A Scrum Master (Scrum Master), popularly known as the “servant leader” is a coach, motivator and leader of an Agile team. The role of a Scrum Master is to educate the team on Agile processes and help team members follow Scrum practices religiously.
A good Scrum Master helps to establish a high-performing team dynamic, a continuous flow, and an exponential improvement in processes. They are required to play a pivotal role and are responsible for the progressive development of a Scrum team.
The Scrum Master collaborates both with the Product Owner (PO) who focuses on building the right product, and the development team that focuses on building the product right. A Scrum Master’s job is essentially to help everyone understand and imbibe Scrum values, principles, and practices and get the best product out to the customer.
Read on to find out about the Scrum Master role and responsibilities, and much more!
A Scrum Master is a 'master' or expert in Scrum and has the ability to coach the team in the values, principals and processes of the Scrum framework.
Despite what the title implies, the Scrum Master does not have the full authority to make strategic product decisions. However, he or she is accountable for the Scrum process and the effectiveness of the scrum team. Any decisions on the scope of the work are the responsibility of the Product Owner and not the Scrum Master.
The Scrum Guide has defined a set of roles, rules, values and rituals that should be followed to get the optimum benefit of Scrum. The Scrum Master works in sync with the development team, Product Owner as well as the entire organization and coaches them through the implementation of the Scrum framework.
Scrum is very easy to understand, but at the same time equally tough to implement. While the Scrum Guide lays out precise instructions for following Scrum, almost all participants tell me in my training programs that they are using their own version of Scrum and not doing it by the book!
Let’s try and understand the challenges faced by the Scrum Master and how he or she plays the role of a servant leader.
A Scrum Master collaborates with all the members of the team, and is required to provide various services to the Product Owner, the Team and the organisation.
What is one service the Scrum Master provides to the Product Owner?
The Scrum Master both guides and serves the Product Owner in more ways than one including:
What is one service the Scrum Master provides to the Development Team?
The Scrum Master has an important role to play with respect to the development team.
What is one service the Scrum Master provides to the organization?
The Scrum Master has several responsibilities to the organization as well.
A Scrum Master on a SAFe team creates and nurtures an environment that supports smooth team dynamics, ensures continuous flow through the Agile Release Train, and facilitates ongoing improvement.
A SAFe Scrum Master represents the team in the Scrum of Scrums, keeping them aware of all efforts to engage and build upon program effectiveness across teams.
Project managers turned Scrum Master are still hung up on the 'command and control' style of leadership. They need to behave like an agile coach but they often end up behaving like wardens handling their jail prisoners. In many cases, they take over the full ownership and responsibility of the project, which goes against the grain of Scrum.
In such a scenario, the team never starts to take on the responsibility for their actions. Instead, a good Scrum Master can just show the way by which the team can carry out their own work, and assume ownership of the product.
Most often this does not work well because of the different kinds of focus that these two roles have. The Product Owner is the VOC – Voice of Customer, and speaks in the best interest of the stakeholders and the product that is being visualized.
The Scrum Master is supposed to be focussed on the long-term effectiveness of the team, so that the team structurally improves in delivering value to the stakeholders. He or she has to make sure that the interest of the team doesn’t suffer.
When one individual is tasked with assuming the role of both Scrum Master and Product Owner on the team, more attention could be paid to the short-term needs of stakeholders at the cost of the team.
It might happen that the Scrum Master is someone who has a strong technical background. They could then feel the urge to advise the development team on technical issues, since they may think that work will progress faster if they give the solution to the team.
This is not always the best way to go about matters. The Scrum Master should trust the team to take the right technical decisions and should not interfere in technical aspects.
What are the characteristics that a Scrum Master must possess, to be exceptional at their job? Here are the top traits of a successful Scrum Master.
First and foremost, a person who wants to be an effective process coach should be knowledgeable. The same holds true for a Scrum Master, who must understand the technical issues the team needs to address and the technologies the team will use to come up with end solutions. However, while they should be aware of the domain, they are not required to be an expert.
A Scrum Master needs to be patient and give time to the team to arrive at appropriate answers on their own. At times, all that may be needed is to oversee how the team is dealing with a certain issue, and step in only when they are unable to deal with it without support.
As a Scrum Master, you should have the right collaboration skills to work with the product owner, development team, and all other parties; even those who might not be directly involved with Scrum. The Scrum Master works as a process coach to help the Scrum team members achieve their goals.
