Scrum Master - Definition, Benefits, Roles, Skills Required

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31st May, 2019
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Scrum Master - Definition, Benefits, Roles, Skills Required

Recently, Industries have experienced a shift from traditional methods to newer technologies to meet high market competitive demands. These businesses are leveraging on Scrum Masters and their use of Agile Project Management practices for iterative developments, fostering teamwork, and quick delivery of high-quality products. 

Given the two main words of interest, a Master is someone who has complete control and huge knowledge or skill on a particular subject and shows great proficiency. While the word “Scrum” was derived from the sport of rugby which was used to refer to “teamwork”.  

Simply put, a Scrum Master is a Team Leader who uses Scrum methodology, which is a framework designed to enhance team collaboration on complex products through Agile software development practices. It also emphasizes improved speed on complex activities. 

Agile Project Management is a popular methodology for planning and guiding complex project processes. KnowledgeHut agile management training courses will teach you how each project is completed incrementally, in small iterations and in a delegated working timeframe known as a sprint. 

What is a Scrum Master? 

A Scrum Master is a promoter and standard-bearer of a project whose aim is to meet the client's expectations. He makes use of the agile project management method to build and lead a team through to a project's accomplishment. 

Scrum has become a popular rapidly advancing project management methodology used across the globe by several multinationals and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to increase the efficiency of processes, and this is often dependent on the Scrum Master. 

A distinguishing feature of a good Scrum Master is his ability to provide support to team members and not necessarily boss them around. He also performs managerial and leadership roles. 

What Does a Scrum Master Do?

A glance through a Scrum Master's daily to-do list will show a striking level of organization and tidiness, with numerous activities lined up for the day. 

Generally, a Scrum Master is saddled with the responsibility to effectively execute a project by prudently adhering to already established guiding principles and frameworks. 

The Scrum Master takes foremost precedence over the daily Scrum, planning Sprints, reviewing set Sprints, and performing Sprint retrospectives. 

Daily Scrum  

A typical Scrum Master establishes daily standups for the following purposes: 

  1. Check-in with the team on activities and questions they may have from the previous day 
  2. Offer responses to priority mails from team members, Product Owners, or stakeholders   
  3. Make deliberations on the present day’s activities. 

Planning Sprints   

Sprint planning is an activity in Scrum that determines what is to be delivered in the next sprint and how to go about achieving it. 

During Sprint planning, the product backlog is created which kick-starts the Scrum and makes visible the sprint goal. Also, in collaboration with the whole team, iterative steps are planned for and adjustments are made to the Scrum Workflow. 

Important questions should be answered on “what” product needs to be manufactured, “how” the team plans to accomplish the sprint, and “who” should be involved like Product owners. 

Sprints Review

SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reliable, and Time-bound make it easier to monitor the progress of milestones and be detailed enough to note possible impediments, modify and/or take them out before they cause adverse effects. 

Sprint Retrospectives  

This is a regular meeting set up after the completion of a sprint. It serves the following functions 

  1. To celebrate what was done rightly encourages its continuity. 
  2. To point out areas that went just fine but could be improved upon for the next sprint.  
  3. To draw the team's attention to upcoming sprints. 

Considers Any Other Business

A good Master is always open to suggestions and stays receptive to new ideas and opportunities that could positively improve teamwork. 

Final check-ins with the team are done to be sure oversights are avoided. 

Who Needs a Scrum Master?

What comes to mind when deciding to hire a Scrum Master is the level of commitment and investment of the organization or project to the use of Scrum and its practices. 

Anyone undergoing a project using the Scrum methodology will require a Scrum Master, but specifically, a project newly started, will require an experienced Scrum Master for useful consultations necessary for the execution of the activities. 

It is an economical practice to find a team priding in its ability to go on without a proper Scrum manager, unfortunately, a non-Scrum master lacking the needed experience may be unable to function at its best. 

