The Scrum Master is a team member who facilitates the Scrum process and ensures that the team follows Scrum principles and practices.
Maintaining an effective Scrum environment requires an intimate understanding of the framework. This may not be an appropriate role for the product manager. Their goal is to ensure product success and alignment with strategic objectives at a high level. Rather, a separate team member trained in Scrum can monitor and coach Scrum teams and guide them towards staying on track with Scrum practices. This role is known as the Scrum Master.
If you make extensive use of the Scrum framework, a Scrum Master can help you stay true to its principles and ensure that your software development model. In this article, we discuss the responsibilities of this role, as well as what to look for if you’re hiring someone.
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What is a Scrum Master?
The Scrum Master is a team member who ensures that the team follows the Scrum framework. They guide the team through Scrum activities and make sure that they adhere to Scrum values. They also maintain the Scrum environment—removing any blockers, hosting Scrum ceremonies, and ensuring that every team member has what they need to do their job effectively.
This role has a large leadership component. However, a Scrum Master does not necessarily hold a position of authority within the team. Their main function is to support their team’s Scrum activities, not tell the team what to do. Someone who has to micromanage their team’s actions or plan things out for them has failed at the task of facilitating a Scrum environment.
This is why the Scrum Guide describes this role as a “servant leader”—they’re not at the top of the food chain handing down orders. Instead, they do what it takes to elevate the work of their team. This role is necessary because it may not be efficient to put the labor of Scrum management on a product manager or product owner’s plate. Their primary focus is achieving the product’s strategic goals.
What is the Scrum Master Expected to Do?
The Scrum Master plays several support roles in the team. Some of these include:
- Hosting Scrum meetings, like the daily standup, and keeping the minutes of those meetings
- Managing tasks and workload assigned during planning sessions, to avoid overwork and scope creep
- Providing feedback to the team and individual stakeholders about their performance as Scrum team members
- Coaching Scrum team members towards best practices
- Identifying and addressing blockers in the Scrum process, such as slow response times or extraneous approval steps
- Managing the Scrum environment, eliminating distractions and advising other stakeholders on how to effectively communicate with Scrum teams
- Designing the overall Scrum implementation in a company
- Deploying Scrum management tools and coaching teams on using them effectively
Do You Need a Dedicated Scrum Master?
Depending on your team’s Scrum needs, the Scrum Master’s dedication to their duties may vary. For teams that are new to Scrum, you may want to hire someone full-time. Their sole responsibility is to facilitate Scrum tasks. However, for more autonomous teams who are already well-versed in Scrum, a part-timer who splits their work between Scrum facilitation and other team duties may suffice.
Deciding whether or not to have a dedicated Scrum Master is a question of finding the balance between effectiveness and resource management.
A full-time Scrum Master will only have the team’s cohesion and effectiveness in mind, and they can focus all their efforts on managing and improving the Scrum process. However, as an employee, they represent an additional expense, without actually contributing to the team’s technical work.
A part-time Scrum Master can split their duties between working within the team and guiding the Scrum process. This has the dual advantage of both using an existing employee and giving them a valuable internal and technical perspective that an external Scrum Master might not have. However, they may be forced to relegate their Scrum Master duties if there is pressure to meet deadlines.
What Do You Look For in a Scrum Master?
As a servant-leader, this role asks for many skills associated with project management and product management, such as:
- Problem-solving, for dealing with blockers and inefficient processes
- Communication and teaching abilities, when coaching team members and reporting to management and other stakeholders
- Task management, to bring order to the chaos of Scrum meetings, limited development resources, and task prioritisation
- Experience with Agile frameworks, including Scrum
- Software development expertise
For certifications and academic qualifications, there are several that you may want to expect from a Scrum Master:
- Completion of the Scrum Alliance’s Certified Scrum Master course or Scrum.org’s Professional Scrum Master certification
- A bachelor’s degree in an IT-related or computer science field or business administration
These qualifications aren’t strictly necessary, but hiring a Scrum Master with this kind of background is recommended. Alternatively, if you’re promoting from within your existing team, you might want to consider putting them through one of these courses prior to starting the role.
A Guiding Light for Agile Methods
Scrum can significantly improve a team’s efficiency and provide a smooth transition to agile principles of adaptability and continuous iteration. The key to implementing it is to have a skilled Scrum Master who can guide your team to keep them on track with Scrum and help them achieve their best results.