Playing Hockey without a Goalie

Playing Hockey without a Goalie

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I was watching an NHL game the other evening. The team was playing a hockey game without a goalie.

Apparently the team had decided that their goalie was too expensive. So they traded him away to another team.

Then the backup goalie was sick. And his equipment didn’t fit anyone on the team, so they decided to “go without”.

In a pre-game interview with the General Manager, he said that it was strictly a financial decision. They felt that the team could fill in the goalie role by sharing it amongst themselves.

If it worked out as he expected, then they might consider this change as a permanent part of their hockey team structure.

At the very end of the interview, he wondered –

What does a Goalie do anyway? For 90% of the game they’re idle. What a waste of money. Why not get the team to “pitch in” and fill that role? It just makes good sense…

Unfortunately, this story ends badly. The team lost 22-1 in the game. Apparently, no one on the team wanted to put themselves “in front of” +100 mph pucks, so the goal was essentially empty for the entire game.

Imagine that!

Now before you think that I’ve lost my mind, there is a point to my totally made up story. It relates to the ScrumMaster role on Scrum teams.

Not that long ago, I read a LinkedIn article by Ben Linders. You can read it here –

Why Implementing Dedicated Full-Time Scrum Masters Is Difficult – What’s The Alternative?

In it he makes the case that not committing to full-time ScrumMasters is sort of normal behavior. He seems to be saying that it is too costly, too inconvenient, misinterpreted, or too hard to actually COMMIT to doing Scrum as described in the Scrum Guide.

That instead, there are other approaches that are “as good as” having a full-time, dedicated, highly skilled, ScrumMaster.

I simply disagree. And I have a hard time when thought-leaders in our business make these sorts of overarching statements. Sure, I’ve seen all of the anti-patterns that Ben implies. Yes, it’s a hard role. And yes, a large group of the clients I’m coaching initially approach it this way. But I think it’s my job to try to get them to think of applying Scrum principles and practices in a thoughtful, as-intended way.

And being a solid hockey goaltender is a hard role as well. But I don’t think that “doing without” or cobbling something together that marginalizes the role is the way to go.

Now I’m not trying to pick on Ben. It’s just that his experience is that ScrumMasters are not considered a necessary investment when you’re moving to Scrum. That’s ok.

But I want to go on record as follows:

IF you’re playing hockey, then you need a goalie!

And a skilled goalie, who is full-time, and who is equipped to be successful in their role.

IF you’re playing Scrum, then you need a ScrumMaster!

And a skilled ScrumMaster, who is full-time, and who is equipped to be successful in their role.

That’s just the way I see it.

Stay agile my friends,


Here’s a Meta-Cast podcast episode that nicely compliments this article –

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