What does a Scrum Master do?

The Scrum Master is a role in Scrum – an Agile Framework for optimising the delivery of products. In most organisations, when someone is given this responsibility, they are concurrently given the authority necessary for success. Scrum Masters are in a different situation.

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.

Why is understanding Scrum Theory important?

Understanding and mastering Scrum Theory helps a Scrum Master talk with their team and stakeholders and communicate “why” Scrum is important and effective. Understanding empiricism is key. Empiricism, inspecting Scrum artefacts and adapting the plan, is an important risk mitigation strategy. The transparency that results from empiricism helps teams and their stakeholders be confident that delivery will be successful.

Team effectiveness, not “delivery”

The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. They do this by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework. Through working together using Scrum, inspecting progress and adapting their plans, the whole Scrum Team assure delivery is low risk. As a Scrum Master isn’t accountable for the work itself, they’re not responsible for delivery in the same way a Delivery Manager or Project Manager is responsible for delivery.

Expectations

Serve the Scrum Team

Scrum Masters are expected to be true leaders who serve the Scrum Team and the larger organisation. The Scrum Master serves the Scrum Team in several ways, including:  

  • Coaching the team members in 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. This doesn’t mean the Scrum Master removes impediments themselves – if they do this, they rob others in the Scrum Team of the opportunity to learn how to self-organise and self-manage.
  • Ensuring that all Scrum events take place and are positive, productive, and kept within the timebox.

Serve the Product Owner

  • 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.

Learn more about the Product Owner.

Serve the wider organisation

  • 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.

Myths about the role

The Scrum Master isn’t:

  • An agile project manager. Scrum is an agile product management framework applied to a team, not to a project. Project Management roles and responsibilities focus on managing and controlling projects – a very different set of skills and accountabilities to a Scrum Master.
  • A Scrum Master influences through expert power and referent power. A Scrum Master’s authority begins and ends with Scrum.
  • A Delivery Manager. The Scrum Master isn’t accountable for work outside of Scrum. 
  • A Team Lead. Scrum Teams are self-managing. No one person is responsible for delivery, technical or otherwise.
  • The person who updates the Scrum board. Given Scrum Teams are self-managing, who ever does the work should ensure they keep what they are doing transparent by updating the board themselves.

Download the Scrum Master role checklist

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