Can you do Agile Scrum without a Scrum Master?

Scrum without Scrum Master: A short Guide & 3 Tips

Let’s face it: Many organizations cannot or don’t want to afford a Scrum Master due to the financial constraints connected to this. But Scrum without a Scrum Master - is that even possible? Can you run Scrum without a Scrum Master?

To be honest, I think such a question indicates that either a) the team has a low agile maturity or b) the team simply has a bad Scrum Master that isn’t good at their job (More on: Agile maturity level). So to reply to that question in an easy way, you could say: Yes, introducing or using Scrum without a Scrum Master is possible but makes it way harder. The Scrum methodology is simply not that easy to implement. Most teams will survive without a Scrum Master, but it will be way harder for them to thrive.

Given the economical reality mentioned above, in this text I will still try to briefly outline what you have to do to implement Scrum successfully without a Scrum Master.

Can you do Scrum without a Scrum Master?

Scrum without a Scrum Master: What does that mean?

There is an endless number lists of the responsibilities and roles of the Scrum Master, but at its core, you can say it comes down to three things (More on: Scrum Master roles).

The Scrum Master is responsible for:

  • Faciiltation of the Scrum process (especially the Scrum ceremonies such as Daily Standup, Sprint Reviews, Retrospective and Sprint Planning)
  • Removing obstacles and protecting the team
  • Continuous improvement towards a self-organizing team 

So, who would take on these three responsibilities in a traditional team that may not be working with agile methods?

And who would take them on in a team that wants to use the Scrum framework but that has to work without a Scrum Master?

Here is a brief overview of how I see the situation.

Scrum Team
Classic team
Scrum Team without Scrum Master
Meeting facilitation
Scrum Master
Team leader
Team leader, some team members
Removal of impediments
Scrum Master
As a secondary task: team leader
As a secondary task: team leader
Continuous improvement
Scrum Master
As a secondary task: team leader
As a secondary task: Team leader At best: Entire team

By saying "as a secondary task" I would like to emphasize the following point: Some of the responsibilities will be considered just "nice to have" in a traditional team or in a scrum team without a scrum master. The team leader will might feel responsible for them, if at all. 

In other words, these responsibilities will suffer the most from not having a dedicated Scrum Master. Now let's go deeper into my breakdown.

Can you do Scrum without a Scrum Master?

Who takes on these tasks in Scrum without a Scrum Master?

Who would be responsible for this in a usual, non Scrum development team, thus a team that is developing Software without a Scrum Master by nature?

Likely either a) the team lead / project manager / Product Owner etc. or b) no one feels responsible for such things. And that is exactly how Scrum Teams without a Scrum Master behave:

Our users and customers (who oftentimes don’t have a full time Scrum Master) typically have some kind of team lead or tech lead that facilitates all the Scrum ceremonies. Sometimes, a team member takes over the facilitation of some of these meetings. That same person will also try to “remove impediments and protect the team”, but probably rather passively or trigger-based and not actively.

At last, in most cases the person who takes over meetings won’t really feel responsible for “continuously improving the team”, not even speaking of developing a “self-organizing team”.

The team lead simply does not have the time to do such things as there are too many other challenges. So what could be an alternative to this? Let me make a suggestion. 

Scrum without a Scrum Master - automatically leads to chaos?

Can you do Scrum without a Scrum Master?

Scrum without Scrum Master: A proposal

Generally speaking, let’s ignore the “outputs” of a Scrum Master and think about the “outcomes” of a good Scrum team (more on: Outputs vs. outcomes), because outputs are not as important as the final outcomes. What are the outcomes of a Scrum team and how can they possibly be achieved without a Scrum Master?

A good agile team is collectively good at understanding its customers needs and iterating towards fulfilling these - i.e., creating customer value. The Scrum framework and all the processes connected to it helps a lot with fulfilling this goal.

