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!

I would appreciate a star rating:
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  1. No such thing as a senior Scrum Master? New Scrum Masters may exhibit one or more of these bad habits, or a plethora of others. As they grow and learn, they improve. Then comes the time they begin to master the “art” and begin to hear, in job after job, “you are the best scrum master we have had in X years”.
    You may think this is bullshit, bit teams know when they have a top notch, experienced scrum master. In fact, by this point the scrum master is more coach than servant leader. This is where he or she stops being so soft and develops that confident tone and has balls of steel and is able to defend the team in a robust manner, fearlessly butting heads with the management that is probably the root source of many if not most problems.
    But you don’t think that is a senior SM?
    By your logic, senior developers don’t exist either. We both know that is false.

    • Hey Curtis,

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your opinion and to be honest I was expecting some comments like yours :-)

      I agree partially with your point of view: You are right, there is a time frame where a new scrum master is in the learning and growing phase. I experienced that time as well and it is it’s absolutely ok to make mistakes and to fail. This is actually an essential part in the learning process. This articles focuses more on the scrum master that is practicing since a while.

      I disagree with the “senior” title. In my company we kicked all the senior titles because we faced the problem that this title is not measurable. We received applications for “senior” positions and the skills just weren’t satisfying. Although the candidates mentioned that in their previous company they had the senior title.

      So here is the problem: Company X defines “Senior” different than “Company Y”. Would you agree that a Senior developer title at Google isn’t the same as in your company?

      That’s why we believe in certain talents and skills. If you have 5 Scrum Master I bet you will have 5 different characters with different talents. It’s about recognizing these characteristics and let them grow. It would be even unfair to give one of them a “Senior Scrum Master” title as the others would not understand it and then you are creating a conflict. It’s very similar to a reward because these “titles” normally are connected with a salary increase. Since we kicked these titles we concentrate on other qualities. And to be honest, I saw scrum master that were able to fight with the senior management with a strong voice. Agile Coaching is a much higher and complicated job than most people think. This might be a general problem that many people underestimate: The job of a real Agile Coach who is able to drive organizational Change on a very high level.

      What do you think?

  2. I don’t understand the purpose of this article. Shouldn’t be similar to write “The 8 indicators of a bad developer” or “a bad CTO” or “a bad Manager”, “a bad employee”? What then?
    The real debate is how to create a real agile company, with a vision, a good environment for innovation, a company where everyone is truly engaged. The debate is not about “good” or “bad” people. It is about environment and vision, and these come only from the Head of the company. It is too easy to criticize employees. Scrum masters and agile coaches can do nothing if the director of the company don’t believe in agile values.

    • Hi Souad,

      If you’re really keen on creating an agile organization you need the right people. If you experienced once an agile transition phase in an enterprise company you could confirm that there is a lot of resistance. In that phase it is even more fatal to have a poor scrum master who doesn’t help the team / company to progress. All the mentioned indicators help you to identify if you have the right person at the right place. And yes, you are right, you could write a similar post about developers or managers as these roles´ behavior have a huge impact in an agile organization. The purpose of this article is to open some eyes out there because I see that many companies are just hiring a person who is not really suitable for the job.

    • Relax ;)

      The article is and should be used to make people aware of their own mistakes…

      It can be used as a great tool for selfreflection ;)

      Enjoy the article and reflect to see if there are ways that you can become better than what you are…

      All the best

  3. How do I communicate this article to a scrum master without telling them they’re idiots? A good article, with a bit too resentful taste in it.

    • Hi Heikki,

      This article should be used to make Scrum Masters aware of their own mistakes. I got a lot of feedback from Scrum Master telling me that they used it as self-reflection. From then, they started to work on their points in order to improve their skills. So, if you have a relaxed Scrum Master, send him the article and he will start thinking. Send me feedback! Would love to know how it worked out :-P

  4. This is quite an interesting article that show many traits you should watch out for when selecting a Scrum Master , that role is an important one which affects the whole team so we must make sure that we don’t select a bad scrum master.

  5. Pingback: Scrum Is Bad - 5 Simple Facts That Kill Stupid Arguments About Scrum

  6. disagree on the developer. Best Scrum masters are those that contribute to the velocity/quality of sprints in actual content. Whether that’s in the form of code review/architectural insight or business expertise. A scrum master is a role, but should not be taking 100 % of someone’s capacity.

    • I agree that the Scrum Master should contribute to the velocity / quality of the product. My question is, do you experienced this kind of situation in reality?

      I’ve seen such kind of situations, and it was a mess because the SM (who had quite good coding skills) wasn’t very well informed on coding level and didn’t had the domain knowledge.

      Instead of coding, the SM should work on the working experience and environment. There are so many other things to do. He should trust on the skills and better work on improving processes, conditions and common understanding on a global level.

  7. Great article, I have another question… why so many bad/lazy developers or testers often decide to become scrum masters? And 100% of the time they become those bad Scrum Masters the you’ve described!

    • I got your point. Maybe this might be a pattern we all observe from time to time. What i observed as well was that developers weren’t have in their role (maybe due to the reason that they weren’t good at it), so they check alternative roles where they could grow and flourish. I agree, it might happen that they are NOT good in the Scrum Master role either, as this role requires a certain communication level.

      I have seen both; Ex-developers who found their career in their new role as coach, and ex-developers who sucked really hard in their new role and made everything worse.

      It would be unfair to say that no developer would have the talent to grow as a scrum master, so at least we should give them a period of time to check if it’s a good alternative for them.

      Other opinions / experiences?

  8. As of today, many companies have realized the problem of so-called Agile and scrum methodologies arts or just a fanny name for those to-be-jobless non-technical project managers? , this kind of redundant non-technical, non-productive people is NEVER even considered as a position from a really talented and rich experienced team in a company, REAL good developers are fully aware of what they are doing, code quality, work progress, auto testing, auto-delivery milestones, and other job responsibilities too. because they are so good and experienced. when they open up their company, they will NEVER hire those ‘tools coach’, who are outplayed by those real developers, left far behind, it’s a joke nowadays for startups to waste money on that, I guess, only those bad, old fashion company would do so. waste of Money hugely indeed, no real players would give you their valuable time for the bureaucracies like standup? coffee time, retro?, LOL, they are way way better already than that.

    • Basically what you’re describing is a self-managing team with all the skills to deliver a shippable product. That’s the goal of a scrum team, but few teams come together and are that mature without any help. As for saying the daily standup and retrospectives are wastes of time, then you better have other ways to ensure regular communication among the developers and continuous improvement. A mature, self-managing team might end up replicating the intent of the daily standup with other communications, but ensuring everyone is always aware and can jump in to assist, in an efficient way, is not usually done. The majority of teams are made up of average talent (of course) and not the superstars that have already figured out the best ways to work together. So a scrum master coaching them (and the organization) to become agile is definitely valuable.

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