With the steep upward trend in the adoption of agile practices across the IT industry, various frameworks have gained momentum. This has led to an appetite for exploring new ways of working and setting performance benchmarks. More and more organizations are looking for people who can help them effectively run in a new environment comprising of frameworks based on Agile and its variants. The recent survey published by version one clearly points out the Scaled Agile framework as one of the highly preferred models. With such a huge setup, skilled and trained people are required to run the show. Hence, the demand for certified SAFe® Scrum Masters has gained momentum in the last couple of years. The organizations, now, realize the criticality of this role for the implementation of scaled agile and its practices.
What is SAFe®?
SAFe stands for “Scaled Agile Framework®”. It helps in scaling the agile practices up to the enterprise level. The organization as a whole works together in delivering a solution to the client. All the layers have their purpose and deliverables. It has been designed to “continuously and efficiently deliver value on a regular and predictable schedule” – scaledagile.com. Over the years, the Scaled Agile framework has evolved as one of the highly appreciated frameworks across the IT industry. The scaled agile framework has different configurations that can be used for the need of the organization. The model is made in such a way so that it can cater to all sizes and complex environments.
There are different SAFe roles that are needed to implement the outline across the enterprise. In this article today we will talk about one of the most vital roles that serve the different layers of the organization, that of the SAFe Scrum Master.
SAFe® Scrum Master
A Scrum Master in the SAFe enterprise context is a servant leader who helps the teams achieve their goal through constant coaching, mentoring, and smooth facilitation of processes. It is the Scrum Masters who ensure that the team is focused and know the tasks they have to accomplish in the time given. Along with this, when we talk about SAFe, the scrum master is required to interact with different teams such as Product management and Portfolio management teams, or other release trains to ensure alignment. The role calls for the facilitation of Team and Program Level events for effective program execution.
Responsibilities of a SAFe® Scrum Master
- Kaizen as the way of delivery – The SAFe Scrum Master helps the team to learn from their mistakes and instills a sense of ownership for their actions and commitment. With the facilitation of the team retrospective, they try to surface hidden emotions and find new effective ways of improvement. Also, they help the team with problem-solving methods to create a better self-organizing team.
- Towards achieving sprint/release goals – The SAFe Scrum Master helps the team in creating increments that not only add value but also improve productivity. They help the teams to become more predictable. With effective facilitation, the team comes out with positive outputs after the end of each ceremony. The SAFe Scrum Master helps them through planning their iterations and scaling them up to the release planning level. They help organize the PI events which require certain pre-work for better PI outputs.
- Achieving the objective of release train – As part of scaling agile, the SAFe Scrum Master helps in aligning the teams with larger release trains, ensuring the common organization goal is met.
- Support the product owner for product backlog management and prioritization – The SAFe Scrum Master assists the Product Owner to manage the backlog and helps them with prioritization and estimation methods to define a healthy backlog.
- Being a change agent for SAFe adoption – The SAFe Scrum Master serves as a pillar in the implementation of scaled agile and its practices. They coach the different layers in the framework by participating in the Scrum Master Community of Practice and supporting the organization’s coaches.
- Manage impediments backlog and remove them – Many times, the implements go beyond the scope of the team's work span, and in such cases, the Scrum Master can reach out to external entities in getting the issues resolved. This helps in the timely execution of the sprint.
- Endorses SAFe practices – SAFe offers direction to support the teams in continuously improving the quality of their deliverables and adhering to the Definition of Done.
- Displays Lean-Agile leadership – Reveals the actions of a Lean-Agile Leader with a Lean-Agile Mindset. Helps the team embrace SAFe Core Values, adopt and apply SAFe Principles, and implement SAFe practices.
- Facilitates SAFe ceremonies – Facilitation is yet another activity in the bucket list of responsibilities. Facilitation of events, like the Daily Stand-up, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective ensures the optimal team performance and meeting of the timelines. The SAFe Scrum Master comes up with innovative ways to make the ceremonies effective and fruitful.
- Builds a highly motivated and self-organized team to deliver high business value – This is one of the main responsibilities of the SAFe Scrum Master. The focus is on improving the team dynamics and functioning. The Scrum Master coaches the team on self-organization through coaching/activities. The SAFe Scrum Master ensures the team maintains healthy relationships, by handling internal conflicts and challenges. Conflicts arise but being emotionally intelligent and keeping the dynamics healthy helps the team to move ahead.
- Understand team dynamics – Every team in Agile has its own way of working together as a group. They create their working agreements which are usually lightweight, but as they are committed to following certain rules, the SAFe Scrum Master is responsible for emphasizing that work is carried out in accordance with those rules. The rules can be around ceremonies, quality, deliverable timeline, or just around communication. It can be anything that helps the team to stay bonded, transparent, and disciplined.
- Manage the dependencies with other teams involved in the program – The SAFe Scrum Master helps the development team to constantly expand in terms of interactions and working rapport with other teams. They represent the team in the Scrum of Scrums (SoS) meeting, which helps the team to stay updated on the latest developments in terms of backlog, dependencies, risks, or other concerning areas. It helps them to be ready for any upcoming challenge. The Scrum of Scrums helps the team build active associations with the System Team, Architecture, and Shared Services, etc. Not only the Scrum Master, but the complete team holds the responsibility of creating a working relationship across the teams.
- ART Ceremonies – In the Scaled Agile framework, apart from team ceremonies, the SAFe Scrum Master has to assist the team in setting the groundwork for Agile Release Train activities, which includes PI Planning, focusing on laying out a plan for an entire release, System Demos, and the Inspect and Adapt.
- Facilitates estimation from Feature to story level – The development teams need support in understanding the estimation of the backlog items both at sprint and release level. The SAFe Scrum Master helps them identify models that can be used for efficient estimation of stories and features. Estimation helps the team in planning their work for upcoming sprints, which in turn, helps in the overall commitment.
- Improves organization agility – Along with working through their teams, the SAFe Scrum Master is required to work collaboratively with other Scrum Masters, management, and stakeholders to help the team stay aligned with the committed goals, and promote improvement towards the overall development of the Value Stream. The SAFe Scrum Master has to focus on both internal and external team activities to ensure effective and timely deliveries.
How SAFe® Scrum Master is different from Non-SAFe Scrum Master
In a Scaled Agile framework, the teams at the development level follow methods/frameworks that can align with the organization's goals. The team can adopt Scrum, Kanban, XP, etc. or any other framework that works best for their requirement. A SAFe Scrum Master does not specifically have to work on Scrum implementation if the team is following another method.
However, when implementing SAFe Scrum, the Scrum Master has to live and follow Scrum practices and scale them across all teams. A SAFe Scrum Master not only supports the development team with all the responsibilities of a Scrum Master but also helps in running SAFe activities and gets involved in continuous improvement at all layers. In contrast, the Scrum Master in a non-SAFe team focuses only on the development team and its timely deliveries including impediment removal and risk mitigation. In short, the role also gets scaled up!
How to become a SAFe® Scrum Master
To become a SAFe Scrum Master, you must undertake training through accredited institutes. They not only provide an in-depth understanding of the topics but also teach how to enforce the implementation journey. The participants get to learn how to create high-performing teams. The certification signifies that the person is ready for the role and can help the organizations realize their goals. The course completion is followed by an exam to access the candidates’ knowledge.
The SAFe Scrum Master plays a critical role in scaling Scrum across the enterprise. To achieve success in this role, he or she must have skills in collaboration, emotional intelligence, and servant leadership attributes. It is not about just working with the teams, but with the organization as a whole.