um, responsibility to, first of all, be an agile champion and a coach for that team, making sure that each team member or everyone understands their accountability, because once they understand what, uh, their accountabilities are, then they grow into maturity. So a scrum master is not just there to take notes, but also to coach and mentor the team on best agile practices, because we all say agile works and works and works over, uh, waterfall, but it works because you have to put processes and, uh, tools in place in addition to actually leaving the values in order to see the full benefits of agile. So it scrum master it’s is much more than that. 

Rosemary Atanga, (13:05): 

And of course, it’s okay for the scrum master to be there, to do little administrative work when the team, uh, probably has a whole lot of to do. And this scrum master can step in. And I speak also for myself, I’ve been able to do that for my team, probably running certain projects. And I realize everyone is busy and they say, okay, like a spring review, we want you to take care of, uh, you know, taking all the notes for our presentation, which is fine, but that’s not just all what the scrum master that does is scrum a very healthy and, uh, self-managed team is the hard work that the scrum master puts into that team. And it trickles all the way to the team members. And then you can call that a healthy scrum environment. 

Dan Neumann (13:50): 

So. Perfect. Thank you. Thank you for that. So let’s, uh, let’s get down to some, so numbers here, um, scrum master one scrum master for one team. Um, what’s your perspective on that? I start with Quincy. 

Quincy Jordan (14:06): 

Sure. So I think that, uh, it is typically gonna be very, you know, contextual, you know, as I mentioned to earlier, but, uh, the one-to-one ratio is a good, healthy ratio. Uh, in my experience when there are new teams, uh, it’s a very complex product. Uh, agile is new to an organization, you know, those types of things. Uh, now let’s say if it’s a very mature team, uh, then you do actually run the risk of the scrum master, really kind of getting bored and not having quite enough to do. Uh, if it’s a very mature team, uh, you know, keeping in mind part of the intent is to help the team to become a lot more, uh, not so much self-sufficient, but you know, self-organized a lot more empower, you know, they are less dependent, uh, on, uh, entities outside the team, not that the scrum masters outside the team, but, you know, I think you get what I’m saying. 

Quincy Jordan (15:09): 

Uh mm-hmm <affirmative> so, you know, when we’re looking at the one to one, I do think it’s generally a good starting place. Uh, especially if an organization is unsure of, you know, the beginning of their agile journey. I think it’s a good starting place. It allows for not only for the score master to <affirmative> become acclimated to the team, but it allows the team, including the scrum master to become acclimated to the organization and the organization become acclimated to the team, uh, because it’s not an isolated scenario. So I think the one to one is a really good starting point. Uh, I, but as I mentioned, I think it’s not necessarily where you should stay, uh, depending on how the maturity of the team goes. 

Dan Neumann (16:01): 

Mm it’s interesting. As you were talking, um, you mentioned the risk that the scrum master scrum master gets bored and it made me think about pull versus push. I think sometimes organizations want to push scrum masters here as your second team or your third team, or, you know, some of those scenarios we’ll talk about. It would be interesting to think about a scrum master saying, Hey, I think we’re at a point where I could take on some additional, you know, another team for, as a scrum master or, uh, expand end of the scrum master role more fully in some of its accountabilities. And it made me think of an artifact we’ll link to in the show notes, which is this scrum master checklist, I believe initially created by Michael James, which essentially says, you know, if, if you think there’s not enough to do with one team, here’s a bunch of facets of the scrum master role to consider. And, um, so those two things came to mind as we’re talking about one to one. 

Quincy Jordan (16:56): 

Sure, sure. 

Dan Neumann (16:58): 

Rosemary, anything to add on one to one, or do you wanna kind of take us off to a ratio of one to two? 

Rosemary Atanga, (17:04): 

Um, I think one to one is ideal, but one to two is also not too bad if you are doing, if, uh, they’re working on single product and maybe they’re using a different framework, I’ve had the opportunity to work in two teams, but one was a CanBan team. And the other was a scrum team. And because the CanBan works in a different way, uh, there, there were not overlapping meetings. There were certain things that I was still doing with my CanBan team, like retrospective, of course, CanBan team are not required to do all the four ceremonies that we do in scrum teams, but I had to do like a retrospective to make sure that the teams’ needs were also met. So in a case like that, where there is less complexity, you can conveniently have two teams and be able to work with them, uh, with less friction. But of course, like, uh, I do agree with king Quincy, depending on the project that you are working on, you might wanna, and depending on, uh, the companies or the, the teams, uh, maturity in the agile world, you can probably wanna stack first, ideally with one team and then probably, uh, take another team as, uh, you become more familiar and more comfortable in, you know, working with, uh, you know, uh, using scrum. 

