What is a Scrum Master?

I am a Scrum Master – that is my reply, if somebody asks me, what do I do in my professional life. And my answer is usually followed by another question: Scrum what? Master?

As our blog seems to be the right place to address such questions, let me try and clarify a little, who a Scrum Master is and what she or he does.

If you take a look, you can find the definition of a Scrum Master in the Scrum Guide written by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, the "fathers" of Scrum.

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.

From Scrum Guide 2017

There, you can also find the responsibilities of a Scrum Master and other details related to this role within a Scrum Team. But to answer our original question who a Scrum Master is, I would like to go a little beyond the Scrum Guide and reflect on my personal experience with the role. As every Scrum Master sees their role a bit differently, I would like to tell you how I see mine.

All in one

For me, Scrum Master is a mixture of a police officer, a secretary, a psychologist and a zen master in one person. Let me explain why.

Police officer

Scrum Master is a person, that should have the best knowledge of the Scrum practices, should prevent the team from leaving the Scrum path and guide them through the sprint. Scrum Master should also protect the team from outside forces during the development cycle, so that they can deliver what was planned and keep their promises to the stakeholders.

Secretary

Scrum teams consist of more than one person. As the Scrum events are conducted (like Sprint planning, Backlog refinement or Review), many things and details are mentioned during the discussions. Some of them are more important than the others. And the Scrum Master makes sure, that all are captured, considered and not forgotten. So that they can be used later-on, for example during the next planning event.

Psychologist

Each team consist of a mixture of characters with various, usually rather colourful, needs.  The "chemistry" in each team is different. It is good to understand the needs of each person and try to balance the team in a way, that makes everyone happy, efficient and able to deliver their part. From time to time it looks a little like a couples therapy, as sometimes people are not willing to speak openly about a problem or are not able to constructively express what their needs are and what they are trying to achieve. That is for sure one of the biggest issues that every team needs to overcome.

But it not all just up to the team. A Scrum Master should be able to ask constructive questions that can bring a new perspective into the problem and help to get the team “unstuck”.

Furthermore, a Scrum Master is also a person, that should lead the team to reach maximum transparency in development, to make them see their weak points, space for improvements and at the same time make them appreciate their skills and strengths.

Zen master

From my experience, the biggest challenge in daily life, and not only at work, is to not take things personally. It is something a Scrum Master should be able to do, because issues come up daily and discussions can get heated easily. A Scrum Master must therefore learn to keep appropriate distance from the problems, see them from various perspectives and try to find the way out of them as fast as possible.

What type of person is best suited to be a Scrum Master? 

I believe that Scrum Master should be a person with good organizational skills, systematic approach, with the ability to focus on target, be patient, optimistic and able to think outside the box. Be flexible, listen actively, open unpopular topics, lead the team through discussions, provide constructive feedback and see trends in the team’s development.

A Scrum Master should really care about the team, but at the same time be able to keep the necessary distance. Be willing to learn new things, know Scrum even backwards, but be able to refrain from enforcing Scrum rules if it makes no sense to do so. A Scrum Master should see the bigger picture along with the perspective of the team.

So basically, you need a small super hero.

When do you need a Scrum Master?

Well - if you have a fully functional, transparent, highly matured, self-organized team, if everybody follows the Scrum practices and is aligned with everybody else at all times, the code that is produced is perfectly functional and all expectations are met - you probably do not need a Scrum Master. But as far as I saw, you will get such team maybe once in a lifetime for Christmas.

In real life, if you want to follow Scrum practices and go on the Scrum path with your team or if you want to have a fully transparent way of working - where everybody knows who does what, who did what, where everybody knows whom to contact for advice and who has what kind of super-power - you need a Scrum Master. If you need to continuously deliver value to your customers in short development cycles and you want to keep things up and running – you need a Scrum Master.

If you want to clarify the Backlog to your team and need to cooperate with people outside your team, Scrum Master will make sure, that the Product Owner can clearly explain the needs of the stakeholders and what is expected from the team. Scrum Master will also encourage the team to ask questions, if something is not fully understood.

And you need a Scrum Master probably for a million other reasons…

Scrum Master in the organization

Scrum Master should also be the driver of environmental change towards the Agile way of working in the wider organization, help with the setup of the Agile environment, lead the Scrum related educational activities and help define the internal Scrum process (like we did with the SCRUM MF framework). Scrum Master can also help other employees and stakeholders in other teams to understand Scrum and the empirical product development.

The organization will benefit from a Scrum Master in the role of a “guardian of the Agile light”. It is very easy to go back to the old ways of working, so somebody must watch out and help the organization to stay on track. Therefore, a Scrum Master should closely cooperate not only with the development team and with the Product Owner, but also with the organization as such.

That is all for now about the work of Scrum Masters - if you would like to know more, please follow our blog. Thanks for reading.

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