Scrum Master Roles, Responsibilities, and Skills 

Roles of a Scrum Master

A Scrum Master performs the following roles; 

  1. Leadership and supportive roles  
  2. Research on methods to effectively manage a project 
  3. Communicator of the main aim of the project owner to the project team 
  4. Organization Role 
  5. Planning  
  6. Implementation of Scrum practices 
  7. Collaborator 
  8. Training and coaching of team members on Scrum practices 

Responsibilities of a Scrum Master

  1. Upholds Scrum Best Practices  

A Scrum Master improves usage of Scrum by removing outdated processes and enhancing the incorporation of updated and approved practices.  

  1. Proffers Solutions to Problems That May Threaten Success of the Project 

This is achieved by removing organizational challenges and obstacles and resolving issues that may serve as roadblocks to the progress and success of a project. 

  1. Improving Learning and Adaptation Through Training and Mentoring 

Scrum masters encourage self-development by using daily challenges as a learning opportunity for the team, so they consistently grow and improve on themselves.  

  1. Encourages Good Communication Between Team Members 

Effective communication within a team goes a long way in facilitating collaboration and this is a core concept that drives the Scrum methodology. 

  1. Facilitation of Scrum Stand-up Meetings 

Scrum Masters improve the efficiency and organization of scrum meetings by redirecting the Scrum team to focus on better ways of product development.  

Skills of a Scrum Master

Below are the top 10 skills and soft skills of a Scrum Master: 

  1. Leadership 
  2. Communication 
  3. Collaboration 
  4. Conflict resolution 
  5. Problem-solving 
  6. Adaptability 
  7. Negotiation 
  8. Decision making 
  9. Team building 
  10. Forecasting 

Scrum Master Vs Project Manager

A Scrum Master can serve as a Project Master and vice versa. However, these positions are not the same. The following differences listed below exist between them: 

ParametersScrum MasterProject Manager
Primary focusFocus is on the team and its members, ensuring success is achievedPrimarily focus on the project's outcome
PositionLeadership positionManagement position
RoleFosters leadership and collaborationActively commands and controls the project
StructureBuilds a technical and cooperative structureBuilds a strategic structure
Decision makingDecentralized decision-making processCentralized decision-making process
ActivityTrains team members in other to get a job doneAssigns job description and monitors the activities of the job
ExperienceProficient in the use of Scrum principlesExperienced in team management
HierarchyReports directly to the owner of the projectReports to other team managers
BehaviorEnsures the vision is brought to land lightEnsures the implementation of project strategies
ProcessesIterative processesRelease process

Scrum Master Vs Product Owner

The roles and responsibilities of a Scrum master and a product owner are very different from each other: 

A product owner manages and ensures maximum gain of the value of a product is obtained whereas, a Scrum Master supports the product owner and provides leadership to the project team. 

The table below differentiates between a Scrum Manager and a Product Owner: 

ParametersScrum MasterProduct Owner
Job descriptionTeam coach, ensuring product quality is maintained  Ensures the project's vision is brought into the products backlog  
SkillsProficiency in use of ScrumCreativity and Critical thinking
Responsibilities
  • Develops effective strategies for the project team  
  • Enhances Scrum values are maintained 
  • Coordinates the activities across all functions in a project 
  • Develops clear criteria for the project 
  • Defines product acceptable features 
  • Is responsible for ensuring the profitability of the product 

How To Become a Scrum Master?

To become a certified Scrum Master, there are some steps to follow: 

1. Acquire a Robust Set of Soft and Technical Skills  

A prerequisite to becoming a Scrum Master is having basic soft skills like leadership, communication, presentation, analytical, problem-solving, and project management skills, in addition to a good knowledge of software development. 

Possessing a Bachelor's degree in Information Technology or computer science or a similar field is helpful. 

2. Familiarity With Framework and Life Cycle of Scrum  

There are numerous resources and courses available on all there is to know about scrum, anyone interested in becoming a Scrum Master must invest time to study these materials. 

3. Go Through Certified Scrum Trainer Course   

After deciding on the best certification, the next is to have good working knowledge in the use of Agile principles, methods, and frameworks, this will be used to provide answers and solutions for the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) exam. 

4. Pass the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) Exam  

The CSM certification is globally recognized and offered to professionals who emerge successful from the CSM exam with a proven grasp of Scrum terminology, principles, and practices.  

