8 Indicators Why Your Scrum Master Is Doing It Wrong


In the last 10 years I’ve experienced many Scrum Masters. This role can be crucial for the success of an upcoming agile Team. If companies take bad hiring decisions the cost runs high because the damage can be tremendous for the team and organization. I identified 8 bad characteristics and indicators that shows your team that you should ban your Scrum Monster from hell.

The Bad Scrum Master from Hell:

1. The Softy

The Softy doesn’t protect your team from all bullshit coming from the Management & Co. A strong Scrum Master should have “balls made of steel” without fearing the high level management. A good candidate takes his job serious and jumps into discussions outside the team’s office. He should articulate intelligent and passionate with a strong voice. He has the courage to challenge conventional wisdom, using facts and data to back up his position.

2. Agile Bullshit Bingo Bla Bla

There are a lot of agile terms flying around that some Scrum Masters read in a book or heard once on a conference. Later they use their new vocabulary in order to sound more professional: TDD, SOS, DoD, World Café, XP, KUDOs, Lean Coffee etc. etc. I’m not saying these techniques are not useful but I know some Scrum Masters that are showing the world their theoretical knowledge but have no clue how to perform all these important methods in the real world. Reading and talking is one part, but executing important sessions for the team is something very different. All this Agile Bla bla doesn’t make the team thrive if the Scrum Master doesn’t know how to apply it in the daily business.

Related: Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances

3. The Grumbler

No company is perfect: Start-up face different problems than medium-sized enterprises but overall I can confirm all of them have different problems. Most of the time a Scrum Master faces inner political problems that prevents him to execute his job like it is said in the theory. I’ve seen so many Scrum Masters complaining all the time about bad management, organizations and top-down decisions. To be honest, I was one of them. Indeed, there are a lot of issues to complain about. I think the best solution for that problem is to take all the variables you have and make the Best job you can do. Instead of complaining, the Scrum Master should collect all the points that prevents the team to reach high performance. Then he can generate some data and show it to the Management. This is actually what most of them want to see. So don’t complain! Act and make everything transparent for the organization!

4. The “Senior Scrum Master”

I know some candidates that have 2 years experience as a Scrum Master and then define themselves as a “Senior” and on the following year they want to promote to an Agile Coach. Besides the fact that most of these career freaks have no clue, no tool-set and often no social competence they still believe in this vertical career line. A good Scrum Master doesn’t think about this thread. You identify an excellent Scrum Master when he just wants to get better and better without thinking about titles like “Senior” or “Agile Coach”.
It might be true that the next big step for a Scrum Master is the Agile Coach position. If he’s really keen on becoming an Agile Coach then he should work 10 years as a Scrum Master. If he is lucky he has an Agile Coach that can mentor him until he is ready.

Related books you may like:
1 Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances
J. Richard Hackman
2 The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Patrick M. Lencioni
3 Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
Jeff Sutherland

5. The Former Developer

There is actually nothing bad on it:  A Scrum Master who was a Developer before. However there is a share percentage that never can jump out of this role. If you are a Scrum Master, you are a 100% SCRUM MASTER and NO developer anymore. I’ve worked with several former developers in their new job role who were interfering constantly when the developers were talking about technical issues. I heard questions like “What’s taking so long??? This is very easy to solve”. Even worse when the Scrum Master starts to send his first commits into the repository. They think they are kind of super talents, showing the world that they can do both: Managing a team and developing software … Whooo (*facepalm). A good Scrum Master should stay in his role and not mixing up his present with the past, even if he has a solid technical background he should not interfere. He can use his technical knowledge and ask the right questions so that the team comes up with an even better solution.

6. The Commander

Ok, I really hate these guys: The Commanders. A lot of people just don’t understand the real definition of a Scrum Master’s role which is actually a servant leader. I’ve often seen Scrum Masters who act like the boss of the team, giving commands and tasks to the team members. They use story points to compare the velocity in the team and follow the old command & control rules which are far away from the agile mindset. Just to be clear: The Scrum Master is NOT the boss of the team nor is he a project manager. He is an equal team member with special responsibilities. Together with the team he discovers the best and fastest solution in order to ship value as soon as possible. This requires a lot of questions, tools and teamwork.

7. The “No-Empathy” Guy

Let’s be clear: If there is no empathy with the Scrum Master, then your team should consider a change. It’s absolutely crucial that the Scrum Master is considered as a fully integrated team member. That means that he understands the team’s language and culture. If he has a totally different DNA or is socially absolutely incompetent then conflicts will appear in the future. Missing empathy can cause dysfunctional teams and resistance to all proposals and techniques from the Scrum Master – even if he has a strong tool set. There are some must-have soft-skills for a Scrum Master like positive attitude, Banana Smile to infuse energy and motivational behavior.

8. The Nanny

It’s nice to have a nanny … at HOME! In your team you need a Coach and not only a person who is a Psychologist that listens to you while drinking coffee. It’s just not enough to care about office material and put away some impediments. The reason for the Scrum Master role is to coach the team in order to develop new skills and techniques. Actually, one day the Scrum Master should become unnecessary – sounds weird but that’s the big goal. Therefore he has to train the team in order to reach a very high level of autonomy. He reaches that with various methods and a clear vision. There he follows a To-Do list which helps him to develop a strong and independent team.


That’s it folks :-) From my experience these are the worst characteristics you should pay attention to because every organization should get real value out of their Scrum Masters.

There are situations where it is even better to have NO Scrum Master in the Team. That’s better to have one that sucks. It just costs money and no one has a benefit from it. Thats why many companies should re-think and put more effort into their hiring process in order to get fantastic Scrum Masters.

Further Information:

# Link
1 Shit Bad Scrum Masters Say
2 The podcast for Scrum Masters and Scrum practitioners

Do you agree or disagree? Do you miss an important point? Feel free to share your experience and point of view with the community. Post your opinion right here in the comments below!

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