I've been working as a Scrum Master since 2010. The most common questions I hear are:
- What exactly does a Scrum Master do?
- Do you really need the role?
- Is Scrum Master a full time job?
In this article I will answer these questions.
What exactly does a Scrum Master do?
The Scrum Guide describes the roles, events, and artifacts of Scrum.
Everyone who practices Scrum should read the Scrum Guide. It's the normative reference for Scrum. It's only about 20 pages, and it's free to download.
According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master is a Servant Leader. So they're a leader who supports their colleagues in their activities. But not someone who just assigns tasks or bosses other people around.
The Scrum Master supports the Product Owner, the development team, and the rest of the organization.
The Scrum Master's support for the Product Owner
The main task of the Product Owner is to maintain and rank the Product Backlog to maximize the value of the product.
The Scrum Master supports the Product Owner methodically. For example, they help with the documentation of requirements, with prioritization techniques, and in communicating with the rest of the team and organization.
Everyone in the Scrum Team should share a clear vision and understand the direction in which the product will evolve. The team should also have a common understanding of the Product Backlog. The Scrum Master helps with that.
The Scrum Master's support for the Development Team
The Scrum Master supports the development team in delivering high quality products.
For example, they make sure that the team can deliver a working, integrated and automatically tested software at least once a Sprint. So for a 2-week Sprint, that's at least every 2 weeks, or more often.
If the team can't deliver, the Scrum Master has to take action.
In the Sprint Retrospective, the Scrum Master ensures that the team discusses how to improve delivery. Not theoretically, but practically. Step by step, in each Sprint.
If the developers can't remove an impediment, the Scrum Master helps. For example if tools need to be purchased for test automation and continuous integration. Or the team needs training courses for its developers.
Also, the Scrum Master supports the team in self-organization. In Scrum there is nobody who assigns tasks to the developers. Instead, the team members perform the tasks that are their own responsibility.
The Scrum Master supports the developers in making this happen, especially if they are not used to it.
Self-organization also includes dealing with conflicts. The Scrum Master teaches the team decision-making techniques and communication techniques, like non-violent communication.
The Scrum Master also hosts the Scrum Events.
The Scrum Master's support for the organization
The work of a Scrum Master is not limited to the team. They must also teach the organization how to interact with the teams.
For example, let's say that an important stakeholder approaches developers and makes them implement a feature that hasn't been agreed on with the Product Owner. Then the Scrum Master has to talk to the stakeholder and explain the influence of their behavior on the productivity and effectiveness of the whole team.
Furthermore, a Scrum Master helps with spreading Scrum in the organization,
and makes sure that everyone understands how it works.
Scrum is not a process that is just rolled out once and everything's fine. Scrum is about continuous improvement based on continuously observing what is going on.
Is the role necessary? Is it a full-time job?
The short answer is yes. I haven't seen a team that that's able to manage all the above mentioned tasks themselves, while at the same time focusing sufficiently on development.
But my experience is limited. It's quite possible that such teams exist, especially in smaller organizations and start-ups.
My experience as a Scrum Master is that I can usually take care of at most 2 teams. And then it's a full time job. It's not something that a developer does on the side.
In many organizations, this is seen differently. But they likely don't understood that a Scrum Master is a leadership position. And that has an impact on the effectiveness of the teams.
I believe that a lot of frustration that comes from sloppy Scrum implementations could be avoided. And one factor is to have an experienced Scrum Master.
To be a good Scrum Master, it's not enough to attend a certification course that just takes several days. Those courses are fine, but they only teach the basics. The real challenges come with practice.