Quincy Jordan (18:25): 

And actually, I think that brings out a good point too, that just because you start in a one-to-one ratio doesn’t mean you have to stay in a one-to-one ratio and you can very much strategically, uh, roadmap it and say, okay, this is how we’re gonna scale. And this is how we’re going to intro, introduce new teams. And this is how we are going to form those teams. And we will, uh, scale to a point to where we have that one to two ratio. And, and I think most people that have been specifically in the scrum space, not just agile space, but specifically in the scrum space for some time generally kind of agree that, you know, a one to two ratio is, is really the sweet spot that, uh, tends to work best. Uh, not always, but, you know, I, in most cases, it’s, it’s definitely the one that works better than the others. 

Dan Neumann (19:23): 

I think in one to two, I’ve done that in areas where it has been not a scaled delivery, because at least for me, my experience was I had more latitude in when sprint planning would happen for each team when a sprint review would happen. And in scaling, we’re trying to synchronize those events most often, whether you’re doing less or nexus or, uh, safe, those events are coordinated. And it’s really hard to be in one place at two times at two places. <laugh> at one time I get that. Right. Yeah. 

Quincy Jordan (19:56): 

Um, yeah, yeah, no, I think that’s, that’s definitely a fair point, uh, for sure. Yeah. 

Rosemary Atanga, (20:03): 

And, uh, that also depends on the project and I know this is, we talked about it then, and this is probably a new topic entirely. Uh, you could also be working with one team that has multiple projects within that team. Yeah. So even though it’s just one team, it might seem like three or four different teams. So it it’s a tricky question. It really, really also, we, we have to look at what we are working with. The scrum guide says one project at a time, but there’s so many, uh, organizations that have multiple projects in one scrum team. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and you have one scrum master working, uh, you know, uh, with the different projects, which is almost like a waterfall kind of, uh, approach. So in that case, I think having one scrum master to that one team is fair enough, because it’s still gonna be challenging managing all the different aspects of those projects. So I think it’s a it’s, um, it’s a very interesting question. Uh, you know, and depending on how we are looking at it, what is placed before us, it can be one to one or one to two or just one to one period, 

Narrator (21:17): 

Have a topic you want us to tackle, send an email to podcast@agilethought.com or tweet it with a hashtag agile thought podcast. 

Dan Neumann (21:27): 

So we’ve explored the scrum master. Uh, some of the reasons that organizations are curious about how many teams, a scrum master might be able to cover, and we’ve, we’ve spent some time on the one to one and one to two ratio. Quincy you’ve touched on ratios bigger than one to two kinda one to three, one to four, perhaps even more you, I don’t know what the, the limit is that people have experimented with, but, um, maybe you could talk a little bit about scenarios when it’s one scrum master to three plus teams. 

Quincy Jordan (22:00): 

Sure. So, uh, when it’s the one to three, uh, I think more often than not, uh, if you have two teams that are pretty mature, maybe one team that you know is gonna be a little bit more, um, heavy touch, uh, is not gonna be a light touch team. You, you have to interact with them more. They’re not quite as mature and so forth. Uh, but the other two teams, they’re a lot more light touch, you know, so you can help them, you know, facilitating through the scrum events and, you know, helping them to be accountable and so forth, but they don’t need quite as much, uh, handholding. I think that scenario, uh, works. I think it also, which this is one of the things Rosemary mentioned. Uh, but if you have one team that’s a call bond team, uh, and let’s say two teams that are scrum teams. 