Last but not least, the Scrum Master should be transparent in all forms of communication. When working with team members, there should be no hidden agendas; what you see and hear from the Scrum Master must be what you get. People expect nothing less of a servant leader.
The Scrum Master also promotes transparent communication outside of the Scrum team. Without transparency, it is difficult for the organization to inspect and adapt to achieve the desired business results using Scrum.
The Scrum Master wears many hats, and carries out several mission-critical responsibilities on the Scrum project. Here is a curated Scrum Master responsibilities list.
The Scrum Master acts as the coach for both the development team and the product owner. By acting as a bridge between the roles, he or she can enable the product owner to directly drive development.
The Scrum Master knows the capabilities of the team and constantly finds ways to help the team to boost performances and enhance productivity.
He or she makes sure that the team is well trained, and understands Agile well enough to address challenges on its own.
Like any good coach, the Scrum Master does not solve the problems faced by the team, rather, they facilitate them in solving the problem themselves. Only in extreme cases when the team is unable to find a resolution, the Scrum Master takes full accountability and ownership of the problem and gets it resolved.
The Scrum Master will facilitate and host all the Scrum events, including Sprint Planning Meetings, Daily Stand-up Meetings, Reviews and Retrospectives.
Sprint Planning Meeting
The Scrum Master in this meeting shall prevent the development team from being over ambitious by selecting more Product Backlog items than they can deliver. If the Scrum team is not very mature, they may also require help in estimation.
While the Scrum Master is not required to be a part of the Daily Scrum, he or she should make sure that the development team conducts it on time. In case the development team is distributed, the logistics to coordinate the Daily Scrum are made available to the development team.
The Scrum Master is a part of the review meeting and captures the feedback raised by the stakeholders. This feedback is used to take inputs from the team in the retrospective meeting.
The Scrum Master conducts the retrospective meeting, noting down the areas of improvement that were suggested by the team. At times, the Scrum Master could ask someone else to conduct the retrospective meeting so as to get a different point of view on the process improvement.
The Scrum Master is often referred to as a servant leader. A servant leader is someone who asks, “what can I do today to help you and the team be more effective?” rather than asking “what are you going to do for me today?”
His or her objective is to enhance and increase teamwork and personal involvement. Rather than being a master of the team, the Scrum Master is a master at encouraging, enabling and energizing people and helping them to realize their potential.
A servant leader should have the following qualities:
As a servant leader, the Scrum Master’s duties include:
While it is the Product Owner’s responsibility to create and maintain the product backlog, the Scrum master helps the product owner refine and groom the tasks, based on current status of the work and development needs. The Scrum Master is in the best position to do this, using the information gathered from the daily stand-up meetings.
The Scrum Master helps with the product backlog by scheduling review meetings and prioritizing tasks on user stories.
The Scrum Master acts as a protector and helps the team by protecting it from outside interference that comes in the way of delivering the business value during each sprint.
Interference can come from many sources; for instance it can be from managers who want to redirect team members in the middle of a sprint. No matter what the source of the interference, the Scrum Master acts as an interceptor and solves the issue amicably.
A core responsibility of the Scrum Master is to help the team stay focused on the tasks that need to be done in each iteration, and for this, any distractions and roadblocks that can impede progress must be ironed out. This is important especially when the team members cannot easily remove those impediments on their own.
For instance, if team members are being forced to attend too many unimportant meetings that do not allow them to make progress on the work, the Scrum Master can work with meeting organizers to pare down the number of attendees for each meeting. Only those who are absolutely essential can participate.
If a team member is being assigned tasks on multiple teams, the Scrum Master can work to redistribute the workload.
Again, there could be internal disagreements in the team about their individual working styles or there could be disagreements about the Scrum process itself. The Scrum Master may have a one-on-one meeting with development team members to understand the same, and resolve such conflicts before they escalate into full blown disagreements.
The Scrum Master is well versed in all key Scrum practices and processes, and knows how to follow the core values of Scrum. If the other team members are new to Agile, the Scrum Master acts as a mentor and teacher to guide new team members, helping them to learn the ropes and ensuring work does not slow down.
The Scrum Master has the authority to ensure whether the team enacts and adheres to the Scrum values, principles, and practices. Whenever they are found wanting, as a teacher, the Scrum master will help them to understand the scope and vision, and adhere to Scrum practices and rules.
In doing so, the Scrum Master helps the Scrum team to improve the process and helps in maximizing the delivered business value.
