Scrum stands out as one of the most dominant Agile frameworks used widely across the world. As per the ‘14th Annual State of Agile Report’ published by VersionOne, Scrum has 58% of the segment in the overall adoption of frameworks across the organizations globally. Not only has Scrum captured a large share in the industry, but it is also easy to implement and brings about a more collaborative approach.
Scrum has three roles: product owner, scrum master and the development team members. It is these three roles that define the way a team works towards a single goal. Of the three roles, the role of the Scrum Master will be the focus of this article. We will talk about the qualities that make a successful Scrum master stand out from the crowd and discuss the major skill sets that employers seek from Scrum masters. Later, we will delve into how best to prepare for this role and how necessary it is for a Scrum master to possess technical knowledge related to the product or technology the team is working on. Finally, we will address how a Scrum Master can accelerate change and positively impact delivery in the team.
What is a Scrum Master?
Scrum Masters are facilitators of Scrum who act as servant leaders to drive the delivery in terms of process and product. As facilitators, scrum masters act as coaches to the rest of the team, “servant leaders” as the Scrum Guide puts it. Good scrum masters are committed to the scrum foundation and values, but remain flexible and open to opportunities for the team to improve their workflow.
The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. They do this by helping the team and the management understand the theory, practices, rules, and values of Scrum.
Roles of a Scrum Master
The scrum master is the role responsible for glueing everything together and ensuring that scrum is being done well. In practical terms, that means they help the product owner define value, the development team deliver the value, and the scrum team to get better. The scrum master is a servant leader which not only describes a supportive style of leadership but describes what they do on a day-to-day basis. The several ways that a Scrum master services the product owner, the Scrum Team and the organization are elaborated below.
Service to the Product Owner
- Ensures that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible.
- Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management.
- Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items.
- Understanding product planning in an empirical environment.
- Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value.
- Understanding and practicing agility.
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.
Service to the Development Team
- Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality.
- Helping the Development Team to create high-value products.
- Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress.
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.
- Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.
Service to the Organization
- Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption.
- Planning Scrum implementations within the organization.
- Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development.
- Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team.
- Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.
Four main stances of a Scrum Master
The Scrum Master wears different hats to deliver results.
As a Facilitator
The Scrum Master is a facilitator who makes sure the team is following the scrum events by serving and empowering the team in achieving their objectives. The person must be ‘neutral’ without taking sides in any conversation or meeting, at the same time, back everyone to do their best in intellectual and in practice. On the lines of facilitation, Lyssa Adkins provides a very apt statement:
A Scrum Master should facilitate by creating a "container" for the team to fill up with their ideas and innovations. The container, often a set of agenda questions or some other lightweight (and flexible) structure, gives the team just enough of a frame to stay on their purpose and promotes an environment for richer interaction, a place where fantastic ideas can be heard. The coach creates the container; the team creates the content.
- Lyssa Adkins
As a Coach
The Scrum Master helps the team to understand the framework and accordingly coaches them for being self-organized and cross-functional. This person inspires an outlook of continuous improvement and Back the team in problem-solving and conflict resolution.
As a Servant Leader
The term Servant Leader was originated by Robert K. Greenleaf, who described this term as “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.
The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.
- Robert K. Greenleaf
This person ‘leads by example’ and puts the team/individuals' needs on priority. They make sure they are setting the foundation of trust, honesty, transparency, and openness. At the same time, they are the leader whom the team can look up to.
As a Change Agent
The scrum Master brings about the change in terms of process, practices, and ways of working. They act as a catalyst in the overall transformation to bring about the degree of change expected from an organization. They help the team follow the process along with helping the stakeholders understand the empirical process. They help the entire team to adopt processes and enhance the delivery.
Scrum myth: The scrum master must run the daily scrum. In fact, the scrum master does not run any of the events, just ensures they happen and that they are successful.
Top Qualities of a Successful Scrum Master
As with other roles, there is a secret sauce that goes into making the Scrum Master successful. While every individual serving as a Scrum Master may bring along their own personalities and strengths to reinforce the role, there are a couple of must-have qualities which every individual donning the Scrum Master role must hone. Let’s take a quick look at these traits that can add a pinch of charm to the Scrum Master role.
The Scrum Master needs to be very specific and clear on the communication they have with the team and with stakeholders. They must be aware of the right channels and when to use them. They should know how to influence teams for better results.
