My issues with the term "Scrum Master"

A few years ago I was very excited at the possibility of becoming a Scrum master.  At the time I had been an avid XP practitioner for a little over two years.  I had read several books on the Scrum but viewed it as simply Yet Another Agile Methodology (YAAM) with a focus more on the project management.  I thought to myself that I must have been missing something.  How can something as simple as this methodology be taking off like wild fire in the corporate arena?  I figured that a Scrum Master class would shed light on this dilemma of mine.

Day 1 of Scrum Master training, typical PowerPoint presentation with lots of slides telling you how great Scrum is and different scenarios where Scrum has been applied. Still no epiphany.  The day goes on and we get to do hands on Sprint planning meetings, we emphasize the importance of the Daily Scrum. OK been there already, understand the importance feedback, still nothing ground breaking. Next we talk about value stream prioritization from the perspective of the Product Owner.  People are asking lots of questions on what do you do…etc.  Lots of dialog but still nothing earth shattering.  Next we discuss organic team composition, something that is near and dear to my heart but we spend around 20 minutes on this topic basically saying let the team self organize to gain the greatest value. On to retrospectives, very enlightening, nothing really new, there isn’t one way to do a retrospective, several books are recommended.  And this is the end of Day 1.

Day 2 we actually go though an entire mock release.  We form up into 5 person teams. Each of us assumes various roles such as Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the development team.  We go through the Sprint Planning session and prioritize a backlog with the product owner learning several techniques on how to gain insight into how the backlog is being prioritized. Now we start our first development cycle that is time boxed to 5 minutes. Team self organizes and pulls stories from the backlog to work on.  At the end of 5 minutes we do our daily Scrum.  We talk about what we did, what we are going to do and are there any impediments in our way. We go through several cycles with some of them trying to be sabotaged by the instructors with various impediments that the team manages to overcome. At the end of the Sprint we demonstrate the final product to the Product Owner (in this case it was a magazine) they make suggestions and reprioritize the backlog.  We then hold a Sprint retrospective and talk about what worked, what didn’t work, and where we could improve. On to the next sprint to start the whole process again.

At the end of Day 2 we had a feedback session about how the class went.  We talked about what we learned and ways on which to improve the class.  For me it was nothing more of a confirmation of what I had already been practicing but there was something that was missing, more on that later.

Now the scary part! Towards the end of the class we signed several sheets of paper and 30 minutes later I was awarded the title of, “Scrum Master”! What I didn’t tell you is that the class was filled with individuals with out any software development background.  Here is a list of some of the titles that where in the meeting.  Vice Presidents, CIO’s, Project Managers, Product Mangers, Developers and a Financial Analyst.  All of these individuals could now place, the title of Certified Scrum Master on their resume and wreak havoc to any organization that would give them the power.

It is not that I have a problem with Scrum so much as it is I have a problem with title, “Scrum Master”. The word “master” implies that this person has attained a level of mastery of everything related to scrum though experience, experimentation and trial.  I would have preferred the term “Scrum Apprentice” to “Scrum Master”.

Scrum is very instrumental at getting an organization to adopt Agile.  I have a post about this calling out that, “Scrum is the gateway drug to Agile”.  If you choose to adopt Scrum your organization you will gain greater insight into its culture.  This insight is not always welcomed as it will expose many of your organization process and personnel related issues.  How you choose to deal with these issues will determine how successful your project will be.

Personally speaking Scrum cannot be practiced on its own.  Scrum lacks software engineering disciplines and practices, this is where XP excels.  By combining both methodologies into one ecosystem you have a very powerful foundation to build on.

If you do decide to go down this path make sure to ask for the Scum Masters list of impediments and how they overcame them.  Also ask about what they have learned from their mistakes.  This will give you an idea on the level of experience the individual has running Scrum Projects.

