A Scrum Master (Scrum Master), popularly known as the “servant leader” is a coach, motivator and leader for 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. He/she plays a pivotal role and is 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.
As an agile coach, I’m often asked about the differences between a Project Manager and a Scrum Master. Are they the same? Is a Project Manager accountable for software developed using waterfall methodology alone? And likewise, is a Scrum Master only accountable for projects that are based on Agile methodology?
This article attempts to address some of the key differences between these two management roles and highlight the importance of the Scrum Master who is in essence a warrior in Agile projects. Is the Scrum Master a warden in charge of wards who are known as the Development Team? Or is a Scrum Master the Captain America figure of the team who will protect the Scrum Team?
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 tandem 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. 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 (Scrum guide).
Let’s try and understand the challenges faced by the Scrum Master and how he/she plays the role of a servant leader.
A Scrum Master collaborates with all the members of the team, and for each specific role, has to provide various services to the following people in the team:
1. Scrum Master’s service to the Product Owner:
The Scrum Master both guides and serves the Product Owner in more ways than one including:
2. Scrum Master’s service to the development team:
The Scrum Master has an important role to play with respect to the development team.
3. Scrum Master’s service to the organization:
The Scrum Master has several responsibilities to the organization as well.
A Scrum Master also performs various principal responsibilities and acts as the:
The Scrum Master acts as the coach for both the development team and the product owner. He can remove barriers between the roles and enable the product owner to directly drive development. The Scrum Master focuses on the team and finds a way to help the team to take its performance to the next level. A Scrum Master makes sure that the team is well equipped enough to address challenges on their own. Like any good coach, the Scrum Master does not solve the problems faced by the team, rather, he facilitates 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.
2. Servant Leader:
The Scrum Master is often referred to as a servant leader. Even if he is a team coach, he is a servant to the Scrum team. A servant leader is the one 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:
3. Process Authority:
The Scrum Master has the authority to ensure whether the team enacts and adheres to the Scrum values, principles, and practices. The Scrum Master helps the Scrum team to improve the process and helps in maximizing the delivered business value. The authority of a Scrum Master is not exactly the same as that of a functional manager or a project manager, as he or she does not have the right to hire and fire and cannot ask the team about the completion of the task. Again, the Scrum Master also does not hold the responsibility of making sure the work gets done. Instead, he or she helps the team define and adhere to its own process for making sure the works get done.
4. Impediment Remover:
The Scrum Master is responsible for removing impediments or blocks that hamper progress. This is important especially when the team members cannot easily remove those impediments on their own. This results in increased productivity.
5. Interference Shield
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.
Meanwhile, in a utopian world the development team should be able to manage their own process. But most teams that are migrating from other development methodologies to the Scrum framework depend on the Scrum Master to guide them through this process. It takes time for the responsibility to diffuse through the team. Listed above were the guidelines laid down by the Scrum Guide on how the Scrum Master should service the team and organization. Listed below are a few other responsibilities, though not laid out in the Scrum Guide, that are followed by millions of Scrum Masters across the globe.
Sprint Planning Meetings: 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, he /she may also help in estimation.
Sprint Retrospectives: The Scrum Master shall conduct this retrospective meeting and shall note the areas of improvement that were suggested by the team. At times, the Scrum Master would ask someone else to conduct the retrospective meeting so as to get a different point of view on the process improvement.
Sprint Review: The Scrum Master is a part of the review meeting and captures the feedback raised by the stakeholders. He / she uses this feedback to take inputs from the team in the retrospective meeting.
Daily Scrums: He/she doesn’t need to be a part of the Daily Scrum but makes 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.
Scrum Board Management: The Scrum Master makes arrangements for the Scrum board to be made available to the development team. It may be a physical board or a digital one on any of the project management tools available in the organization.
Removing Impediments: The Scrum Master makes sure to remove any impediment that prevents the team from performing. The impediments may come in the form of external blockers or could be internal to the team.
Guidance and support to the team: Scrum Masters will regularly guide the Scrum team by helping them progress in their careers.
Internal disagreements: There could be internal disagreements in the team about their individual working styles or there could be disagreements about the Scrum process. The Scrum Master works to his/her best capability to iron out such issues. He / she may have a one-on-one meeting with development team members to understand the same.
Some common mistakes / pitfalls made by the Scrum Master:
Scrum Master behaves like the warden: 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 land up behaving like wardens handling their jail prisoners. They took over the full ownership and responsibility of the project. In such a scenario the team never starts to take 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 accume ownership of the product.
Scrum Master and Product Owner are the same: 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. He / she 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 /she has to make sure that the interest of the team doesn’t suffer. When the Scrum Master and Product Owner is the same person, more attention could be paid to the short-term needs of stakeholders at the cost of the team.
Solving technical issues of the team: Sometimes the Scrum Master would be someone who has a strong technical background. He / she feels an urge to advise the development team on technical issues, since they may feel that it will be 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 decision.
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. For a Scrum Master, working knowledge of the business domain is sufficient; he or she is 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.
Being a Scrum Master, one 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 its desired business results using Scrum.
Are you ready to embark on this journey of a Scrum Master? Are you a project manager transitioning into a Scrum master’s role and are feeling lost in the agile world? Are you looking to enhance your understanding of the Scrum Framework and the Scrum Master role? Then embark on this journey with us in becoming a confident Scrum Master.
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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. 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, ensuring timely deliveries of high-quality projects.
As the adoption of agile increased around the world, so has the need for Scrum Masters who can ably guide the team through the values of Agile and Scrum and ensure business continuity. A Scrum Master’s role is one of the key roles that determine the success of a project. When a Scrum Master helps his / her team manage their process, the entire organization can realize serious gains. So, are you interested in being a Scrum Master? Join us for our Scrum Master training and get ready to succeed in your Scrum journey!