A good Scrum Master helps the team to understand Agile principles and why the team can gain better results through the adoption of ownership. They help the team to take ownership of their tasks, their task board, process, and even small failures.
Reads the room
The Scrum Master should be able to understand and sense the temperature of the room. They should know when conflict is cropping up and how to deal with it smartly. This helps to build a culture of trust and transparency amongst the teams.
The Scrum Master can become a star leader if they are neutral towards any situation or the individual. They focus on the problem rather on the individual. They know every individual is good and has the right intentions, it is just the situations that alter the way the team behaves. This not only helps in creating a rapport but also gives one the satisfaction of doing the right thing.
Scrum Master Job Description and Responsibilities
With the increase in demand for Scrum Masters globally, it is important to understand the job description. Every industry is different and so are their ways of working. While each organization may have their own versions of the job description for a Scrum Master as per their need in a project, we will take a closer look into the typical job description that organizations use.
Below are some of the common points you will usually find in an open position for a Scrum Master:
- Standups: Organize daily stand-up meetings, facilitate, and plan other project meetings as required including demos as suitable.
- Sprint reviews: Empower the team to become self-organized to consistently deliver on their sprint commitments.
- Adoption of best practices: Ensure development teams enthusiastically apply core agile principles of collaboration, prioritization, accountability, and visibility.
- Impediment removal: Responsible to address impediments that prevent successful development and testing of approved requirements.
- Visualization of issues: Support team to detect barriers that prevent it from delivering features to the customers.
- Agile master: Strong knowledge of Scrum philosophy, rules, practices, and other frameworks.
- Understanding of the software development process: Familiarity with software development processes and measures to understand team requirements.
- Process ownership: Harmonize scrum team with agile; collaborate with Leadership to ensure delivery teams practice Agile framework and software engineering best practices.
- Stakeholder management: Work in partnership with Stakeholders, Product Managers, Business Analysts, and development managers to plan releases and manage a healthy product backlog
- Metrics/reports: Endorse and present appropriate metrics to sustain continuous improvement to get the best out of each team. Report progress, team status, and issues across the board.
- Transparency: Communicate development status to sponsors, participants, management, and teams. Shares weekly or bi-weekly reports to ensure everyone understands the current state.
- Quality: Safeguard observance of quality standards and project deliverables. Understand principles to drive quality ethics and help in devising tools and practices for best end results.
How can I prepare for this role?
Donning the role of a Scrum Master is akin to heeding to an internal calling; the role requires a person to be patient, a good communicator, a good listener, and most of all emotionally intelligent. If you want to become a Scrum Master, make sure you understand the in-depth meaning of servant leadership. It is not just following the process and events that make up a Scrum Master, it is a huge role which requires leadership while serving the team. If this is your calling, then here are some steps you can take –
- Start learning about Scrum and how effectively you can use its values and principles with your team
- Start reading articles and blogs on best practices with success stories.
- Prepare for the certification required to start your journey.
- Make sure you have a mentor who can shape you well and can help you hone your skills
- Continuously work on your communication and influencing skills.
Is it essential for a Scrum Master to possess technical knowledge?
Of late, we have started noticing many job postings where organizations specifically demand a Scrum Master who is technically sound and knows the in and out of the technology the team is working on. Traditionally, however, Scrum Master is a non-technical role where the focus is on improving the work culture, adopting Scrum/Agile and its best practices, and helping the teams to grow, become self-organized and high performing. While it is a good-to-have criterion, technical knowledge is not mandatory. But then again, it really depends on the organization and their need.
Get started with the Scrum Master role
If you want to help teams work effectively together and want to change the world with scrum and agile, then the scrum master role is for you. It is a very people-centric role with a heavy emphasis on coaching, teaching, and facilitation. The Scrum Master role can be a game-changer for project delivery. They help the team understand their true potential which most of the times teams themselves are not aware of, with the help of coaching, mentoring, and using engaging team activities that help in understanding the overall process and delivery.
The Scrum Master role is critical and needs to be handled with care as the stakes are high. This role has a high degree of accountability and responsibility towards the team, process, and organization which not only requires an open mindset but also a concern for the wellbeing of co-workers.
Lived to its full potential, this role can build awesome high-performing teams that sustain hardships and efficiently draw learning out of every experience. Such teams are bound to succeed at every step, taking even failure as a step towards success.