Scrum Master

Everything you Need to Know


The definition of a scrum master

The scrum master, more or less, leads the scrum team. He/she is responsible for taking the project forward. The scrum master ensures that the team follows Agile guidelines. He/she ensures that there are effective communication and proper coordination between the product owner, team, business, and individuals.

Before knowing about a scrum master, let us first see what 'scrum' is. The scrum model or methodology is an approach used for project management. Description of how everything gets done in a project is the responsibility of the scrum software development team. Self-organization and cross-functionality are the key features of a scrum team. There is no team leader, as the team as a whole makes such decisions. Cross-functionality implies that each team member contributes to take an idea from its inception stage until the implementation. With this basic understanding, let us now see what a scrum master is and what their role is in a scrum team.

Scrum is a powerful framework. It is a method used by teams to work on advanced projects and deliver good results. It is mainly popular and used as it drives the team to approach problems adaptively and is easy to implement. It is an excellent method to follow if you want to fulfill customer's requirements to the maximum, as it involves continuous feedback. As this model provides a multitude of benefits, its popularity has grown widely. A 2017 report by Scrum Alliance states that among Agile users, 89% have implemented the scrum approach, about 62% have a scrum coach on-premises, and almost 86% have scrum meetings daily. Scrum master jobs will be in demand, so it is a good time to be aware of its role and responsibilities.

The role of the scrum master is to handle the process. Scrum masters are responsible for handling the process only. It is not their job to take part in decision-making or other activities. They use their experience and expertise to guide the scrum team through every stage of the project. As this is a relatively new model, it is common for team members not to be aware of the working of the scrum framework. If an able scrum master does not lead the team, the project will most likely fail. Therefore, the scrum master needs to have a good understanding of the rules, values, theory, and practice of scrum.


The importance of holistic leadership

The role of a scrum master is quite different from team leads or managers in the sense that they do not belong in a hierarchy. They are not there to give commands to the members of the scrum team. They have a more holistic approach that involves empowering the team to develop a sense of community and give them the power to take decisions collectively. While the job involves making sure that team members are following scrum guidelines, the scrum master also needs to take care to avoid over-evangelizing. Constantly interfering when team members do not follow guidelines is counterproductive. It is not a part of the scrum 'master's role. The preferred method is to recognize when members do it the right way and suggest how to do it better.

The Roles and Responsibilities of a Scrum master

The responsibilities of a scrum master are unique to each business or scrum team. They depend on the requirements of the business/team. Some of the general responsibilities are:

  • Leading the scrum adoption process in an organization
  • Ensuring that the product owner and the members of the scrum team are clear about the objective, domain, and scope of the project
  • Outlining the plans on how to implement Scrum in an organization
  • Bringing the stakeholders, employees, and others to help them understand product development through scrum
  • Incorporating changes so that the scrum ' 'team's productivity increases
  • Collaborating with scrum masters to increase the effectiveness of scrum within the organization
  • Helping the team in setting up and using a physical task board
  • Ensuring that the members have good team room and are aware of each 'other's work
  • Redirecting outsiders to the product owner
  • Ensuring that the members have good team room and are aware of each 'other's work
  • Coaching the scrum team on Test Driven Development
  • Clearing obstacles so that the scrum team can focus on completing the project
  • Establishing an environment that fosters the team to be more effective
  • Handling the dynamics of the team
  • Maintaining the relationships between the scrum team, the product owner, and other stakeholders
  • Coaching the team on how to pay off technical debt incrementally
  • Making sure that the scrum team is not facing any external distractions or interruptions
  • Arranging for team meetings – the planning sessions, the daily scrum, sprint retrospective, and other activities

Although the role has the word "master" in it, it does not have anything to do with authority. The term scrum master only indicates that the individual has an advanced understanding of the scrum model and possesses the capability to coach others in the same. Their primary responsibility consists of offering the scrum team with tools and methods to manage the product backlog effectively. These techniques keep the team aware of the need to maintain product backlog items clearly and concisely. A scrum master is adept at doing product planning for an empirical environment. Since this is an Agile method, a scrum master must possess good knowledge of how to practice agility. They must know how to approach a project in an Agile way.


The scrum master and the scrum team

A scrum master coaches the scrum team to achieve its critical features of self-organization and key functionality. They guide the team in their efforts to deliver a high-value end product. Their role is to guide the team whenever help is needed. As mentioned in the list of responsibilities, they clear the obstacles that stand in the way of the team's progress.

A roadblock is anything that hinders progress or slows down the team's productivity. Some common roadblocks in business are elaborate approval processes that take time to get completed, lack of communication or slow response from other departments, lack of up-to-date software or hardware, etc. The scrum master should actively take efforts to remove the obstacles so that the team has a clear path to delivering their product. Under the leadership of an able scrum master, the team is able to concentrate on their goals without distractions. Thus, they can get the work done as efficiently and effectively as possible.


The scrum master and the organization

It is not just the scrum team, but the scrum master also has to guide the organization in the adoption of the scrum model. They need to facilitate an empirical environment for the stakeholders and employees to work in.

They have the responsibility of coordinating with other scrum masters to foster the scrum model throughout the company. Their guidance is pivotal to increasing the productivity of the scrum team. Yet another important responsibility of a scrum master is to continually inform stakeholders about the current state of the project. This is done by making use of various scrum tools like burn-down charts or even simple and straightforward communication..


What does a scrum master do

Every scrum team must have a scrum master. But scrum masters do not have a role in every activity of the team. For example, they have no role in planning for the release of a product. That is completely the responsibility of the scrum team and the product owner. A scrum master is by no means a team manager; a scrum team does not require a manager – it is self-organizing. Thus, a scrum master is in no way responsible for the ' 'project's success; it is the result of the efforts of the scrum team.

