This is a controversial question, difficult to answer and which divides opinions. Can a Scrum Team really survive without a Scrum Master? There are those who argue that yes and those who imagine that this is possible only in theory. But since it is possible in theory, why do we have so many doubts about it being possible also in practice?
The idea that the Scrum Master one day will be no longer necessary can be deduced from the very definition of the role. This definition says that the Scrum Master is a servant-leader and his responsibility boils down to make sure that the team adheres to the Scrum process, always seeking to achieve improvements that increase the quality of work and, consequently, the satisfaction of the Scrum Team with the product being built. If the Scrum Master is spectacular, theoretically, one day his team will be able to work without the need of his support and thus he’ll become unnecessary. That is the theory.
In real life, this goal of making the Team independent of the Scrum Master runs into some impediments that can be explained by the team building theory, by Bruce Tuckman. In this theory, the task of building a team goes through 4 stages, they are:
1. Forming: on this stage, the team is getting to know each other, everybody is excited, positive and want to build a good relationship with others on the team. At this moment, the role of a leader is essential because there is still too much uncertainty about the roles and responsabilities of each person.
2. Storming: on this stage, it is common to arise questionings about the goals established and also some conflicts. These conflicts may come up because each member’s characteristics start to show and there may be some kind of frustation about the project or the work process. At this point, it is crucial establishing the work processes clearly, create team agreements and, indeed, start to build the trust that must exist within a team.
3. Norming: now the team starts to adjust, solve their conflicts and respect one another. People start to socialize more, help each other more and the commitment to the project’s goals grows. At this moment, it is good to start delegating activities and let team members take responsability for the progress achieved.
4. Performing: on this stage, it becomes easy being part of this team, changes on the team don’t affect the performance and new challenges are seen as a good thing toward the team’s goal. At this point, the leader starts to take a step back and to focus on other work goals. The team is ready to keep up with the good work on their own.
There is still one last stage, Adjourning, that happens when the team is disbanded.
What is clear from this theory is that, as a team progresses and matures, the need of a leader to direct the work and deal with problems and conflicts decreases because the team itself can adjust and do well in unexpected situations. Thus, in theory, if a team is performing, it can survive without a Scrum Master because it is such a strong and well-trained team that it will be able to follow the Scrum process and produce value without the support of a servant-leader.
After everything is said, I ask you again: given that we have a Team that works together for a long time, that has the concepts of the Scrum process in mind, that is already performing, can this Team survive without a Scrum Master?
In theory yes, but in my opinion no. It is clear that this team will have a great level of independence and will be able to perform alone. The problem is that new challenges always appear and, above all, the team is committed to the product and not the process. The process is the means that allows them to reach the ultimate goal established. The fact of not having anyone in the team that focus on it may cause unexpected situations to mislead the team from the work that is being well done, and it might even take this team to regress and fail to perform.
But that is, of course, my opinion and there are plenty of different ones about this subject. For example, to you, until when a Scrum Master is needed?