A Scrum Master’s responsibilities occupy a unique position within an organization. While they play a vital role in improving project management conditions (87% of employees say having a Scrum Master improves the quality of work-life for teams), the Scrum framework grants these individuals few authorities.
They have little power to make direct changes, nor can they create or change teams. Instead, they act as facilitators, coaching their peers in self-organization and cross-functionality. The unusual nature of this position can make it difficult to thoroughly understand the Scrum Master roles and responsibilities. However, by internalizing 6 key principles, Scrum Masters can more effectively eliminate obstacles, foster collaboration, and accelerate innovation.
1. Be the Servant Leader
Servant leaders drive productivity by prioritizing the needs of those who depend on them. By inverting the traditional power structure, Scrum Masters can better understand the aspirations of individuals, empowering their successes, and ensuring their goals remain aligned with the objectives of their organization. In doing so, they also inspire others to follow through their own intense desire to serve.
The concept of “servant leadership” was first articulated in an essay by management consultant Robert K. Greenleaf. In his words, “People grow taller when those who lead them empathize and when they are accepted for what they are, even though their performance may be judged critically in terms of what they are capable of doing.” This insight underscores a key principle of servant leadership: empathy can coexist with high expectations. While servant leaders should accept imperfection— no one is perfect, after all— they should still encourage continuous growth and judge performance with sober, transparent criticism.
For more on the tenets of servant leadership, we recommend taking some time to dive deeper via sources like Greenleaf’s website. Through the embodiment of servant leadership, Scrum Masters will find it far easier to understand their team, their desires, and the obstacles they face.
2. Be the Impediment Remover
Scrum teams work with efficiency and agility, but a number of impediments can still arise: a scarcity of skills, overwhelming technical debt, and inadequate tooling, to name a few. Part of a Scrum Master’s responsibility is to play a crucial role in relentlessly eliminating these obstacles, enabling their organization to deliver the most value to customers as quickly as possible.
On occasion, some impediments may fall beyond the scope of a team’s abilities. In these cases, Scrum Masters act as liaisons between the team and the broader organization, leveraging external support and resources. The most effective Scrum Masters, however, recognize difficult situations as opportunities for creativity. Geoff Watts summarized this best when he said “a good Scrum Master removes impediments for the team, a great Scrum Master teaches the team to remove their own impediments.” If skills are scarce, encourage your team to expand the scope of their own talents. If there’s a conflict, facilitate a spirited, constructive debate.
While the accountability for removing impediments falls on the Scrum Master, never underestimate the abilities of your team. Support collaboration, encourage creative problem-solving, and work as an agent for positive change.
3. Be the Change Agent
Change is hard. Change can be scary. It’s far easier to keep doing the same thing you’ve always done. One of the chief Scrum Master responsibilities, however, is constantly pushing for change.
Whether advocating for shifts in structure, systems, or behavior, it is important to value the experimental. Some efforts will fail, some will succeed, but teams should expect to continuously learn and improve over time.
A colleague once joked that “If you’re not at least a little afraid you might get fired, you’re probably not rocking the boat enough.” Scrum Masters are responsible for building a Scrum-friendly culture within an organization, but some cultural attributes may run counter to traditional principles. Changes may focus on valuing team successes over those of individuals, communication over documentation, and products over projects. As shifts occur, however, the Scrum team will become increasingly effective in their execution, manifesting benefits for both the organization and its customers.
Growth is impossible without change. Scrum Masters should be among the most progressive thinkers within an organization, constantly challenging the status quo. As new ideas take hold, your role will grow in importance, transforming you into a trusted advisor for everyone you encounter.
4. Be the Sage
While the core principles of Scrum are intuitive, new practitioners will still depend on their Scrum Master to guide and advise them. Whether teaching or mentoring, you will be the individual that people seek out to find a deeper understanding of the framework and Agility.
Just as you should expect your team to always be learning and growing, so too should Scrum Masters continuously deepen their own understanding. The answer is never ‘because the Scrum Guide says so.’ Take every opportunity to ask ‘why’ and explore those concepts with others. Sometimes this can provide space for your own self-discovery and coaching, while other times it may be a chance to guide others via teaching or mentoring. In doing so, you’re not only advancing the effectiveness of the Scrum framework— you’re advancing yourself and your team as individuals.
The Scrum Master should truly work towards being a Master of Scrum. Take time to reflect on the origins and first principles of Scrum: study its history, read The Agile Manifesto, and continue learning from the framework’s earliest pioneers. With profound understanding comes a far greater ability to facilitate and execute excellence.
5. Be the Facilitator
Scrum Masters are expertly resourceful, bringing together the greatest minds, techniques, and ideas within a team to help facilitate progress and innovation. For example, in accordance with the framework, the Scrum Master facilitates brief meetings to ensure product development is on pace and pivots if necessary.
In addition to facilitating Scrum events, however, this skill can serve as a strong tool in other situations. Through their understanding of group dynamics, Scrum Masters can leverage facilitation to maximize their team’s collective intelligence, tapping into viewpoints from a diversity of backgrounds and positions. By keeping the entire team focused, engaged, and aligned in their purpose, Scrum Masters ensure the most important discussions are being held and the most capable voices are being heard.
The ability to facilitate productive collaboration can make a Scrum Master one of the most impactful members of a team. Through facilitated events come high-quality outcomes, tangible improvements, and more informed experiences.
6. Be the Empiricism Champion
Scrum is founded on empiricism— utilizing knowledge from experience to employ an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk. By making decisions based on what is already known, Scrum Masters can ensure their team is always advancing towards meaningful outcomes.
In Scrum, three key pillars help Scrum Masters implement empiricism within their team:
- Transparency– Transparency requires a set of common standards, by which progress is better understood by the entire team.
- Inspection– Inspection requires a diligent examination of this progress, ensuring undesirable variance rarely occurs.
- Adaptation– Adaption requires the team to quickly pivot if variance does occur, enabling teams to deliver value despite their obstacles.
Through the union of these principles, Scrum teams consistently produce quality outcomes— in fact, 71% of executives say the Scrum Master approach helps deliver value to customers.
A results-focused approach to work is the heart of the Scrum framework and is a core part of the Responsive Advisors philosophy. Responsive Advisors has coached thousands of professionals spanning dozens of industries, producing quality outcomes and measurable benefits for organizations of all sizes.
Whether you’re just beginning your Scrum journey, expanding your knowledge of Agile practices, or simply looking for new ways to delight your customers, Responsive Advisors is the perfect partner for your organization. Take advantage of our diverse catalog of Scrum training courses— offered publicly, privately, or even remotely online— to help boost your team’s functionality, improve results, and accelerate growth in this era of transformative change.