The Basics: What is a Scrum Master?

Scrum is a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value. Though simple in concept, Scrum is difficult to master without a dedicated individual focused on removing impediments and educating the team. 

Enter: the Scrum Master. A Scrum Master helps guide the Scrum Team and organization as a whole to accomplish the overall goal and reveal any roadblocks that could delay the process. Without a doubt, they are essential to the Scrum team’s success, but what exactly are they all about?

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What Does the Scrum Master Do?

The Scrum Master’s primary role, above all else, is to facilitate the implementation of Scrum and make sure the need for change is understood throughout the organization. The Scrum Master is a servant leader to the team, an individual that takes on numerous stances, to build up the people and the organization that they serve.

Teach, Advise and Facilite

Expect the Scrum Master to mentor the team in all things Scrum. If the team either doesn’t understand the need for change or how Scrum works for them, they may disengage, resulting in a failure to implement the Scrum framework. 

Examples of the coaching process include:

  • Empowering team members by allowing them to succeed without intervening
  • Teaching workshops for the organization or providing educational materials that will help them better understand how Scrum will work for their organization, including case studies, videos, blogs and podcasts
  • Offering guidance wherever necessary to help maximize a development team’s potential

Ideally, a Scrum Master can spot roadblocks from a mile away and reveal them to the team to start solving them as soon as possible. That said, a Scrum Master must adapt to their team and help them overcome their own crises rather than fixing them, and should serve as more of a guide. 

The end result of having self-organizing and empowered teams is that they solve their own problems more quickly and effectively than a single person from the outside could. Scrum Masters know this and do all they can to foster self-organization and team empowerment.

Remove Large-Scale Impediments 

In order for an organization to be nimble, it needs to cut any dead weight that’s slowing it down. A large part of a Scrum Master’s role is to reveal these problems to help the development team stay on track and continue down a path of success. Once identified, the Scrum Master should facilitate the removal process by communicating the issues to the relevant parties and ensure action is taken.

Common impediments include:

  • No understanding of Scrum or its goals
  • Poor management support
  • Delays from 3rd party vendors
  • Underdeveloped skills
  • Conflict between team members
  • Slow and cumbersome tooling or technology
  • Rigid application architecture

Versatility of the Scrum Master

Let’s face it, the perfect Scrum Master does not exist. But, the makings of a “good” Scrum Master are based on their ability to adapt to their environment. Each Scrum Team is different; working in different organizations, on different products, with different roadblocks, and unique team dynamics. With that in mind, a Scrum Master’s duties will vary from day-to-day based on the team’s progress, such as: 

  • Assisting development team members in navigating obstacles faster and more effectively
  • Building morale by recapping achievements, especially welcomed when there’s a lull in motivation
  • Facilitating various brainstorming techniques to keep the momentum high. 
  • Mediating disagreements to get consensus- not letting moments of conflict get out of control

A Scrum Master will have to wear a lot of different hats and adapt to their team. Flexibility will make a huge difference in their ability to overcome roadblocks.

Qualities of the Best Scrum Masters

Competent Scrum Masters face difficult situations head-on and demonstrate resilience even when the challenge is great. The qualities of a good Scrum Master show up in the following ways:

  • Having high emotional intelligence and the ability to read the room to help facilitate team decisions. 
  • Ensure the development team can monitor progress toward achieving the Sprint goal and stay on course while knowing when to adjust their approach
  • Earning the respect of the development team and members of management so that the latter supports actions at the right moments
  • Facilitating difficult development team discussions when well-thought-out tactics of individual team members don’t come together as planned and impact delivery.
  • Enabling a sense of anticipation, which allows the team to bypass or remove impediments before they become a severe problem

Choosing the Right Scrum Master

Some of the best Scrum Masters have a polished exterior and a rebellious core — organized and composed with the understanding that the legacy ways of working have slowed the pace of innovation and destroyed a company’s potential. But at the core of every top-notch Scrum Master lies their unparalleled soft-skills and ability to communicate.

As your team’s “servant leader”, it is their job to help guide the development team to success by utilizing the Scrum framework. He or she must be a person who can profoundly understand the work the team is doing, communicate it to a larger team, and improve its delivery flow. 

Responsive Advisors Trains the Best Scrum Masters

The traditional development methods in the software industry are quickly dying and Scrum is the future. However, integrating the Scrum framework into your organization is not possible without an educated Scrum Master who is motivated by the mere thought of initiating change. 

If you’re looking to become a Scrum Master yourself to help your organization adopt agile development, Responsive Advisors can help! We’ve been in the Scrum arena long enough to understand that Scrum Masters don’t grow on trees. With a variety of Scrum training courses taught by highly-experienced agile practitioners, Responsive Advisors can help to craft Scrum Masters that actually make a difference.

Robert Pieper

Robert Pieper has been a licensed Professional Scrum Trainer since 2014 and National Public Speaker since 2013. Robb holds an MBA from Marquette University and an Electrical Engineering Degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering. Robb has 15 years of professional software development experience with a passion for making Scrum work delivering real products and services