Who is the Scrum Master?
Who knows how many times you have heard this word, without ever fully understanding it. This article will help you get to know the Scrum Master and its functions.
Let's go ahead with introductions.
The Scrum Master as facilitator
The Scrum Master is the person who ensures that the team is working well together, he/she is the so-called Scrum facilitator.
In the Agile landscape, the team should be able to manage processes and tools autonomously: it takes time to get to this ideal situation, in order for responsibility and authority to be established in the team.
Here is where the Scrum Master comes in, making sure that obstacles to progress are removed and efficiency is guaranteed with the achievement of the final goal.
Whether more discreet or more present through Scrum ceremonies, the Scrum Master is always there for his/her team.
What the Scrum Guide says
The Scrum Guide, by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, speaks clearly about the SM.
First of all, this professional figure is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum, helping the team understand its theory, practices, rules and values.
According to the Guide, the Scrum Master moves on three levels.
1. The SM serves the Development Team:
- Coaching the Development Team in self-organisation and cross-functionality;
- Helping the Development Team to create high value products;
- Removing obstacles to the Development Team's progress;
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed;
- Assisting the Development Team in organisational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.
2. The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner:
- Ensuring that the goals, scope and product domain are understood by everyone in the Scrum Team as well as possible;
- Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
- Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
- Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
- Ensuring the Product Owner understands how to arrange Product Backlog items to maximise value;
- Understanding and practising agility;
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested and needed.
3. The Scrum Master serves the Organisation:
- Leading and coaching the organisation in its Scrum adoption;
- Planning Scrum implementations within the organisation;
- Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and product development;
- Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team;
- Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organisation.
The Scrum Master is NOT a Project Manager
The role of the Scrum Master could be confused with the one of the Project Manager: actually there are many differences in the vision and concrete actions that these two professionals put in place.
Mike Cohn defines the Scrum Master as a process owner: he creates the balance between stakeholders, product owners and team.
That is why his/her functions are different and complex:
- he/she is an Agile Coach, supporting and encouraging the team;
- he/she is a Protector, defending his/her team from external interference;
- he/she is an Agile Supporter, spreading Scrum practices and values and ensuring they are applied;
- he/she is a Servant Leader, authoritative but not authoritarian, and is responsible for creating the most suitable working environment.
In short, being a Scrum Master requires different skills and a particular dedication.
He/she has no authority over the team members, but rather has to motivate, encourage and supervise the work of his/her team, as well as preserving it from external pressures.
For the SM, keeping the focus on the aim of the project, the course and the methodology to follow is essential. Creating and supporting a functioning team that is able to work the best way, growing and bringing results.
To do this, one might need to perform corrective actions on the organisational factors: not on the single member, but rather in the procedure. The SM’s authority stops here and this strongly differentiates this professional figure from a Project Manager.
The Scrum Master is a guide, but it he/she does not give answers.
He/she is a leader at the service of the team: he talks to people, gives them advice on difficult choices, removes any obstacles found during the Sprint and aims at increasing productivity.
Always at a sustainable pace, without external pressures. The SM, in fact, also helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which interactions are useful and which are not, in order to maximise the value created by the team.
To conclude, let's steal Jeff Sutherland's words from his book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time:
“It was the Scrum Master’s job to guide the team toward continuous improvement—to ask with regularity, “How can we do what we do better?” Ideally, at the end of each iteration, each Sprint, the team would look closely at itself—at its interactions, practices, and processes—and ask two questions: “What can we change about how we work?” and “What is our biggest sticking point?” If those questions are answered forthrightly, a team can go faster than anyone ever imagined.”