Evolution of the Scrum Master

evolution Scrum Master

In my last post I explained the pattern of an evolving Product Owner. This blog is about the evolution pattern of a Scrum Master.
Do you want to know more about what it takes to be a good Scrum Master and how to grow in your role? You should propably keep reading.

Succesfull Scrum

In the last 10 years I have helped a number of organizations to implement Scrum.
For a lot of these organizations the Scrum implementation either takes a long time or they never reach the real benefits of Scrum (happy stakeholders & maximum valued products with high quality).
There is a close relation between the progress\success of the Scrum implementation and the maturity of the Scrum Master role.

The pattern

So who is the perfect person for this role? Is it a (project) manager, a team leader or maybe one of the development team members? Should he have technical skills or is he more a people manager?
The answers to these questions are not simple. These answers are hidden in the way many of these organizations have implemented the Scrum Master role. Another pattern appears, that describes the evolution of the Scrum Master:
evolution scrum master
The more mature the Scrum Master becomes, the higher the expected benefits. Each of the versions in the graph is an upgrade of its predecessor and incorporates all qualities of the previous version:

The Clerk

As a first attempt of implementing the Scrum Master role, organizations often start with one of the members of the development team (maybe he used to be the ‘team leader’). Since he has proven to be good in organizing stuff, we think that this guy can easily pick up some extra tasks (‘how hard can it be to be a Scrum Master, right?’). While his main responsibility is operational work on the Sprint Backlog, beeing a Scrum Master is something he does in spare time.
On a day to day basis the Clerk typically removes a lot of administrative duties from the Development Team (like updating the Sprint Backlog, burndown graphs, preparing the Sprint Planning, etc).
A Clerk has limited benefits, since he is mostly focussed on himself & the inferior values of the Agile manifesto (tools, processes, documentation, etc).

The Puppet Master

Puppet Master
The Puppet Master is aware on the values in the manifesto (working software, collaboration, interaction & embracing change). He understands how the mechanisms in Scrum can help him reach these values.
He tries to pull different strings to make team members move into the right direction: everyone in the team needs to follow the Scrum rules by the book. This often results in a very mechanical Scrum implementation, where people do all the events, roles & artifacts in Scrum, but not really live them.
Since he still supports the team in doing technical work, a Puppet Master often does not have the time to focus on anything but his own Development Team.

The Organizer

Compared to the Clerk and the Puppet Master, the Organizer has managed to make his team aware of the Scrum Values (Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect & Courage). He has realized that by doing all the complex technical work himself, he actually prevents his team to learn (there is no need for other heroes when you already have Superman).
So instead of beeing Superman, he steps aside. He facilitates that the team can do it themselves (‘We don’t need strings to make the puppets move!’). As a result he can focus on teaching people about Scrum. He makes sure they actually live the values.
The Organizer is focussed on making sure that all Scrum events have an optimal result. He also has made time to provide data, so people can start acting on facts instead of gut feeling.
Although the Organizer himself acts with the Scrum Values in mind, his team is still learning. They still need his full attention.

The Coach

A Development team that works with a Coach is able to run Scrum themselves. Sometimes still a little mechanical, but most of the times they really start living the values. As a result he has enough room to also focus on the Product Owner and the environment around the team (stakeholders, management, etc).
The Coach is able to impact others with his knowledge, while the Organizer only used this knowledge himself. He doesn’t only listen to his own voice. He is able to empathically listen to others. He is able to make people connect to their passion and helps them take action towards this passion. He helps people to find new viewpoints and evolve.
Besides using data to take decisions, the Coach starts to listen to his intuition.
The focus of a Coach gradually shifts from the team towards the rest of the organization. However, he still struggles to find solid ground with management and other parts of the organization (marketing, sales, operations, you name it…).

The Advisor

The Advisor has acted as a Coach for more teams in the past. He succeeded in creating\enabling empowered Scrum teams. As a result of that his focus has now shifted towards the organisation. He fixes impediments on the organizational level. He uses data, but he mostly acts on intuition.
The Advisor helps new Scrum Masters with a lower evolution level to grow. He is often asked by managers to help them fix difficult issues.
In an organization with complex, large products, the Advisor is typically the Scrum Master for a number of scaled Scrum teams (in a Nexus he might also be the Scrum Master for the integration team).
While he learns a lot about the organizational dynamics the Advisor still struggles in making organizations more responsive as a whole.

The Expert

The Expert Scrum Master is highly competent & committed. He uses his unconscious competence and intuition to advise\coach others on making decisions. The Expert has a connection with all parts of the organization. He gives advice to managers, HR professionals. He leads the organization towards more Agility. The Expert helps creating new rules & standards.
Some of the Experts are still part of a Scrum team, because they love the atmosphere around there. These teams are often high performing, skilled and an example for the other teams in the organization.
Experts in an Agile organization often call themselves ‘Agile coach’. They show up at events and are often respectable members in a community of Experts.
Unfortunately, many organizations do not recognize these Experts or don’t understand how to keep them motivated. If they eventually leave, it will be a hard job to fill the vacuum they leave behind.


If you want to experience what it takes to be a good Scrum Master, you can sign up for my Scrum.org PSM training.

