Should a Scrum Master ever crack the whip?

Scrum Master

We know the Scrum Master role is different from a project manager. Scrum Masters are servant leaders, coaches and facilitators. Project managers are more aligned with command and control.

Does this mean that Scrum Masters should never crack the whip on the team?

Well, yes and no.

Just because Agile teams are self-organized, they sometimes still need to be pushed. Ideally the team will push themselves, but if that’s not happening then yes, the Scrum Master should put some pressure on the team. In Scrum, it’s usually the Product Owner who has some authority. Although the Scrum Master doesn’t have authority, they can vocalize the importance of getting work done (aka, crack the whip).

There are some misconceptions about Agile and Scrum when it comes to pressure. Some people think Scrum is a low pressure environment. Not true. In Scrum, they call iterations Sprints because teams are moving fast! There is pressure. There is also more visibility. Everyone can see what everyone else is working on in the Sprint. There is no hiding.

So, while cracking the whip usually aligns with project management, I do think it’s sometimes appropriate for Scrum Masters.

What are you thoughts?

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.




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  1. I suppose it all depends on how we’re defining “crack the whip” in this circumstance. Here’s two ways it could be defined:

    1. We can tell them what to do, tell them when, and then demand they get it done.
    2. We tell them why, persuade them of its importance, ask for their commitment on the issue and by when, and support them–sometimes through accountability–along the way.

    Only one of these two is appropriate in an agile shop while the other is not.

  2. Danail

    That is absolutely fault. The SM does not have an authority over the project nor the team. Agile teams are formed around motivated individuals who can be looked at as volunteers. They wake up in the morning and coming to their working space voluntarily. Yes, Scrum promotes a stress but it is a self-formed stress. Nobody instructs the team how to do their job, they are introduced to the future product and that is it. The team thrives in a protected environment where they can share knowledge they can trust each other they can acknowledge any mistakes they made without the fear of anyone blaming them or underestimating their work. If the team does not comply with the principles of Agile then the SM or the Agile Coach have the responsibility to drive and guide the team appropriately. Even if there is a slightest sign of micromanagement or top-down management model then you cannot expect agility at all. It would all fall back to Waterfall and the and only then the team can be pressurised by managers of any calibre. Motivation is the main aspect of Agile.

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