Quincy Jordan (22:54): 

I think that can work, you know, as well assuming the scrum master is the Kaban facilitator, uh, for the Kaban team. Uh, now when you go past three teams, when you go past two, you introduce a fair amount of risk. When you go past three, you’re introducing in many cases, an unreasonable amount of risk. Now, are there scenarios where you can do it and it have a good rationale to it? There could be, uh, uh, you know, one may be that as, as we talked about earlier, there just aren’t enough scrum masters. There is a plan to hire scrum masters. Uh, but the product being developed cannot wait. And so you have to move forward, but there is a plan in place. It is already in process to bring on another scrum master to help like net load. So if you have a very experience, uh, Angeles who is in that scrum master role, and they’re willing to take on that challenge, then you can do that and exceed past the three teams. You can do that to four, maybe five, maybe six, uh, however, it is very, very temporary. Uh, and it is going to be very wearing on that scrum master. It is not a healthy situation by any stretch of the imagination. Uh, but it is something that could be done given the strategic reasons to do so. And it is temporary enough, but it is not something that should be, uh, taken on lightly in any manner whatsoever. 

Dan Neumann (24:52): 

So what we don’t want to hear is somebody saying, Quincy said we should, and right. So there’s a giant asterisk on the correct that’s situations. 

Quincy Jordan (25:01): 

Yeah. I, I try to over index on, on all of that, because I do not want anyone to walk away saying, oh, well, well, Hey, you know what? There are some situations where it absolutely makes sense. Quincy said so. And so did agile thought, no, that is not what we’re saying. 

Rosemary Atanga, (25:16): 

Uh, and you, and you’ll be having a new, so w oh, we want one from, with our five teams. 

Quincy Jordan (25:23): 

Yeah. It, it is not a recommended, uh, scenario. It is, you know, is in my mind analogous to, you know, any of the emergency things that you would do that you would not say, oh, oh, this is a sustainable way of being, but under an emergency type situation, this is something that you’re willing to do. 

Dan Neumann (25:44): 

Yeah. Yeah. The, the, um, the emergency metaphor, you know, how many, how many fires it can be fought at one time. Mm-hmm <affirmative> if firefighters spend most of their time, you know, hoping there isn’t a fire and, and doing education and prevention outreach to the community, most of the time isn’t fighting actual fires. So yeah, more metaphor. Let’s talk about the things that go wrong when the scrum masters spread too thin, or maybe they don’t go wrong, but it’s just failed opportunities. So, um, Rosemary, what comes to mind for you? When it, we talk about a scrum master who’s maybe spread too thin, a missed opportunities or things that, that go wrong. 

Rosemary Atanga, (26:22): 

I, I think, uh, the first thing that comes to mind is, uh, the lack of focus. Uh, you find yourself running from one meeting to the next, and then having overlapping meetings, probably missing meetings with other meet, you know, with other teams because they overlap. So the lack of focus is something that is probably bound to happen because every team have different, uh, needs. And, uh, depending on what you run into, you might find yourself focusing more on one team and focusing less on another team. So it’s very, very hard to balance your, uh, you know, to give the same equal attention to multiple teams at the same in time. So the lack of focus is something that comes to mind and probably, uh, as a scrum master, it could probably even affect your morale. Uh, when you find yourself spread too thin, and you probably have reports to present here and there, and then you just find yourself at a certain point, like some work, less person, you just doing things for the sake of doing it. And I don’t think anyone wants to find themselves in that position where they’re not engaged with the team and they’re not enthusiastic. So that is something that I would say comes to mind immediately, 

Dan Neumann (27:37): 

The professional meeting attender version of the scrum master, where you just hop from one to the next to the next, for sure. Yeah. Quincy looked like you, uh, had something to hop in with. 

Quincy Jordan (27:46): 

Yeah, I, I was thinking as Rosemary was saying that about how, you know, while the scrum master is not, they are not a leader, you know, per se of the team, they are a servant leader, but they’re not in charge, so to speak, but that role has a lot of influence on setting the temperature for the team, uh, in a lot of different ways. And if that scrum master is spread to thin, it can easily affect the health of the team. And so then at that point, well, it’s not only the scrum master who is being impacted by being stretched too thin, but now the team is being impacted by that because they’re not getting the support that they should, uh, they’re not impediments are not being removed by the scrum master or being facilitated to be removed by the scrum master, uh, because they’re just stretched too thin. 

