What is the most common mistake newbie scrum masters make?

08 May 2023

In other words, their presence and contribution prevent the team from succeeding rather than assisting them. Also known as:

  • Scrum fascist
  • Scrum nazi
  • Scrum dogmatist
  • Scrum dictator

If you become this person, you’re using scrum without applying the intelligence, discernment, and humanity that scrum requires.

Blindly following the rules.

At the time of recording, there was a great rugby match in the 6 nations championship.

The problem, however, is that the referee took a beating from all sides because of the decisions he made on the field.

In my opinion, the ways the laws are written don’t take humanity or the spirit of the sport into account, and so the referee must call the game as he witnesses each transgression. It isn’t about beautiful, flowing rugby it is about strict adherence to the letters of the law.

In my opinion, he was one of the world’s best referees and yet he is forced to blow every element of the game regardless of whether it allowed the teams to produce their best rugby or not. It wasn’t within his control or influence to flow with the game, he had to blow each call.

The outcome? Deep disappointment and frustration on all sides.


What might make that rugby game very different?

If we started by recognizing that the referee is a deeply experienced professional, working in a highly complex and adaptive environment, we would allow that person to bring all their professional skills to bear and allow the game to flow.

We would allow that referee to interpret events in the spirit of the game, in accordance with the wishes and desires of the individuals on each team, and according to his best professional judgement.

Sure, he may interpret things differently to us here and there, but overall, we’re going to experience a far better display of rugby and witness far superior performances than we will if every single event needs to be viewed in isolation with the full application of the law.

It’s the same with scrum.

The scrum master, in some ways, is a lot like that referee.

If they are forced, or choose to, apply every single letter of the law and ignore the spirit of the game and what we are trying to achieve by playing the game, we are going to get frustrated and fail to achieve the outcomes we value.

It just becomes a dog show.

So, as a newbie scrum master, you can often fall into this trap because you are trying to make sure you don’t make a mistake. Trying to ensure success by eliminating the possibility of failure.

Trying to get the job right without making a single mistake.

There’s a role in product development dedicated to that, it’s called project manager. There’s no place for that in agile or scrum.


If you can view the scrum team and environment as a place of learning, adaptation, and responsiveness you will find yourself in a very different position.

You’re going to lean into certain things because they offer a learning opportunity for you and others, or you’re going to learn to stand back and do nothing because that offers an invaluable learning opportunity too.

You’re going to learn that each team is unique and so is their application of scrum, you can’t take a cookie cutter approach and expect to copy and paste scrum success based on what others are doing.

It’s complex and you need to inspect the data, reviews, and feedback and figure out how best to adapt and respond. How do you move forward given the challenges. How do you allow the team to progress, even if that’s clumsy, to a point where they begin to master their environment?

That’s where your focus should be in the early days of your scrum career.

So, in closing, avoid being that scrum dictator and embrace your role as both teacher and student.

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