Scrum has become a widely used framework for software development. Scrum Master is one of the core roles in Scrum (along with Developer and Product Owner). Sometimes people with an existing responsibility take on one of those roles. And it’s quite common that a business analyst is one of those. This article will consider the question of can a business analyst be a Scrum Master. It’s not a straightforward issue! So let’s dive into it.
Well to be more specific, it is an accountability. There was an update to the Scrum Guide in 2020 that changed it from a role to an accountability. That change was made because some people thought that those three roles were job titles, and that caused some problems in terms of how people were hired and assigned to positions.
According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master is “accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness”. And they do that by “enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework”.
So the Scrum Master acts as a kind of team coach, adviser and helper. Over time, the Scrum Master’s focus might move away from the team (as it improves) and more towards the overall organisation. Especially the parts of it that are less agile and are becoming impediments for the team’s agility.
Remember, Scrum Master is an accountability (or previous, a role), rather than a job or job title. That means that while it might be a full-time job in itself, sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is more a “hat” that someone wears at certain times. Probably in addition to another job, role or responsibility they have.
People sometimes wear two hats like this for a number of reasons.
One is that there may be a shortage of people who can fulfill all these accountabilities. The team might not have a dedicated full-time Scrum Master. So they need to get someone who already is doing something in the team to do it. (That is usually someone with a Developer accountability – remember that does not necessarily mean software developer!)
Another reason could be that someone wants to cross-skill, up-skill or make a career move. Maybe they want to move from their existing job to a Scrum Master job. So they start wearing that hat as they learn on the job.
Many Scrum teams have one or more business analysts in the team. Following the Scrum set of roles or accountabilities, they usually come under the “Developer”. That is, they are accountable for getting backlog items to “Done”.
They might also work with the Product Owner to create and update backlog items. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are a Product Owner! A Product Owner has complete power over the backlog. So if you don’t have that, you are not a Product Owner.
If your job title is Business Analyst but your Scrum accountability is Product Owner, you should not also be a Scrum Master. That is too many hats and too many responsibilities. The Scrum Master should be helping and guiding the Product Owner, not being one.
But I think a business analyst acting just as a business analyst (not a Product Owner) can be a Scrum Master.
It is only two accountabilities. And there is not much conflict between a business analyst and a Scrum Master.
Business Analyst also is a role that has some similarities to Scrum Master. It is a role that involves understanding both the business and the technical aspects of a product or system (like Scrum Master). It involves a lot of communication, listening and facilitation (like Scrum Master).
Quite a few Scrum Masters come through a business analyst background. Including myself!
There are some things to be careful about though.
First, make sure that this dual role doesn’t have too much work. Scrum Master can be a lot of work. Especially if they are a real Scrum Master, and not just a meeting organizer and note taker. They will probably move to 50 / 50 (i.e. 50% of their time on business analyst and 50% on Scrum Master).
It might also be a pretty big jump to Scrum Master, depending on the Scrum knowledge of the business analyst. They might need extra time and support to do training, reading, attend communities of practice, and so on. So keep that in mind when considering their capacity.
You also need to make sure their is no conflict of interest going on. A Scrum Master can be quite influential when working with the team and can often affect their decisions. So you need to make sure they are being impartial when influencing and facilitating events with the team. And make sure they are not taking their business analyst work into account when making or influencing any decision.
If you keep all those things in mind, I think it is safe to merge these two roles. It is usually preferable to have a dedicated Scrum Master, but not every organisation has that luxury (due to resources, time constraints, and so on).
So in summary, you can have a business analyst also be a Scrum Master. It is not always recommended but if you take some things into account such as their workload and career development, it can be successful. Do you have other ideas or opinions on this? Or have you tried this and it didn’t work? Please let me know in the comments.