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The Scrum prescribes three roles - The Product Owner, The Development Team, and the Scrum Master. In this article, we will discuss The Scrum Master role and understand how this role helps in the success of Scrum. We will go through below topics -

  • Who is a Scrum Master?
    • His/Her Responsibilities
    • Characteristics and Skills required to be a Scrum Master
  • Common Questions

Who is a Scrum Master?

The Scrum Master(SM) is a role in the Scrum Development Team, who is primarily responsible for ensuring that everyone understands and embraces the Scrum values, principles, and practices. The SM is someone who has a significant amount of experience with Scrum. It is necessary to ensure that the scrum master understands the Scrum properly so that the Scrum team can take its help in implementing Scrum the right way. This role does not have actual authority.

The scrum guide describes Scrum Master as a "Servant leader for the scrum team." Servant Leader sounds fancy, but how do you describe it? A typical project manager would ask the team, "What are you going to do today ?" On the other hand, a scrum master will ask the team, "What can I do today to assist the team? "Did you see the difference?" The Scrum Master is a leader whose sole job is to ensure that his team has got everything they need to succeed in meeting the sprint goal.

A scrum master facilitates an Agile development team; he/she is responsible for managing the exchange of information between team members.

Scrum Master Responsibilities

Scrum Master

We know who is a Scrum Master, but what does he/she do? The SM has various responsibilities. Whose broad classification includes his services towards the Product Owner, Development Team, and the organization. Let's understand these in detail.

Service to the product owner

The Scrum Master serves the product owner through-out the Scrum. Some of the vital services are -

  • Ensure that everyone on the Scrum Team understands sprint Goals, Scope, and product increments. At times, there is an understanding or communication gap between the product owner and the development team. It could lead to rework and delays. The Scrum Master(SM) bridges this gap and ensures that everyone in the development team has understood the requirements. The SM also ensures that the team is participating in discussions and asking questions and clarifications from the product owner.
  • Find Techniques for effective Product backlog management. We know that the Product Owner is accountable for managing the product backlog. However, the Scrum master can help him with the right techniques. The SM can also help the product owner in understanding dependencies on backlog items, and any feedback from existing Sprint, etc.
  • Helps the Scrum team comprehend the need for clear and concise product backlog items. If there are any understanding or requirement gaps, the Scrum Master should encourage the development team to get that clarified from the product owner. Also, the scrum team can update estimates and dependencies on the backlog items as more details become available.
  • Assists the team in Understanding product planning in an empirical environment. An empirical climate is one where the basis of the decisions is on experience rather than theoretical. While the product owner is responsible for product planning, the SM helps him by giving the right feedback. This feedback could be in the form of any requirement gaps that the team has highlighted. Additionally, it could be any sprint impediments that require a product owner's awareness.
  • The SM ensures the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value. Maximizing product value is the responsibility of the product owner. However, a Scrum Master can help by ensuring the usage of the right techniques. One popular method for prioritization is MoSCoW (Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, Will Not Have). As the name suggests, the key focus should always be to arrange the backlog in such a way that "Must have" is given more priority than others.
  • Understanding and practicing agility - This means that the Scrum Master should understand Agile is just in time development with lean requirement analysis. The SM should not be asking the product owner for extensive documentation of requirements (which is more like a waterfall).
  • Facilitating Scrum events - The Scrum Master promotes Events (more on that in subsequent tutorials). These events, like Sprint Planning, helps the Product owner to work with the development team to refine the sprint backlog.

Service to the development team

The Scrum Master serves the development team throughout the Scrum. Some of his essential services are :

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality. A successful Scrum team is always self-organized. It means that each team member takes ownership of their work without any oversight. They are proactive in updating the scrum boards, highlight any issues they face, and don't depend on scrum master for solving even the smallest of issues. An SM also coaches the team to be cross-functional. It means that the team doesn't have to depend on external teams to help them with Sprint goals, and all the skill set required is present within the team. It also implies that scrum team members are usually good at many skills that are necessary to get the job done.
  • The SM helps the Development Team to create high-value products. Scrum Master makes sure that the team is following the scrum process. That is to say, that the product owner regularly reviews the sprint work, and the team incorporates the feedback.
  • The Scrum Master Removes the impediments to the Development Team's progress. As a Servant Leader, the primary job of a Scrum Master is to ensure the removal of any impediments that may impact the dev team's progress. As teams grow in maturity, and they become more self-organized, they would take SM's help only when it's necessary. However, newer teams would reach out to SM more often.
  • The SM facilitates Scrum events as requested or needed. Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that Scrum Events (E.g., Sprint planning, retrospection) happens in a time-bound fashion, and these events are productive.
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood. If the organization has recently adopted Scrum, most of the leadership will not be very well versed in the Scrum process. Some of the scrum team members get requests for org activities, or they get suggestions to incorporate a particular requirement. A Scrum Master coaches the team to be committed to the Sprint goal, and not to take any requirements from anyone other than the Product Owner.