Quincy Jordan (28:51): 

They, they can’t get, you know, they can’t be everywhere at once. Uh, and they’re just have too many teams that they’re, you know, taking on and, and trying to support. And so that is another risk, you know, that really should be thought about. And I think that is one that in particular, senior leaders should middle management and senior leaders should really consider, you know, significantly when they’re trying to make the numbers work. And they’re trying to see, you know, how far they can push the envelope of race, CEOs of scrum masters to teams. And, you know, this person is really good, so can’t, they just take on another team? Can’t they be a part of another, uh, scrum team. And if they are, you know, a very strong performer, you know, they’re probably gonna want to rise to the occasion, but it’s, it’s unhealthy and it impacts the team. And if it impacts the team, then it’s going to impact the deliverables of that team and what, you know, what those out comes and outputs are from the team as well. And so ultimately now there’s impacted organization it’s so it’s a big domino effect, you know, if you really just violate the importance of the role and the thresholds, that should be, uh, really respect it. 

Dan Neumann (30:21): 

You said something there that got me thinking, first of all, I wanted to maybe just check for agreement. I think scrum master is a leader, but they’re not in charge, I think was kind of the sentiment I caught from you. Yeah. Yep. Okay. Yeah. And then as far as team health and when the scrum master gets into too many meetings, you know, whether it’s just a meeting heavy org, because they’re doing 2, 3, 4 teams, you lose the timeliness to respond to those things. Mm-hmm, <affirmative> that affect team health. Hey, in the meeting I noticed, you know, maybe it looked like it got kind of irritated. It maybe you were snappier than usual in the meeting, whatever the, is there something going on? Is there something we need to address? And those kinds of follow-ups need to be done timely. It’s not like, well, gosh, uh, next sprint, maybe I’ll talk to, you know, person X about what happened, you know, in the meeting today, it needs to be more timely. And that’s a, a big, um, problem when there’s too much work in process for any one scrum master. 

Quincy Jordan (31:20): 

Yeah. And as you were saying that, it costs me to just think of, uh, I guess another analogy, uh, to it. And hopefully I won’t get in trouble for this, but, uh, you know, I was thinking about when people would like, sometimes comedians would tell these stories about, you know, kids and number of kids and so forth. And it’s kinda like, okay, so similar is scrum masters in teams. So, you know, like you have one kid, okay, all right. Maybe that kid gets like too much attention or, or, you know, and so forth. You have two kids. Okay. It’s balanced out a little bit more three kids, all right now is fine, but the middle kid, you know, maybe deals with middle kids syndrome kind of thing. Uh, four kids, five kids. Okay. Now you go back to, I don’t know, 1920s, 1930s, when we were having 15, 13, 12, you know, 18 kids. 

Quincy Jordan (32:10): 

And it’s like, okay, it’s dinner time. You do the dishes. Like, I don’t remember your name right now, but you’re the one <laugh> the dishes. And it, you know, and it kind of goes similar to that. You know, you start having too many scrum team and they just can’t keep up with really the things that should be important. Okay. Hey, how are you guys doing today? All right. Like you said, Dan, Hey, I noticed, you know, something to not rub you really well. If you have too many teams, the scrum master can’t give the amount of attention that they should, uh, to those teams. It just becomes, you know, you you’re team number four, you’re team number five, and you really almost become a spreadsheet more than just a team. Uh, so anyway, as you were saying that, I, I just started thinking about that in, um, 

Dan Neumann (33:05): 

<laugh>, that’s rich as much as I wanna chase that squirrel. I wanna keep us in our time. <laugh> 

Quincy Jordan (33:11): 

Please. And 

Rosemary Atanga, (33:11): 

I have, I have a question for you, Quincy. Sure. 

Quincy Jordan (33:14): 

Um, 

Rosemary Atanga, (33:15): 

As a coaching company, if you had a client who came with a, a very great, uh, contract or potential contract, and the, you know, this specifically one, one scrum master to do three teams, they they’re just starting. And they say, Hey, we are gonna pay everything for just one scrum master to take on three teams, what is going to be your approach? And this is something that is very attractive, you really wanted. And, uh, you are thinking of that one person that you can send to that company to take on the three teams, uh, how you going to convince them, uh, that they probably need two scrum masters or, uh, versus one. 