The scrum model involves conducting daily meetings in stand-up fashion, called daily scrum. The scrum master does not participate in these meetings, and he only facilitates them. The scrum master acts as a glue that binds the team together. Without him, it would all fall apart. The scrum master helps the team in planning retrospectives, sprint reviews, and sprint planning sessions. They have to help them handle their burn-down chart. The scrum master interacts with the product owner to help him coordinate with the scrum manager. The owner gets a glimpse of technical user stories from the scrum master. An appropriate analogy would be to compare a scrum master to a mechanic – a mechanic isn't in the driver's seat but is essential for the proper functioning of a car. The scrum master does more or less the same job but it concerns software development.


The job description of a scrum master

Although the job description of a scrum master can be described only after knowing the team they are working with, but some of his basic roles are:

A scrum master individually supports each team member, guides them in addressing issues that arise along the way and clears roadblocks to help them focus on the project When it comes to team level assistance, the scrum master facilitates the smooth functioning of the team by cutting out distractions and helping them move forward. The scrum master also helps the product owner in planning and adhering to the guidelines specified under scrum methodology. Overall, the scrum master helps the business by creating a safe and productive environment for product development – an environment that fosters multi-directional collaboration.

Common challenges faced by a scrum master

Every role, big or small, comes with a set of challenges. Although in writing, the scrum master's job may look simple and easy; it has certain challenges too. The main challenges faced by scrum masters are:


Is it a dedicated role?

There are two schools of thought regarding the preferred level of involvement of a scrum master when product development is taking place. On the one hand, some experts believe that the scrum master should stick to their role and stay away from traditional managerial duties. Another school of thought says that, after fulfilling their duties, if the scrum master has any time left, it can be used for other developmental activities. If the scrum master gets involved in the developmental activities, he may even get into the critical path of the project. Maybe at this stage, it may sound impossible to don many hats, and the team may miss the scrum master when they need him the most. However, some organizations feel that this is a good approach as the same person handles two person's responsibilities without the company having to spend on two members.


What is the difference between a scrum master and a project manager?

As we all know that there is a common misconception that anyone who has been in a managerial role can easily become a scrum master. However, not all project managers make good scrum masters. The roles are quite different, which will become clearer as you take a look at the comparative study.

Scrum master

  • Guide the product owner through various phases of development
  • Facilitate daily scrum meetings, support the team at the time of planning the sprints and executing them
  • Coach teams regarding Agile processes
  • Ensure that scrum guidelines and Agile principles are followed
  • Help the team manage their sprint backlog so that they can deliver their product accurately and on time
  • Clear the barriers that stand in the way of the team's progress


Project manager

  • Identify the requirements of the business and establish plans on how to go-ahead
  • Identify the scope of the project, determine the tasks to be carried out, define milestones and manage the budget and resources allocated for the project
  • Lead the team and provide mentorship when necessary
  • Identify the high priority tasks, develop an ordering of tasks based on the assigned priority
  • Allocate and manage resources for the project
  • Define parameters for project quality
  • Specify plans for risk identification and mitigation
  • Interact closely with stakeholders to understand their expectations
  • Identify the mistakes or shortcomings of the project and document them so that they do not repeat in the future

How to become a certified scrum master?

Two organizations that offer training courses and certification exams for the scrum are the Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org. Scrum Alliance is a 20-year old influential organization within the Agile network. It is a non-profit organization that has certified over 5,00,000 practitioners around the world. The scrum certifications offered by the organization are listed below.

  • Certified ScrumMaster – (Shortly known as CSM) CSMs are the glue that holds the scrum team together. They help the team to learn the Scrum framework.
  • Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO): CSPOs deal with the business aspect of the project. Organizations charge CSPOs with the responsibility of getting the product out. They work towards satisfying the expectations of the stakeholders in the best possible way.
  • Certified Scrum Developer (CSD): The CSD certification focuses on the tools and methods that are required while building software in an iterative or incremental model that scrum demands.
  • Certified Scrum Professional (CSP): How the team employs scrum methods is required to improve with every project. The CSP challenges the scrum teams to do so.

The Scrum Master certification program

The certification exam consists of 35 questions in the multiple-choice model. To pass the exam, at least 24 must be answered correctly. The questions are based on the history of the scrum and the basics of the process. Knowledge of product backlogs, planning releases, project scalability, possible problems that may occur, scrum roles, planning for sprints, planning and felicitating daily scrum meetings, and team organization.Scrum Master certification program The test allows participants to look at handouts or notes. Although there is a time limit, the test taker can pause the test midway if they are not able to complete it at once. However, the individual must complete it within 90 days of starting the test. The participant can access the results right after completing the test. In case you pass the test, you can see which answers you got right and which were wrong (along with the right answers for those). For those who do not pass the test, they only get to see which questions were answered incorrectly but not the right answers for those questions. The test taker gets one more chance to take the test without paying anything more. Scrum.org, established in the year 2009, was created by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. The certification offered by 'Scrum.org ' is known as Professional Scrum Master (PSM). It is offered at three levels.

  1. PSM I - A PSM I certification proves that the holder is well-versed in the scrum and the concepts of applying scrum
  2. PSM II – A PSM II certification proves that the holder has an understanding of the principles of scrum and possesses the capability to apply Scrum in complex, real-world problems.
  3. PSM III - A PSM III certification proves that the holder possesses knowledge of the application and practice of scrum and scrum values at a team level as well as an organizational level.