Debunking more SAFe® misconceptions 10x – The Scrum master

In this short article we will prove the poorly crafted argument about the Scrum master role in SAFe incorrect as posited in the “Remove Scrum from SAFe” petition. I’m not really writing this to defeat the arguments presented in the petition because any rational person who looks into the details will come to the conclusion that the petition is 1.) wrong 2.) inconsistent 3.) factually incorrect. My goal here is more to take the opportunity to educate folks on the SAFe so that they will have more knowledge of how to use the #1 scaling framework in industry to improve business results and outcomes.

First, let us start with the OBVIOUS flaw. The authors are comparing a “team focused framework” to a “scaling framework.” It is a big stretch to make these assumptions about the SAFe.

Scrum done well in SAFe is just like Scrum done well anywhere else.

In every SAFe Scrum master course that I have taught, I cover the context of the Scrum master and her responsibilities to the team (not scaled), the ART (team of teams; scaled), organization (organizational agility), and the business (business agility). Every good to great SAFe instructor that I have worked with also does the same. This single point alone in SAFe completely defeats the argument of the extremist view #removescrummers and signers of the petition.


It’s a specialty role that includes traditional Scrum leadership duties, as well as responsibilities to the larger team-of-Agile-teams that constitute the ART.

© Scaled Agile, Inc.

The goal is to Lean out the system and focus on BETTER business outcomes – sustainably shortest lead time. So, over time the scaled team structure and value stream network matures and Scrum masters become a high-performing networked team with the SAFe RTE/STE(s) within the Agile Release Train/Solution Train social/network construct. They may even form a new value stream network hypothesis and reform to further lean out the system and focus on improved business outcomes. That reminds me, we can also de-scale with SAFe, but that is another topic.

Supporting these points from a SAFe perspective is the last paragraph of the SAFe Scrum master article where we discuss a pragmatic approach to scaling agile. Every organization has to choose their starting point and the level of investment necessary to achieve the desired improvement in business outcomes.

I’ve seen varying degrees and investment and consequent results – in my pre- and post- SAFe years.

Therefore, SAFe takes a pragmatic approach and assumes, in general, that the Scrum Master is a part-time role. During initial SAFe adoption, however, the job may be more intensive. At this stage, the organization may find it beneficial to bring external consultants on board to coach the teams while they become experienced in Scrum and SAFe. These outside consultant Scrum Masters will often coach multiple teams in the organization.

© Scaled Agile, Inc.

One of several ways that we enable this cultural and performance shift in the SAFe is the promotion of Communities of Practice. It is inherent in the SAFe as documented in the Implementation Roadmap that both internal and external change agents are necessary to affect and anchor (positive) change in the culture. Over time, ART’s become more self-reliant and have less need for support of external change agents/coaching. This is especially true in the real world cases where I have seen the RTE/Scrum master team achieve a symbiotic and strong connection to continuous learning and improvement as high performers — at scale.

This high-performing state in effect accomplishes the goal stated in the Scrum guide and petition. Thus, finalizing the agonizing defeat of the #removescrummers argument.

Additional points that add to defeating this petitions arguments:

  • The SAFe includes Systems Thinking (Systems Theory) which would lead us to understand how changes at the team level affect the at-large team of teams (ART) and system and therefore Scrum masters have responsibilities at scale beyond their team
  • I/O Psychology and Human Factors are underlying all great coaching and great SPC’s understand the basics here, enough to use the concepts to coach teams effectively; regardless of affiliation or need to hate and display jealously
  • The Scrum master is part of a team of teams and virtual networked team of Scrum masters and RTE/STE roles (also Scrum masters)
  • Every SAFe SPC that I know first recommends full-time Scrum masters and also understands that good Scrum masters can support up to two teams effectively depending on context; although, obviously, the ideal is 1:1 that is not always pragmatic or economically feasible.
  • The Agile Team/Scrum Team in SAFe is likely (but not always) part of a “team of teams or Agile Release Train.” The Scrum guide says as the petition says, “Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.”

    What the heck do you think an ART or a Solution Train is???
  • “Coordinates with other teams – The Scrum Master is typically the representative in the Scrum of Scrums (SoS) meeting, and they pass information from that meeting back to the team (see Program Increment for more details). They often coordinate with the System Team, User Experience, Architecture, and Shared Services. It is important to note, however, that the responsibility for inter-team coordination cannot be delegated entirely to the Scrum Master; every team member shares responsibility in that regard.” – © Scaled Agile, Inc.
  • others, read the articles — it is there — all over the place!

I never criticize other tools. Because they are just tools. I see them agnostically and that is why I’ve signed those relevant pledges. So please don’t take this as a criticism, just an observation for room for improvement.

Interestingly, the “Large Scale Scrum Framework (LeSS)” states the following:

Focus on the Organization
LeSS adoption require an initial structural change, thus initial organizational focus is high. The focus on improving the organization drops once the basic structure is in place. Then it’s the teams’ turn to produce results. That’s the best way to change an organization: by producing results. Why would the organization trust you and your teams if you didn’t show them results and benefit?

One could argue that LeSS misstates the goal of organizational agility in the above quote. The “basic structure” is just a hypothesis like any other so to state that “the focus on improving the organization drops…” is a bit scary of a recommendation and flawed in my opinion. It flies in the face of the continuous improvement and systems thinking concepts eh?

Published by Marshall Guillory -

Information Technology professional, transformation leader, agile evangelist & coach, change agent, scrum master, servant leader and more...

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