Intro to Scrum (7 of 16): What is a Scrum Master?

What is a Scrum Master?

What is a Scrum Master? Are they your boss? Do they report up to senior leadership? Do they manage your project? We’re going to learn all about the role of a Scrum Master as it is defined in the Scrum Guide.

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The Scrum Master in Scrum has a very specific accountability. They’re responsible for making sure that everybody understands Scrum. They’re responsible for the effectiveness of the Scrum Team and so we’re going to learn a little bit more about what those details mean.

Scrum Masters help everybody in the organization understand the theory and the practices and what you have to do to be successful using Scrum. I think I already mentioned the Scrum Master is accountable for the team’s effectiveness. The way they do this is by making sure that we understand the practices, tools, and techniques we can use with inside the Scrum Framework.

Scrum Masters are true leaders, but I don’t mean you report to them. I mean they’re the type of leader who serves. They’re somebody who’s always there for you and making sure that you’ve got what you need to be successful. They do the same for the Product Owner and for the organization.

Scrum Master Serves the Scrum Team

One way Scrum Masters help their Scrum Team is coaching in self-management and cross-functionality. Well, what is self-management? We could spend a whole another video talking about that, but basically, it’s the team’s ability to manage themselves. To make sure that they know what they’re doing, and they have everything they need to get their job done. And briefly, cross functionality is just making sure we have all the skills necessary on the same team. Without all the skills on the same team, you’re likely going to depend on other teams, and well that’s going to cause you delays.

Focus & Done Increments

They help the Scrum Team focus on creating high value increments that meet your Definition of Done. What is an increment? Again, another video, but basically is a usable piece of functionality. It is the new version of your product.

They also cause the removal of impediments. What’s an impediment? Well, basically anything that’s slowing you down you could consider an impediment.

They ensure that all the events in Scrum take place, they’re kept within the time box, and we live up to the purpose of those events. If not, well we have a teaching opportunity as a Scrum Master.

Helping the Product Owner

Scrum Masters help the Product Owner to find better Product Goals, and more effective Product Goals. They also help the Product Owner learn better ways to manage their product backlog.

They help the entire Scrum Team understand the need for concise and clear Product Backlog items. Ones that you might even deem ready for Sprint Planning. Good Scrum Masters help the entire Scrum Team understand how empiricism is an extremely powerful tool when developing complex products. Scrum Masters might also help facilitate good stakeholder communication as needed or requested, they’re not always your facilitator.

Scrum Master Serves the Organization

The Scrum Master also serves the organization. Scrum Masters might lead, they might train, they might even coach your organization on their understanding of Scrum. Scrum Masters also help with the adoption of Scrum in your organization. Think of them like an agile coach, except for we don’t have an agile coach definition in the Scrum Guide, per se. Scrum Masters might also plan or act as a senior level advisor to the rollout of Scrum within your organization. Scrum Masters also help the entire organization using an empirical approach to complex product development. It’s very important that the employees of the organization, as well as the leaders and key stakeholders, understand how this works or it’s likely not going to succeed.

Dealing with Impediments

Back to those impediments, well they are barriers between Scrum Teams and stakeholders. The reason for removing these barriers is to ensure effective communication. One more point I’d like to make, think of them as a master of Scrum. Somebody with years of experience. Somebody with knowledge. Somebody with people skills. Somebody with the knowledge to be able to communicate the difficult ideas that you find in the Scrum Guide, it takes some experience.

A Good Scrum Master

So, who do you think would make a good Scrum Master? Well, I’d start here: do they have those people skills? Are they able to teach? Are they able to coach? Do they know when to play a teacher and when to play a coach? Are they a good mentor? Are they somebody you look up to? Sometimes you find these qualities in people managers, but I wouldn’t recommend a people manager become the Scrum Master for the same team just because that can take a little bit away from the openness that Scrum Teams typically need to feel to be transparent in what’s going on. That doesn’t mean you can’t or should not do it, it’s just a Pro tip.

Other people that make good Scrum Masters are people that have come up out of a Scrum Team. They’ve seen it work before. They understand the theory. They understand the application and they have the experience to know when to talk about theory versus when to talk about those practical applications.

A Scrum Master Is Not…

So, some things your Scrum Master is not. First, they’re not your secretary. They don’t do your paperwork. They don’t schedule your Outlook appointments. They don’t write all your user stories.

Two, they’re not your project manager. They don’t manage any burn down charts. They don’t report status to leadership. In all ways that there are, they are not your project manager. Why are they not your project manager? Because that would take away from self-management. By self-management again, I’m referring to the Scrum Team’s ability to manage themselves. We don’t have external management on a Scrum Team. Though if you do have external management where you work, that’s just fine, just remember self-management is key to finding issues sooner and delivering value faster. So, if you are in a traditional organization where you have managers you report to, totally fine, just make sure they understand how to interact with Scrum Teams to not break self-management.

One last thing I’d like to say about the Scrum Master and what they are not. Well, they don’t have any accountability towards delivery, but only towards the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. It’s up to the developers to make sure that increments are produced at the right quality level every Sprint. It’s up to the Product Owner to make sure we’re delivering actual value every Sprint by making decisions on the ordering of our Product Backlog. The Scrum Master’s responsibility and accountability is around making sure that this entire system works as intended.

Professional Scrum Training

If all of this information about Scrum is interesting to you and you’d like to learn more, please join us in one of our Applying Professional Scrum courses, Professional Scrum Master courses, or Professional Product Owner courses. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us.

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