5. Send out Job Applications for Scrum Master Roles  

After becoming a Certified Scrum Master, the next is to secure a job in order to practice the use of Agile or Agile methodologies. 

Scrum Master Job Description

The job description of a Scrum Master cuts across the following areas in which he is expected to be proficient at, these are: 

1. Facilitate Team-building  

It is the responsibility of the Scrum Master to create flexible self-organizing teams through workshops and foster good communication between them that enables effective functioning during sprints. 

2. Teach and Coach  

A high-level understanding of basic concepts and processes of agile methodology is expected of a Scrum Master, and while he builds on the job, he impacts the knowledge of team members through instructions and training, similar to what a coach would do.  

3. Mentor and Lead  

With great leadership and guidance, a strong team is built!... The Scrum master functions as a trusted adviser and thus provides a sense of complete satisfaction derived from watching the team grow and become better.  

4. Manage Timelines  

It is the job of a Scrum Master to manage the project management timeline by making sure set deadlines are met based on their schedules. This is so the team members are all aware of the sequence of events that will be carried out till the entire project is completed. 

5. Resolve Problems 

Here, the Scrum Master uses their skills to identify, analyze and determine the root cause of a problem. Then create solutions to these obstacles that could hinder achieving the ultimate goal, and lastly, put measures in place to check-mate similar problems that may arise in the future. 

Benefits of Employing a Scrum Master 

The benefits of employing a Scrum Master may not be initially obvious, and may only manifest later in the course of a project. Some benefits include the following: 

A) Utilization of Appropriate Skills Related to a Project Through Solid Scrum Knowledge-base 

Through the wealth of knowledge of a certified Scrum master, it is easier to identify and utilize skills specific to a project and bring them on board for the smooth sailing of a project. 

B) Influences Organization to Adopt Agile Principles 

The management of a business will feel more at ease investing in the agile methodology when a Scrum Master is in charge of a project and they can bank on the Master's presence for a perfect result. 

C) Ensures a Business Stays Relevant and Marketable 

Through experience, a certified Scrum Master will open up an organization to multiple business opportunities, and brand and market products in an attractive way. 

D) Maintains a Professional Environment 

The development of self-managing teams in a workplace keeps members on track and focused. It encourages peers to work better and reinforces the use of scrum principles applicable to that particular project.  

E) Attracts high-end Clients 

The presence of a Scrum Master in an organization can be likened to a “priced possession” which sets a business on a pedestal and makes it easier to win projects from high-level clients who will most likely award the contract to such an organization as opposed to one without a Scrum Master onboard. 

Common Pitfalls of Scrum Master 

Even a Master is bound to make mistakes, since “to err is human”!……Outlined below are certain scenarios that lead to mistakes on the path of a Scrum Master: 

  1. Feigned Scrum Method   

This applies to businesses that allow other non-agile methodologies like waterfall while claiming to use Scrum. Failure to acknowledge and completely utilize the agile principles eventually leads to a phenomenon called “Cargo Cult Agile” which deprives them of the total scrum benefit package and leads to rapid team exhaustion from having to mix both methodologies. 

Solution: This is simple, stick to the original plan, avoid non-agile methods and follow Scrum thoroughly so it yields the expected outcome. 

  1. Overzealous Product Owner 

Though unintentionally, a product owner could project a domineering and overzealous attitude that can be a hindrance to the leadership activities of a Scrum Master. 

Solution: by properly orienting product owners on the limit of their activities and on the need to avoid the do-it-all-behavior, this pitfall can be avoided.  

  1. Poor Training 

A poorly trained scrum team will be more difficult to lead as there will be more frequent slip-ups. 

Solution: effective and proper training of the Scrum team so they skill up for better results. 

  1. Deficiency in Required Knowledge-base 

Failure to address the inadequacy or absolute deficiency in knowledge or skill-sets needed for projects can result in a pitfall. 

Solution: before the commencement of a project, proper evaluation of the competencies of team members should be done and necessary adjustments/ improvements made through training sessions. 

  1. Lack of Accountability 

A lack of accountability will bring any project to its knees regardless of the type of project. 

Solution: specific assigned roles to individuals creates a sense of responsibility and makes tracking accountability of the project easier. 

