What Happens When a Scrum Master Takes a Vacation?

What Happens When a Scrum Master Takes a Vacation?
August 25, 2019 By Michael Miller

What Happens When a Scrum Master Takes a Vacation?

Everyone loves a vacation. A chance to escape the stress and responsibility of work. However, some jobs are more demanding, making it more difficult to take time off.  Working in a Scrum team, particularly being a Scrum Master, is one of those jobs. Team members work hard and deserve their vacations, but what impact does vacation time have on the continuity of the Development Team? What happens when your Scrum Master decides he/she wants to take a few days off? Or a few weeks off?

Find a Replacement

The length of time of the vacation will determine whether or not you need a replacement. If the Scrum Master is taking a one week vacation, the chances are that the Development Team can continue on with the status quo. A replacement is not likely to be necessary. 

However, in the event the Scrum Master is taking a few weeks off, you will want to have someone else fill in. The rule of thumb is, for any vacation time that extends beyond one week, you want to think about having someone else fill that Scrum Master role during their absence.

Teams Shouldn’t Forget Scrum

You cannot forget about Scrum when the Scrum Master takes a vacation. The Development Team must continue to practice Scrum to the best of its ability. They need to hold all Scrum events and talk through items just as they did prior to the Scrum Master’s absence. Regular Scrum meetings need to continue so that the team’s agile momentum is not lost.

Say you had a Sprint where your Scrum Master was around for the planning but was then on vacation until the Demo a few weeks later. The Development Team works User Stories, but some team members run into roadblocks. If you put all of the Scrum events on hold while the Scrum Master is on vacation, the Sprint is much less likely to be successful.

Plan Ahead

what happens when a scrum master takes a vacation

The Scrum Master has a responsibility to the Development Team to plan ahead. If there are any issues coming down the pipe, it would be wise to make the team aware of them before they become problems in the Scrum Master’s absence. It is better to be proactive in dealing with these issues rather than waiting to be reactive. For example, the Scrum Master may have an awareness of a problem with technical debt in the Sprint ahead. Talk about that with the team, and how to correct it, even in the Scrum Master’s absence.

The Scrum Master should also try to stay available as much as possible. In the event there is an emergency, having your contact information can be a massive help. The trick here is to set boundaries. A Scrum Master does not want a phone call at midnight while on vacation. Give days and times when you can be available so that if the Development Team needs their Scrum Master, they can still be there from a distance to help. Often times when Scrum Masters go on vacation they will create a transition document, or a wiki page, with all pertinent team info (if it doesn't already exist), so that they can hand off the team and its activities to whomever their replacement is.

This transition document would include things like contact information for team members, Product Owners, stakeholders, technical support, frequently used resources, etc. It might also include a list of current stories or a link to their Sprint board, as well as a list of upcoming stories, or stories the Scrum Master knows will need to be included in Backlog Refinement, should one occur while they're on vacation. Also included on a page could be the dates/times of upcoming events, expected attendees, etc. That way the person taking care of things while the Scrum Master is away can be aware of all the team’s events without having to ask around for what's coming up.

Use Your Vacation Checklist

The Scrum Master should have a vacation checklist they work through before heading out on vacation.  It may look something like this:
-    Alert the team well ahead of the vacation so they can plan for it
-    If needed, work with the team to find a temporary replacement
-    Provide a reminder to continue all Scrum events as usual
-    Raise any upcoming issues and work through remediation ahead of leaving for vacation
-    Provide contact information and set boundaries

With careful planning, a Scrum Master can take a vacation and still ensure that the Development Team will continue to run strong.