Quincy Jordan (33:55): 

So I wouldn’t actually start by trying to convince them of that. I would start by wanting to understand why, what are the needs, what are the problems they’re trying to solve? What do they think these three teams are going to do that will produce value, uh, and solve the problem that they’re look, uh, looking to solve? So once I understood that, then that’s when I would take a look and say, okay, well, well, should one square master, uh, take this on, what are the maturity of the teams? What, uh, how far along, or how healthy are their product backlogs? Uh, how much support from leadership do these teams have? Uh, all those things would factor into that picture. Now, assuming those things are there, which they probably wouldn’t be otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be coming to us. Uh, but you know, as but assuming that those things are there, if it is not a semi-permanent scenario, uh, we could, you know, potentially, uh, take that on, uh, in a temporary basis. 

Quincy Jordan (35:09): 

It would still be the plan to bring in another scrum master more than likely, or, you know, there has, and I’m thinking what just came to mind is the scenario that was actually pretty similar to that before. Uh, and one of those teams was going to sunset, like it was going to go, that team was gonna go away and that was already established because that product was going to go away. So that one to three scenario or ratio, uh, had a finite time to it to begin with. And it was going to by default, go down to two after, uh, it was maybe like two or three months or something like that. Uh, so there are some scenarios. It is not an automatic, no, but it is definitely an automatic let’s understand this situation before, uh, we start trying to solution anything. 

Dan Neumann (36:02): 

And that was some solid coveys seek first understand right there. Quincy, I got that <laugh> oh, shoot. Well, um, kinda keeping an eye on, on the clock here. And I think we’ve got a couple topics for future podcasts. One of them, uh, I think is scrum masters and service to the organization, uh, which is also a, uh, a facet that will get short shrift once a scrum master is spread too thin. Uh, and then I think important to this conversation is a topic. What does a scrum master actually do all day? So I do believe I have my colleague Mike Guler on the hook for that one. And we may be, uh, looking to tag in a player to be named later to do an exploration of that topic. So that’ll be, that’ll be coming up soon. So I’ll ask, uh, Rosemary first and then Quincy, uh, closing thoughts kind of brief closing thoughts on the subject of scrum masters and how many teams can, or as Quincy re framed it at the start, how many teams should a scrum master serve? 

Rosemary Atanga, (37:00): 

Well, my closing argument is a scrum master can actually serve one or two teams depending on the project. And, uh, you know, but for status, it will be, uh, a better approach to have a scrum master fully commit to one team and make sure that that team is self-organized they’re cross-functional they understand everything that they need to know about agile and best practices. And then it will be okay to have a second team. So depending on the type of project is scrum master serve one or two teams. So that’s my final thought. 

Dan Neumann (37:39): 

Perfect. Thanks Rosemary. 

Quincy Jordan (37:42): 

Yeah. So my final thought, Dan is I agree that the one to two ratio is, uh, oftentimes the better ratio. Um, oftentimes the one to one is, is still, can be better too. And, and that’s part to my point is that you really have to still understand the dynamics of what’s happening in that particular, uh, situation and, and what is going on contextually there. Uh, one of the other things that I did mention earlier that I just wanna mention really quick is we cannot forget about context switching, like that is the enemy to, uh, scrum teams productivity. And, uh, and especially with scrum masters taking on too many teams, uh, we did mention about, you know, running around and, and so forth, but that context switching man, that that thing is dangerous. Um, but I’ll just leave it there, uh, for that. But yeah, so those, those would be my final thoughts on this particular topic. 

Dan Neumann (38:44): 

Perfect. Well, I want to appreciate both of you exploring, um, the topic with us, uh, got a pretty solid consulting. It depends on, uh, on that, but of course, uh, out with a, an eye towards, uh, educating and here’s some of the thoughts and, and reasons behind those different, uh, those different perspectives. So I want once again, appreciate that Rosemary Quincy, thank you for taking time out to, uh, participate in the agile coach’s corner. 

Quincy Jordan (39:09): 

Absolutely. Always a pleasure, 

Rosemary Atanga, (39:11): 

Always a pleasure and hope to come back again. 

Dan Neumann (39:16): 

Yes, indeed. 

Outro (39:18): 

This has been the agile coaches corner podcast brought to you by agile thought. The views opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the host and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of agile thought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at agile thought com slash podcast.

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