Thanks to Kim Hardy for a great conversation which was the original inspiration for this post.  See more of Kim's great work here.

When teams are first adopting scrum one the first questions they ask is “Who should be our Scrum Master.

Often teams take the path of least resistance saying things like “Steve is the Tech Lead, he can do it” or “Joe wants to try it…let's let him do it”.  But choosing a Scrum Master is not something that should be taken lightly.

The Scrum Master is responsible for shepherding the Scrum process for a team.  Not only are they responsible for the execution of the process, i.e., setting up Daily Standups or running Sprint Planning meetings, but they are also responsible for helping the team stick to the process when things get tough.  This means that this is a very important role for the team…especially a new team.

A Mix of Skills

When I talk with managers about choosing their first Scrum Master, I inevitably draw the same diagram on the whiteboard…

Scrum Master Skills

On the left side of the diagram we see a few individuals who really want to try the role of Scrum Master.  Perhaps they have aspirations to management and see the role as a first step, or the adoption of Scrum is new and exciting and they want to be a part of it.  Whatever the reason, they want to be a Scrum Master.

On the other side of the diagram we see those individuals who just seem to have a natural knack for what the Scrum Master role requires.  They enjoy seeing the team succeed as a whole and want to do everything they can to help them do so.  They have the political savvy in the organization to head off outside interruptions so the team doesn't lose focus.  And, most importantly, the team respects them.  These are the individuals that when they speak, the rest of the team looks up from their laptops to listen. These are the exact kind of people that you want facilitating the Scrum process.

If we're lucky, we'll have both types of individuals on a team.  But, if we're really lucky, we'll have that rare individual that falls into both groups:  someone who wants to be a Scrum Master and has the knack to be successful at it.

Those who want to serve this role but do not have the natural ability may not be effective, especially in that tumultuous time when a team is just getting started.  On the other hand, those who have innate ability but aren't truly interested in being a Scrum Master won't give the role the attention that it needs, causing the process to falter as it tries to take hold.

How to Choose

While we'd love to find and individual who has both the desire and the natural ability, the reality of the situation is that few will have both.  Instead, we're forced to choose.  Do we choose the individual who wants to be a Scrum Master but does not yet have the skills, or do we choose the individual with an innate ability but no interest.

When given the option, we should always err on the side of those with want.  If someone has the passion for their new role but is simply lacking skills then, with time, those skills can be taught.  However, if someone has the skills but not the desire, then no amount of time will fill that gap.

Passion Trumps Skill

Choosing the first Scrum Master for your team is a very important decision and not one that should be taken lightly.  Ideally you can find someone with both the desire and natural ability to fill the role, but failing that, someone with the passion and a willingness to learn will always serve the role best in the long term

Want to see more about how to choose the Scrum Master that's right for your team? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework, for tips and techniques for choosing the Scrum Master that's most likely to be successful.

Don't have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.