A matter of Scrumantics

Much has been said questioning the appropriateness of the title ScrumMaster to describe a person who has attended a two-day Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) course.  I believe the title is appropriate. Here’s why:

ScrumMaster Doesn’t Mean “One Who Has Mastered Scrum”

The intended meaning of the title ScrumMaster can be interpreted in many ways due to the ambiguity of the English language. The word master, according to dictionary.com, has several meanings, including:

  • a person eminently skilled in something, as an occupation, art, or science (e.g. the great masters of the Impressionist period).
  • a person whose teachings others accept or follow (e.g. a Zen master).

Now, it doesn’t seem reasonable to believe that attending a two-day course can suddenly promote one to the ranks of the “eminently skilled.”  Acquiring skill takes time. Acquiring anything that could be classified as a skill almost certainly takes much more than two days’ time. We may conclude, then, that ScrumMaster is not intended to mean one eminently skilled at Scrum.

It’s a little easier to believe that attending a two-day course could place one in the position of being able to offer advice and guidance on a topic, and I think it must be a fairly common practice for a teacher of a fresh subject to perform his or her duties by staying a lesson ahead of the students. We might, therefore, accept that ScrumMaster means a person whose guidance about Scrum others are willing to accept or follow.

Other Masters

So far I haven’t heard anyone argue that the title master of ceremonies is a misnomer. And no one expects the typical emcee to possess a mastery of all things ceremonial. He is simply the person whom others have agreed will facilitate an event.

Likewise, a ringmaster isn’t expected to have somehow mastered the rings in the circus. Rather, he is the one who facilitates the performance and helps keep it moving.

Finally, a toastmaster isn’t one who has mastered the art of the toast, but instead is the person who announces or proposes toasts, or announces after-dinner speakers. Yet another facilitator.

What’s In a Name?

Ken Schwaber, in his book Agile Project Management With Scrum, says he chose “a strange name like ‘ScrumMaster’” because he “wanted to highlight the extent to which the responsibilities of the ScrumMaster are different from those of the traditional project Manager.” He goes on to say, “The ScrumMaster earns no awards or medals because the ScrumMaster is only a facilitator.”

Given this, it seems wholly appropriate to confer the title of ScrumMaster on a person who has attended a short course on Scrum facilitation skills. The title doesn’t convey mastery. At its simplest, it’s just an indicator of a way to employ the person bearing it.

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