The Scrum Master is one of three recognized roles in Scrum. They are the servant-leader for the Scrum team, which means they serve the team by working to provide what the team needs to complete their job. This could be working to make sure they have the right tools, or any impediments to progress are removed.
The Scrum Master is not the same thing as a Project Manager (As I explained in Who is the Project Manager in Scrum?), but they do share some job duties.
*Learn about using Scrum in a project.
Scrum Master Duties
- The Scrum Master facilitates.
Scrum Masters arrange the standard Scrum meetings, as well as organize and guide the meetings (or ceremonies as they are known in Scrum). The Scrum master may also facilitate communication between multiple silos in the organization. The Scrum Master is more like a host to an awards show. They push the show forward, introduce the guests, and guide the show to completion; but they don’t get an award, and they get very little say in the overall content of the show.
The Scrum Master has very little involvement in the Daily Scrum. This is a meeting for the Development team, and the Scrum Master is not required to participate. They can attend if they choose to, but they don’t get involved. I would go so far as to suggest that the Development Team members should be the ones planning when the meeting occurs. The Scrum Masters role is to ensure it happens and ensure that others do not interrupt them and get involved.
During the Sprint Planning, they will work to keep the team on task and guide the meetings through a planning process. They may implement planning games, planning poker being a more well-known one, and assist with solving any discrepancies in time estimation.
When it comes to the Sprint Review, they may work with the Product Owner to make sure stakeholders get involved in the process. This is typically a Product Owner meeting, but the Scrum Master helps facilitate. As with Sprint Planning, the Scrum Master needs to ensure that things stay on task, and time-boxes are not overrun.
With the Sprint Retrospective, we have the Scrum Master again, ensuring that the meeting stays within the allotted time-box. They will participate as an equal team member, but they still serve in the guiding, coaching, and mentoring role. This is an opportunity for all team member to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t. It would be the after-party for the awards show analogy above.
Most likely, there will be other meetings that will be needed to collaborate with stakeholders. These are not defined in Scrum, but they will happen. The Scrum Master should assist in arranging those and making sure they are productive. The goal is to avoid pointless meetings or meetings where you don’t need to occupy the entire team.
- The Scrum Master manages the Scrum framework, not the people
This is probably the hardest issue for a traditional Project Manager that moves into a Scrum Master role to carry out. Project Managers often come from a command and control type of an environment. They control the project and the people involved. That is not how a Scrum Master is supposed to work.
The Scrum Master is supposed to guide the Development Team on a path to self-empowerment. The team needs to decide their internal structure, who is going to work on what, and how they are going to do it. Scrum Master just needs to make sure they have what they need to do the work and remove anything that might be hindering their progress.
- Protect the Scrum Team from outside distractions
The Scrum Master’s role of awards show host means they have to make sure that the show goes on and that others are not impeding progress. The Scrum Master may have to request outside stakeholders to remain silent if they attend the Daily Scrum, or they might have to instruct others within the organization not to try and go directly to the Development Team with their “urgent” issues.
Any task switching that may occur, and it should be avoided as much as possible, occurs between the Product Owner and the Development Team. The Scrum Master needs to ensure that process is respected and everyone isn’t just coming in to make random requests or trying to get Development Team members to fix their Excel document issue because IT is busy at the moment.
- Represent the team to outside stakeholders and organizational management
The Development Team may be tracking the progress of the Sprint, the Product Owner may be updating stakeholders to the results of the Sprint during a Sprint Review (and overall Product or Project progress). Those progress reports should be made available for everyone to see in the interest of transparency.
The Scrum Master will probably still be needed in additional meetings with stakeholders and/or management to make sure they are aware of project status and updates. They may end up assisting the Product Owner in this area through the facilitation of the meetings or providing crucial information for the reporting structure. The Scrum Master may have to explain delays or major successes to those outside of the team in the event that the Product Owner is not available.
As a Scrum Master, it falls on them to ensure the entire team gets what it needs to complete their job and may require frequent interaction with other groups or managers to make that happen. The person in this role may have to regularly interact with others in management to get their help removing impediments hindering the team’s progress. They may be requesting resources and have to write up requests explaining why they need certain software, computer equipment, or additional team members. On some teams, the Scrum Master can be kept busy navigating the layers of large corporate bureaucracy.
Skill Requirements to be A Scrum Master
- A Scrum Master should have an expert level understanding of Scrum.
The other members of the Scrum team (Product Owner and Development Team) should be able to rely on the Scrum Master for his or her knowledge of Scrum. If issues arise and no one knows what should be done, the Scrum Master should be able to help guide or facilitate a resolution in accordance with the Scrum framework.
In addition to the team, the Scrum Master should be coaching the organization in Scrum practices. This is especially vital in a transition to Scrum, but ongoing and more mature Scrum implementations still face issues. The Scrum Master should be able to navigate those issues through their knowledge of Scrum.
- A Scrum Master needs technical experience in the project they are working on
A Scrum Master may have to explain why they need a database server to non-technical managers or stakeholders. It would help if the Scrum Master knew what a database server was (It’s just like a regular server only with a database on it). Having some knowledge in the specific area that the project is focused on will help them do the work better.
They may need to request things from managers that don’t want to spend the money, and they have to try and convince those managers of the worth. Knowing what it is you are requesting and understanding its worth could be very helpful.
- Interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are a requirement for a Scrum Master
A Scrum Master needs to connect with people. They need to understand others points of view and empathize with situations and strong feelings – people get strongly opposed to things in projects all the time. They may need to negotiate or influence without authority, going back to a need to get resources or help removing impediments for the Development Team.
Scrum Masters might find themselves having to work with a team to sort out conflicts, negotiate something close to a consensus on estimates, or a path forward getting the work done in a Sprint. Without official authority, they have to negotiate, persuade, and convince using logic and reason.
Due to some of the tasks involved, the Scrum Master has to be able to build relationships with people from all levels of the organization and perhaps, depending on the nature of the project, with external customers. Not being the commanding, know-it-all jerk with boundary issues could be a benefit here.
I have probably simplified the role of Scrum Master. It is a fairly complex and demanding role, one that will pull people in different directions. It requires a lot of patience, people skills, technical knowledge, and of course knowledge of Scrum.
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The Scrum Guide: http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#team-sm