About Joe Ocampo

My personal philosophy is simple: "Have a good strategy that sets the environment for success through the enablement of the whole. Be agile but with a mind towards pragmatism. Delegate to the best qualified individuals, but don’t be afraid to involve yourself in all parts of a job. Treat everyone with respect, humility, and with a genuine pursuit towards excellence." Respected business and technical leader with expertise in directing organization towards effective results driven outcomes. Proven ability to perform and communicate from both technical and business perspectives. Strong technical and business acumen developed through experience, education and training. Provides the ability to utilize technology, harness business intelligence and execute strategically by optimizing systems, tools and process. Passionate about building people, companies and software by containing cost, maximizing operational throughput and capitalize on revenue. Looks to leverage the strengths of individuals and grow the organization to their maximum potential by harnessing the power of their collective whole and deliver results. Co-Founder of
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12 Responses to My issues with the term "Scrum Master"

  1. >> I have a problem with title, “Scrum Master”. The word “master” implies that this person has attained a level of mastery of everything related to scrum though experience, experimentation and trial.

    Perhaps they should have been given the title, Scrum Padawan. :)

  2. Jimmy Bogard says:

    Isn’t “Scrummaster” a role, not a title? Certified smurf master seems more appropriate.

  3. Joe Ocampo says:


    I like that, because if you decide to go back to waterfall you would be considered a Sith apprentice. :-)

  4. Joe Ocampo says:


    Within Scrum there is the role of “Scrum Master” but if you take a class you are awarded the certificate of authenticity that you can use fulfill the role of a Scrum Master. In order to qualify to be a smurf master you have to grow a white beard and allow people to call you “big papa moaw moaw”

  5. Kelly Waters says:

    I certainly agree with your comments here Joe. I love Scrum but the term ‘Certified Scrum Master’ is terribly misleading.

    I’ve written a post here, called ‘Certified ScrumMaster isn’t worth the paper it’s written on!’

    Kelly Waters

  6. Mike says:

    I’ve also find this term misleading. As I understand it, the ScrumMaster is really the MC.

    BTW, the ScrumAlliance defines a Certified Scrum Practitioner ( which is probably closer to what you were expecting.

  7. Andrew says:

    Joe, I agree with your points. I also attended a scrum master two day seminar and emerged with a piece of paper – wondering what it actually meant. As with most tech certifications, it means virtually nothing in its own right.

    I also had a prior working knowledge of XP and really liked its perspective, because it focuses on what’s important, the production of code. Its really hard to understand that if you haven’t lived through the hard times and anyone – developer or not – can attend this certification courses, so anyone can become certified. Not that I have any problems with Scrum per-se, but the after-effects – a little knowledge being a dangerous thing – are the most worrying. Those who don’t ‘get it’ are going to scurry back to their office proclaiming that they now understand and instantly proclaim themselves agile. Typically though – nothing changes.

  8. So how do we fix this situation?

  9. Joe Ocampo says:


    Unless you know Ken Schwaber personally I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

    My point was to just bring awareness to businesses that the term “Scrum Master” is misleading.

    I dunno form a engineering body similar to APLN that focuses on the _full_ life cylce of Agile and offer our own certifications that would require panel review similar to defending a dissertation. But I am anal in that way. :-)

  10. Andrew says:

    Derek, as with most good things in life, I don’t believe there is a simple fix, just hard work and perseverance. I still think the best thing to do is to learn from those who have been there – bring in an experienced coach and learn in a master/apprentice fashion. There is no substitute for learning by example with an experienced practitioner/mentor.

  11. Troy Gould says:

    Totally agree with you. I’ve seen people in action who were “certified scrum masters” who had no clue.

    I think that there should be some observed behaviors and interviews that go along with being certified as a master. I master means to me that you have a complete understanding of, and have delivered many times (outside of a course) using Scrum/Agile.

    Unfortunately, someone found a good way to make a buck, and the rest of us have to suffer with so called Scrum Masters.

  12. Roberto says:

    Joe, your comments are true for CSM as for any other certification.  Some people are good at taking tests but does not mean it translates into good practitioners, in this case, they don’t even have to take a test, just warm up a chair for two days is enough, so anybody with a temperature over 86 degrees qualifies.  Certifications are a way of saving  time by discrimitating who can take your time during the interview, but it is the organizations responsibility to ascertain whether the person applying for the job is a good fit for the organization and for the tasks request from him/her.  Organizations are cutting down organization size in the name of “optimizing” but just cutting the number is not enough.  Managers have less time to conduct interviews and are not properly prepared or trained, so organizations rely heavily on certifications when they should train interviewers to do a better job of filtering and select the correct applicant.