The 14th State of Agile Report reports that 58% of companies use Scrum and its related variants, making it by far the most popular Agile methodology. 85% of participating organizations practiced the Daily Stand-up, and 46% of companies believed that there was immense business value delivered through Agile. SAFe was considered the most popular scaling method, at 35% against 30% in the previous year.
Ready to embark on the journey of a Scrum Master? Are you a project manager transitioning into a Scrum Master’s role and looking for a primer on Scrum fundamentals? Or, are you a Scrum Master, who is looking to deepen your understanding of the Scrum Framework and the Scrum Master role? Consider getting a Scrum Master certification that matches your requirements and helps you to achieve your goals.
KnowledgeHut’s CSM® Certification Training is a sought-after course where professionals learn to use Scrum to optimize value and boost productivity.
Become an exceptional Scrum Master with real-time Scrum activities and simulations. These are some of the highlights of the course:
The Scrum Master smoothens out obstacles, facilitates events, ensures transparency in processes, resolves conflicts and helps the team understand the scope of work and how to follow goals to create high-end products.
The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner to prioritize and groom the Product backlog, imparts a clear understanding of product planning, and facilitates Scrum events as required by the Product Owner. He or she acts smoothens communications between the team and the Product owner.
As a Scrum coach and mentor, the Scrum Master helps all employees and stakeholders to appreciate the value of Scrum practices. He or she acts as a change agent for the Scrum transformation, helping in the adoption and scaling of Scrum across all levels and ensuring that everyone is on board with the Agile mindset and culture.
A Scrum Master on a SAFe team performs all the responsibilities of a Scrum Master on a single Scrum team, but has a 360-degree view of the enterprise context as well. A SAFe SM facilitates an environment that is conducive to scale Agile adoption across the whole enterprise, working along with other Scrum Masters to improve the entire value stream.
The SAFe Scrum Master has the core responsibility of assisting the team to manage its goals. In the SAFe context, he or she also works with other teams, as well as the management, to increase the effectiveness of the adoption of the framework across all levels.
If there are a hundred teams in the whole organization, having full time Scrum Masters on each team is practically impossible. So, depending on the size of the team and the responsibilities, the Scrum Master in a SAFe enterprise can play a part time, full time or consultant role. He or she carries out the role of the Scrum Master on a Scrum Team, but shoulders the responsibilities of helping to scale Scrum across the whole enterprise.
The SAFe Scrum Master is a Lean-Agile leader who helps the team adopt SAFe values, and is responsible for enforcing the practices of Scrum or other frameworks that are being adopted across the enterprise. He or she facilitates the progress toward goals, helps the team improve themselves and create high quality products, and smoothens the processes by removing any hindrances to work.
The SAFe Scrum Master also has responsibilities on the Agile Release Train, and represents the team in the Scrum of Scrums. Additionally, they are required to take part in the Scrum Master Community of Practice, and support the organization’s SPCs.
As a coach and mentor, the Scrum Master coaches the team and other stakeholders on effective Agile interactions, and ensures that Scrum best practices are followed implicitly. If there is any conflict between Agile and waterfall, the Scrum Master will guide the team by endorsing the benefits of Scrum. He or she will act as a teacher and onboard those who are new to Agile to the principles and practices of Scrum.
The Scrum Master facilitates and hosts Scrum events such as the Daily Stand-up, Sprint Planning, Retrospective and Review, among others, which increases transparency and boosts productivity across the team. He or she ensures that the team follows Scrum theory, practices, and rules, which will maximise the value created.
As a coach, mentor and guide, the Scrum Master is expected to help them to clear doubts and smoothen the progress of the project. If there are any Agile newbies on the team, the Scrum Master can advocate to the management that they should be given the required basic training to onboard them to the Agile ways of thinking.
As a servant leader, the Scrum Master’s goal is to serve the team. He or she helps people to achieve their potential, puts others needs first, and focuses on optimising performances.
The Scrum Master acts as the protector of the team, making sure that everyone is on the right track, and the project is up and running smoothly.
Scrum Masters play a pivotal role in balancing the interests of the other two Scrum-roles: the product owner and the development team. To act as a bridge between these two different forces, the Scrum Master should be cooperative and supportive.
Typically, the Scrum Master helps in developing and streamlining clear channels of communication, ironing out impediments and streamlining processes, thus ensuring timely deliveries of high-quality projects.
As the adoption of Agile keep increasing year on year, certified Scrum Masters are more sought after than ever before. Capitalize on the growing demand, and start your Scrum journey today!