Who is the Scrum Master?

March 29, 2023, by Fabio Armani

20tab way

20tab way


Being a Scrum Master requires different skills and a particular dedication. Let's learn more about this key figure for the team and the company.

Scrum: roles and responsibilities

As you can see from the image, the three points show:

  • Do the right thing: Product Owner (PO);
  • Do it right: Developers (Dev Team);
  • Do it fast: Scrum Master (SM).

Each of these three responsibilities is given a role in the Scrum framework, and these roles are equal, there is no hierarchy (in the same way as the responsibilities, which are different but not hierarchical).

Within the Scrum framework, the Scrum Master is the Servant Leader of the entire Scrum Team and he ensures that the framework is used well, in order to help every member of the Scrum Team (consisting of PO, SM and Developers).

Within the Scrum framework, the Dev Team should be able to manage processes and tools autonomously: getting to this ideal situation takes time, so that responsibility and authority can be affirmed throughout the team. Even within the Dev Team there is no hierarchy and there are no internal subgroups of specialization (e.g.: BA, FE Eng, BE Eng, Tester, UX …) or a Team Leader.

This is where the Scrum Master comes into play, initially managing the Scrum process and ensuring that obstacles to progress are removed, then continuing to mentor so that the Dev Team is then able to remove any obstacles on their own. They will work both at the level of the entire Scrum Team, and of individual roles (PO, Dev Team member) and SH of the organization in which their team(s) are present.

What the Scrum Guide says

The Scrum Guide, by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, gives clear indications of the role of the SM.

First of all, this professional figure is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum, helping the Scrum team understand its theory, practices, rules and values.

The Scrum Master moves on three levels.

1) Serves the Scrum Team in several ways, including:

  • train team members in self-management and cross-functionality;
  • help the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value Increment that meets the Definition of Done;
  • eliminate impediments to the progress of the Scrum Team;
  • ensure that all Scrum events are carried out in a positive, productive manner and are kept within the limit (timeboxed).

2) The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner:

  • help him in finding techniques for the definition of the Product Goal and the management of the Product Backlog;
  • help the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • help establish empirical product planning for a complex context;
  • facilitate collaboration with stakeholders if required or necessary.

3) Provides a service to the organization in several ways, including:

  • lead, train and assist the organization in adopting Scrum;
  • plan and recommend the implementation of Scrum within the organization;
  • help employees and stakeholders understand and implement an empirical approach to complex work;
  • remove barriers between stakeholders and Scrum Teams.

The Scrum Master is NOT a Project Manager

It is important to remember that the roles of the SM and that of the Project Manager are different.

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 Dev team;
  • he/she is a Protector, defending his/her Scrum 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.

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 Dev team, as well as preserving it from external pressures.

For the SM, keeping the focus on the aim of the product, 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 and experiment safely, without fear of failure.

To do this, one might need to perform corrective actions on the organizational 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 he doesn't provide direct solutions, he encourages others to look for new ways, to improve.

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 maximize 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.” 

Ambitious products need innovative methodologies. And we are able to apply them.

Let's talk about it!