But which of the parts of the Scrum framework are most important? It definitely is not the processes and ceremonies. It rather is knowing that specific goal (goal: getting better at creating customer value through iteration cycles) and having the willingness to move there. This is basically also known as “agile mindset” (more on this: Agile Mindset), or in my own words: Taking “Continuous improvement” towards this goal really seriously.

So if you cannot afford to have a Scrum Master, how do you reach that goal: getting better at creating customer value through iteration cycles? What should you do, to master Scrum without a Scrum Master? This could be one approach:

  • You as the Team Lead (Tech Lead, Product Owner, Product Manager etc.) should make sure that everyone understands the core agile principles: You are supposed to work in iterative, short customer-feedback cycles to make sure you deliver what is expected as quickly as possible.
  • Don’t introduce all agile ceremonies, methodologies and principles at once.
  • Instead, only start with the most important ones: Transparency (to foster communication) and Continuous improvement.
    • Transparency: Usually, the well-working approach here is to introduce a Kanban board. This should be combined with a Daily Standup (or bi-daily?) to talk about your work, likely facilitated by the team lead. Suddenly, work is visible and communication is flowing in a completely new, productive way.
    • Continuous improvement: Start with introducing agile retrospectives. At the beginning, given that many things will be changing and many tensions will arise, there usually should be a big need for a room to talk about tensions and testing hypotheses how you can improve these. Which is the goal of a good retrospective: Putting down action items, testing them for 1-2 Sprints, and then seeing if that works. For example, one Action Item could be that you iterate on the Product Vision or that you need a proper Sprint Goal. That would be perfect: The team naturally is introducing Scrum in a self-organized way.

Can you run Scrum without a Scrum Master?

Too much Scrum (i.e. processes): Zombie Scrum

Many companies actually might have “too much” of a Scrum Master, they experience a phenomenon called “Zombie Scrum”: You adhere to all the processes, but there is no real life in them. You have a Sprint Goal, but nobody cares about it. You do the Sprint planning, but only 1 person talks. Why? Because the first step mentioned above isn’t understood by the team or was not communicated well enough by the Scrum Master: Why are you doing all these ceremonies?

The best way to make sure Scrum team members understand the value of all the Scrum Processes is to let them experience the problems and tensions first that then can be fixed by the Scrum framework’s processes.

Thus, it might even be of advantage in the beginning to not have a Scrum Master and to not “over-introduce” agile-methodologies. Just a thought. 

At last, there is one specific tool that might be interesting for you if you are asking yourself: Can you do Scrum without a Scrum Master?

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Can you run Scrum without a Scrum Master?

A tool that helps you: Echometer

Echometer is excellently suited precisely for this use case (you do not have a dedicated full-time Scrum Master who can support your team) .

Echometer is a digital tool that helps agile team leads with agile retrospectives and team Health Checks. Whether remote, hybrid or on-site: it makes team coaching measurable and professionalizes your work while saving you a lot of work. Just take a look at our website to find out more:

Can you run Scrum without a Scrum Master?

Conclusion - Scrum without a Scrum Master?

Of course, I have oversimplified in this text and kept it very short. Nevertheless, it could be a relevant and interesting perspective on how to approach the challenge of running Scrum without a Scrum Master. To summarize: Try to have a Scrum Master. If you can't, focus on creating an atmosphere of continuous improvement and the team can adopt and learn Scrum in a self-organized way.

A more fundamental question related to agile methods, by the way: Can you introduce agile methods without a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, is "Agile without a Scrum Master or Agile Coach" possible? There would certainly be a different answer to this because "Agile" is much broader. However, the guide here should also help you to think in the right direction with this question. My thinking can also be applied to this question.

Finally, another quick hint: If you would like to know how it feels to develop your team with our tool: You can start an agile retrospective below without logging in, in this case the "Keep, Stop, Start" workshop. 

Alternatively, simply forward our website to the responsible colleagues:

Open Feedback Questions

Continue: What should we keep?

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Need a team boost? Do this: The Spotify Health Check Retrospective!

First Health question: "😍 We love going to work, and have great fun working together."

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