Service to the organization

Apart from the Product Owner and development team, the Scrum Master also has a responsibility towards the organization. Some of his critical services to the organization are :

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption. A Scrum master not only helps the scrum team but also helps the organization to adopt Scrum. For organizations new to Scrum, it can be disruptive to the status quo. It's essential to make them realize that a Scrum team is self-organizing, and interference from outside will decrease the team's productivity.
  • The SM Plans Scrum implementations within the organization. An experienced scrum master can help the organization to implement best practices. Additionally, the SM also coaches new scrum masters on scrum processes and new product owners on backlog management.
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development. It's a common problem across organizations that they do a lot of planning upfront before the work could even start. The basis of an empirical process is learning as we progress, and inspecting and adapting using short development cycles. Scrum Master needs to ensure that stakeholders understand that not everything is achievable in a Scrum. The requirements cannot drastically change in the middle of it, and Sprint goals need to honor.
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team. A Scrum Master could bring productivity changes in several ways. One way is to get the pain points in sprint retrospective and ensure that these get taken care of in the next Sprint. Another way is to ensure that every member has understood the requirements well during sprint planning. Therefore, there is less back and forth with the product owner during the development of the story. An SM could also ensure that the team is shielded from external interferences so they can focus on their work.
  • The SM works with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization. Scrum Masters could learn from each other, and understand the best practices and lessons learned from different scrum teams. They could also work together to create repositories of re-usable artifacts/components.

Characteristics and Skills required to be a Scrum Master

We have got a great idea on what all a Scrum Master is supposed to do, but do we know what it takes to become a Scrum Master? A standard answer will be Scrum knowledge, or maybe Scrum certified! These are important; however, there are so many characteristics that are essential requirements of a successful Scrum Master. Let's have a look at them.

  • Knowledgeable - Scrum Master should have a great understanding of the Scrum process so he can act as a coach to both the development team and product owner. The SM  should also have good enough technical knowledge to understand technologies that the team is using, and the solution which is under creation. Additionally, business domain knowledge is also required. Therefore, it's easier to understand the product that is under creation.
  • Questioning - Scrum is all about questioning the status quo. A good Scrum Master will always ask relevant questions to ensure everyone is on the same page. The SM would not merely accept what team/product owner will say but would ask related questions to ensure that the team progresses sprint goal in the best possible way.
  • Patient - He/She needs to show patience all the time - Remember, the SM is a servant leader, and the goal is to make the team self-organized. So SM cannot dictate all the time. Additionally, SM needs to let the team find solutions, get agreements, and closeout solutions.
  • Collaborative - A Scrum Master needs to be collaborative, so SM has a great working relationship with product owners and development team. It helps in better coordination, and also team can reach out easily for any impediments.
  • Protective - A Successful Scrum team will always have a protective scrum master. The SM is aware of organizational needs and sprint goals and creates the right balance between both. The SM ensures that the team is not distracted, and they don't get multiple directions from different stakeholders.
  • Transparent - Transparency is the key to the trust and success of Scrum. A successful Scrum Master always ensures that the team gets the correct feedback. The team should be able to trust the SM, and there is no room for any hidden agendas. The SM also ensures that the team's progress (good or bad) is always kept transparent to all the stakeholders, so there are no surprises later.

Common Questions

Well, we have covered a lot of ground here. While you digest all this information, here are some key questions that often confuse even the experienced. Let's get them out of our way!

Differentiation between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager?

There are several differences, but one key one is that a Scrum Master is a Servant Leader with no authority while a Project Manager is a Leader with power! So do we still need Project Managers? Well, in the Scrum model, the development teams will have a Scrum Master, and there is no role defined for a Project Manager. However, there are activities like Financial reporting, budgeting, and resource management that the SM won't do. So you still need someone to do that. Some organizations that follow Scrum still keep a Project Manager who will do these activities for say 3-4 Scrum teams.

Other than that, you will always have the Managers and leadership team. Have you ever thought of who forms the Scrum team in the first place? They don't form on their own. There are managers and leadership teams who would form the scrum teams and allocate people on that Scrum (including development team members, scrum masters, and product owners). Once the team formation finishes, these leadership team/managers have no role in running it on a day to day basis.

Is Scrum Master a full-time role?

If the product owner takes care of the requirement and development team would do development, then what will Scrum Master do the whole day? Well, it depends on how much self-organized a Scrum team is. For newer teams, he/she would be occupied in coaching teams to implement right scrum processes, and to ensure that the organization also understands Scrum. For settled teams, A SM would have free time which can utilize for organization-level activities (training, hiring, etc).

Can the same person be the Scrum Master and Product Owner?

The short answer is NO! Both of these require a different skill set. While the product owner works with stakeholders to get requirements, the Scrum Master is on the ground with the team to facilitate meeting sprint goals.

Can one of the Development team members play the role of Scrum Master?

Ideally, NO, but it's possible. If Scrum Master goes on leave, a senior member of the team can play that role for a while. It can happen only when the team is self-organized, and all the team members are well aware of scrum processes and can work independently.

Can a Scrum Master play this role for multiple Scrum Teams?

Again, it's not very often and encouraged, but still possible. If the organization knows the Scrum process fully and teams self-organize, then an SM could lead two development teams. At times multiple scrum teams are working on creating a product. Additionally, there is a lot of synergies between the team. In such cases, he/she can lead multiple Scrum teams. Also, if a Scrum Master is on leave, another Scrum Master could backfill him for a short time frame while taking care of his team as well.

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Virender Singh
I am Virender Singh, I have around 14 years of experience in the Technology domain.
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