  1. Lack of a Proper Backup Plan 

No matter the trust and confidence in a plan, it is always a smart move to create a backup plan so it is in place when the need arises. 

Solution: have dedicated funds and resources set up for a contingency plan. 

  1. Poor Risk Assessment and Management 

Every project is bound to have risks that could cause a derailing in the path to success. 

Solution: Time should be allocated to assess risks and their possible impact on a given project and thereafter solutions made. 

  1. Low Funds  

Many times, a project is embarked upon with minimal funds with the hope to manage, only for it to meet a screeching halt. 

Solution: This is best avoided by sourcing enough funds and resources needed for the project's execution before its commencement to avoid waste of time and resources. 

  1. Poorly Defined Goals and Unrealistic Deadlines  

Lack of clarity on the goal of a project greatly hinders its progress and nothing good comes from being too ambitious when setting up deadlines. Also, asking for the impossible from team members will weaken their enthusiasm. 

Solution: clearly stating the goal goes a long way to direct team members better as everyone works with the same understanding of what needs to be done.  

  1. Sheer Negligence  

Yes, “to err is human”, however, pitfalls can occur from neglect or outright carelessness from the project manager, the Scrum master, or even from team members. 

Solution: the Scrum master should lead by example, and encourage team members to be diligent in carrying out tasks. 

Conclusion

Scrum has gained remarkable publicity in recent times and is currently the most used Agile framework because it is simple to use, and still produces quality products and services within short cycles while encouraging rapid feedback for continuous adaptation and improvement of team members. 

“Servant leader” is a term used sometimes to describe a Scrum Master because of the strong support they offer their team members.  

Cutting-edge, and enormously valuable are the services of a good Scrum Master, as the managing team is best suited to accomplish set goals through planning and organization.  

A Successful Scrum Master has an excellent understanding of the agile practices, values, and framework, together with the ability to effectively facilitate and motivate team activities, mentor improved developments, and foster interpersonal relationships between project team members. 

Frequently Asked Questions ( FAQs) 

  1. What Is a Scrum Master Salary?

The level of experience determines the salary scale of a Scrum Master. Pay ranges based on experience level from entry to expert level.  

The average salary of a Scrum Master in the US is $103,737, this value was derived from gathering anonymous responses from US Scrum Master employees. 

2. What Does Scrum Stand For? 

The term “Scrum” was derived from the game of rugby and it simply means “teamwork”.  

3. What Are The Three Pillars Of Scrum? 

Scrum has three pillars upon which it is built, these include; 

  • Transparency: this means all involved parties understand and have insight into all the happenings involved in the project. 
  • Inspection: the product, involved persons, processes, and tools are all inspected. Team members working on the project as the inspectors as this task is often not assigned to a particular individual.
  • Adaptation: This is driven by the previous two, but its impact is felt more directly as it optimizes the outcome of the product. 

4.Is Agile And Scrum The Same? 

No, they are not the same. Scrum is an Agile framework used in building certain projects, especially those that have to do with software. On the other hand, Agile is a project management methodology that makes use of “sprints”, which are brief developmental cycles, to carry out project management activities. 

Also, Agile methodologies are said to have started in the technology industry, unlike the Scrum Master job which spans a wide range of industries and is used in numerous countries worldwide. 

Profile

Rajesh Bhagia

Blog Author

Rajesh Bhagia is experienced campaigner in Lamp technologies and has 10 years of experience in Project Management. He has worked in Multinational companies and has handled small to very complex projects single-handedly. He started his career as Junior Programmer and has evolved in different positions including Project Manager of Projects in E-commerce Portals. Currently, he is handling one of the largest project in E-commerce Domain in MNC company which deals in nearly 9.5 million SKU's.

In his role as Project Manager at MNC company, Rajesh fosters an environment of teamwork and ensures that strategy is clearly defined while overseeing performance and maintaining morale. His strong communication and client service skills enhance his process-driven management philosophy.

Rajesh is a certified Zend Professional and has developed a flair for implementing PMP Knowledge Areas in daily work schedules. He has well understood the importance of these process and considers that using the knowledge Areas efficiently and correctly can turn projects to success. He also writes articles/blogs on Technology and Management