In my last post, I reminded you why Scrum Masters are fantastic, indispensable, and just all-around awesome. I also acknowledged that, despite those accolades, it’s not unusual for new Scrum adoptees to have difficulty dedicating someone to the role – usually because of headcount constraints.
Naturally, one of the first questions that people have is whether they can combine the Scrum Master role with the Marketing Owner or a team member. While it’s definitely not a best-practice, it “can” be done. In this post, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of both options. Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, having a dedicated Scrum Master produces the best results. I’m giving this advice in the same way that survival expert says:
“You should really go see a doctor about that, but if you’re stuck in the wilderness with a pocket knife, here’s what you can do.”
Now with that qualification, let’s talk about mixing the Scrum Master with the Marketing Owner.
- Marketing Owner already has relationships with other teams/stakeholders which are helpful for removing obstacles from the team.
- By attending/running all the meetings, including stand-ups, the Marketing Owner will definitely keep up-to-date on all issues.
- Doesn’t take away any of the team’s capacity to get work done.
- Hard to have the Scrum Master check on the Marketing Owner’s responsibilities to the team (backlog grooming, protect team from unnecessary distraction, prevent over-committing) when they’re the same person.
- The team needs a neutral and independent Scrum Master during retrospectives, which can be awkward for changes aimed at the Marketing Owner when they’re the same person.
- Takes away from the Marketing Owner’s capacity to deal with business stakeholders and all their other responsibilities with the broader organization.
Unless you have a really disciplined person who can be introspective and transparently wear different hats while keeping them separated, this is a bad option. The pro’s make it seem really appealing from a logistical perspective: don’t need budget for more headcount and doesn’t decrease team’s capacity. But it’s really poor from a functional perspective: some of the highest-value responsibilities of the Scrum Master role are compromised.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have successfully been both the Product Owner and Scrum Master for multiple software development team.s So I know it can work, but I also know why it’s hard to do. Beyond simply being awesome (trying not to strain a muscle while patting myself on the back), I had some other things working in my favor:
- We all worked really well together so I rarely had to spend time resolving interpersonal issues.
- We were in a organization where all teams were using Scrum so there wasn’t resistance to the process and certainly no lack of experts to bounce things off of.
- Based on tests like Myers-Briggs and Kolbe A and relevant experience, I can objectively say I’m well-suited to juggle multiple roles while being aware of potential conflict of interest.
So if you’re thinking of trying this option, don’t kid yourself into thinking someone can just “do it” – ask others whether that person is someone they think of as fair, a team player, a natural bridge-builder and mediator in conflicts, and someone who handles feedback well. If not, in my humble opinion, wearing those two hats won’t work well.
And is the team really motivated and collaborative or will they require a lot of one-on-one coaching and anti-drama interventions? Even if you have someone with the right capabilities and disposition, you’re setting everyone up for failure if you’re going to immediately overload someone who wears two critical hats.
In my next post, I’ll discuss mixing the Scrum Master and Team Member roles. In the meantime, have you ever had to have the same person fill the Marketing Owner and Scrum Master roles? How well did that work for you?