Professional Scrum Master

More info

Read my other blogs in this series:

Some good books on the role of the Professional Scrum Master and Professional Scrum:

16 Comments so far

Cheeky n geekyPosted on7:41 pm - Jul 3, 2016

Not all scrum masters are men. Agile mistresses exist.

    roneringaPosted on11:20 pm - Jul 3, 2016

    And surprisingly….these mistresses go through exact the same role-evolution 😉

      Núria AloyPosted on5:02 pm - Apr 27, 2019

      Still, the use of gender-neutral pronouns in your text would make it more inclusive to women and non-binary folks.

        Ron EringaPosted on2:44 pm - Jul 10, 2019

        Hi Núria,

        You are entirely right and in my new work this has become one of my ‘Definition of Done’ criteria. The only reason why I haven’t changed it yet is that going through all my old work was too much work and I’m focused too much on writing new material.

    CurtisPosted on3:22 pm - Mar 29, 2017

    Agile Mistress, or Agile Madam?
    If a woman gets a Master’s degree, does it become a Mistress’ degree?
    The “Master” implies master craftsperson, not like “master” and “mistress” of a slave-owning plantation!

ProquotientPosted on6:03 pm - Nov 4, 2016

As the scrum master matures the higher the benefits are expected , Good explanation on the evolution stages of a scrum master from a clerk level to an expert master , Fun illustrations.

RobertoPosted on11:25 am - Jan 11, 2017

Great article and insights! Thanks for sharing!

CurtisPosted on3:28 pm - Mar 29, 2017

I don’t mean to nit-pick, but this article needs some editing.
Scrum Masters don’t “evolute”. They can evolve, but the evolute of a curve is the locus of all its centers of curvature. It is a noun, not a verb, and is unrelated to the evolution or maturation of a scrum master’s skills.
There are multiple grammatical errors as well as spelling.
Ex: “speed & succes ”
“The answer to these questions are, also not simple. ” Subject and verb don’t match. Either “The answer…is” or “the answerS …are”

I will review content separately, I just thought I’d point out that the article would benefit from a careful editorial review.

CurtisPosted on4:05 pm - Mar 29, 2017

I feel like I have lived the path of evolution or growth you describe here, and each one of the phases fairly accurately describes some of the stages one goes through.
The core focus should be that this is a natural progression, but every enterprise needs to understand that the scrum master, just like the team, is EXPECTED to take a never-ending journey of continuous improvement. The key to continuous improvement is nurturing humility and transparency and accountability. I shiver a bit with the description of the expert–not because such a creature does not exist–but rather because so many want to proudly crow that they are experts when they really are still somewhere evolving through an earlier phase.
Even the best luminaries need to remain humble, else they become dogmatic in their beliefs and refuse to allow agility to grow and evolve. The most brilliant thing about Agile is that the initial leaders restrained themselves and stated values and principles, rather than guidelines or a rule book. This allowed a plethora of frameworks to be developed that stand or fall on their own merits, as long as they adhere to these guiding values.

    roneringaPosted on10:50 am - Apr 12, 2017

    Hey Curtis,

    Thanks for taking the time to leave such a good comment! It is encouraging to see that there are more people out there who recognise this growth pattern. And you are right about the part that many think they are an expert, while they still have a lot to learn. Unfortunately, many organisations do not recognise that Scrum Masters, Product Owners and development teams can stay in their role and live this never-ending journey.

IvoPosted on12:33 pm - Apr 17, 2020

Hi Ron, I like the way you describe how a Scrum Master becomes mature.

I have to disagree with you at one point though. From the description of the Advisor (“He uses data, but he mostly acts on intuition.”) and the Expert (“He uses his unconscious competence and intuition to advise\coach others on making decisions”) one might get the impression that intuition is more important than data. My experience is that although your intuition gets better, it is also the biggest pitfall to think your intuition is always right. It is better to support your intuition with data and I mistrust Agile coaches that fully rely on their previous experiences.

    Ron EringaPosted on9:17 pm - Nov 16, 2020

    Hi Ivo,

    The way you should read the maturity model is that each new level incorporates all previous levels (it’s like a russion nesting doll, that contains all capabilities from the previous level). This also means that using data is included at the expert level, but the Scrum Master at the expert level probably only uses the data when it is needed and prefers to act on intuition. This also holds for the other roles by the way. The more people advance to level 5 they will use less data and use their intuition more. This behaviour can also be explained…join my Organization Culture Design workshop if you want to know more…

Richa CPosted on10:43 pm - Feb 18, 2021

I liked this article- but isn’t part of the SM maturity dependent on the team? You might be an Advisor but your team is not there yet they need the Coach more right now; Can you help me understand better

    Ron EringaPosted on9:38 am - Mar 16, 2021

    Hi Richa,

    Definitely: the SM certainly is dependent on the team.
    The first time I was a Scrum Master myself, I could only grow towards the Advisor, because my team was growing towards a similar maturity level.
    Then, when I got my next team, I couldn’t use all the skills of the Advisor immediately, since my new team wasn’t ready for it yet.
    Very often, mature Scrum Masters need to take a few steps back in order to help the team grow in the pace that they can handle.

Anatoly MelentevPosted on2:05 pm - Jun 27, 2023

Thank you, Ron! This article really helps to understand what is the maturity level I have for today and what are the next steps to evolve!

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