Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is one of the 3 accountabilities in a Scrum Team.

The Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. They do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory and practice, both within the Scrum Team and the organisation.

The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. They help create the conditions for effective delivery through facilitation, coaching, teaching and mentoring.

Facilitation includes more than just facilitating the Scrum Events. The Scrum Master facilitates the successful development of the product. They facilitate transparent decision making. They facilitate increased quality, collaboration and the move to the empirical approach.

They are a change agent helping people and organisations to adopt Scrum and take an empirical approach to their work. They support the adoption and use of Scrum in organisational environments in which it is not yet fully adopted and understood.

Scrum Masters are true leaders who serve the Scrum Team and the larger organisation. They provide delivery leadership whilst at the same time acting as a servant who helps remove impediments to the Scrum Teams progress. They do whatever is in their power to help the Developers, Product Owner and organisation be successful.

The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand Scrum. They help those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. They help everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

The Scrum Master serves the Scrum Team in several ways including, but not limited to:

  • Coaching the team in Scrum, self-management and cross-functionality.
  • Helping the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value Increments that meet the Definition of Done.
  • Causing the removal of impediments to the Scrum Team’s progress.
  • Ensuring that all Scrum events take place and are positive, productive, and kept within the timebox.

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including but not limited to:

  • Helping find techniques for effective Product Goal definition and Product Backlog management.
  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items.
  • Helping establish empirical product planning for a complex environment.
  • Facilitating stakeholder collaboration as requested or needed.

The Scrum Master serves the organisation in several ways, including but not limited to:

  • Leading, training, and coaching the organisation in its Scrum adoption.
  • Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organisation.
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact an empirical approach for complex work.
  • Removing barriers between stakeholders and Scrum Teams.

Great Scrum Masters can come from any background or discipline. Having a technical background can be advantageous, but what matters most is their ability to help the people around them to take an empirical approach and deliver value.

The Scrum Master is not a Project Manager. They are not the manager of the Product Owner or the Developers. They do not get to tell the Developers how to best develop a Done Increment. They do not get to tell the Product Owner what is valuable. They do not assume the other accountabilities when things go wrong.

The Scrum Master may or may not be a full-time accountability. In environments where Scrum is new or a new product is being developed by a new team, the demands on the Scrum Master may be high, requiring someone fulfilling the accountability full time. In more mature environments, the demands may be less and the Scrum Master may be able to work with more than 1 Scrum Team or take on additional responsibilities.

Although the rules of Scrum permit it, it is often bad practice for the Scrum Master to hold one of the other Scrum accountabilities at the same time. Too much accountability in one person’s hands can lead to conflict and may result in them neglecting important aspects. There will be an impact of this on the rest of the Scrum Team which may lead to a less valuable product being delivered. Sometimes it is unavoidable, which is why Scrum permits it, but you should think carefully about sharing the Scrum accountabilities, especially when people are new to Scrum and demands on the Scrum Master will be high.

The Scrum Master accountability can be rotated between people, but again this is rarely a good practice. If someone takes on the accountability temporarily, they are unlikely to have the time or motivation they will need to address the larger impediments that the Scrum Team may face. Learning to perform as a Scrum Master and help the Scrum Team will take time so having someone consistently fulfilling the accountability is usually advisable.

Although it is somewhat of an oversimplification, it can be helpful to think of the Scrum Master as being accountable for the “who”. They have the ultimate accountability for how people use Scrum and interact and collaborate to deliver value.