There is much confusion in the industry about the role of a Scrum Master and what they are supposed to do, despite the existence of vast amount of information on this.
Organizations that are relatively new to Agile and Scrum often become confused with Scrum roles and treat Scrum Masters the same as Project Managers. This article attempts to provide clarity and offers guidelines for proper definition of the role of a Scrum Master.
A Scrum Master is a key role in a Scrum (Agile) Team. A Scrum Master’s core responsibilities are to ensure that the team lives by the values, principles and practices of Scrum and to remove obstacles that hinder a team’s progress. As the title (Master) implies they need to have a thorough knowledge and appreciation for Scrum and coach the team on all things Scrum.
Although the term “Agile Project Management” is commonly used, it is important to note that there is no formal role such as “Agile Project Manager”. Some functions of Project Management are shared by the Scrum Master, the Product Owner and the Development Team.
It is also useful to understand what a Scrum Master doesn’t do and contrast this with what a Project Manager typically does. A Project Manager (of Waterfall or traditional projects) is responsible for controlling or administering a project and managing the project team.
A Scrum Master (Does not);
Does not plan the project
Does not manage project budget, costs, schedule and resources, nor is responsible for those aspects
Does not allocate resources to the project
Does not create a work breakdown structure for the project
Does not provide day to day directions to the team
Does not assign tasks to individual team members
Does not maintain or report project status
A Scrum Master (Does);
Ensures that the Scrum framework is adopted and applied in the project
Helps remove organizational or other impediments to the Scrum team’s progress
Facilitates Scrum processes such as Backlog grooming, Sprint Planning, Goal setting, Daily Scrum (Stand up), Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective
Guides and coaches the Scrum team so that they can self-organize themselves
Creates and maintains a safe environment (open and free) for the team to work
Creates and nurtures a continuous learning environment
5 traits of a great Scrum Master
Leads the Scrum team by serving them – Servant Leader
Guides and coaches individual team members and the Scrum team through the different stages of development – forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning
Continually emphases to the Scrum team and broader organization that Agile values and principles are more important than practices and processes
Can be disruptive when needed and allows the team to fail in a safe manner
Promotes and nurtures self-organization and distributed leadership in the team so they can make their own decisions relating to the project and work
Recommendations for new adopters of Agile / Scrum:
If you are in an Agile environment (predominantly Scrum), do not call your Scrum Masters as Project Managers. Although it may just be a matter of semantics, it shows low Agile maturity. It is important to talk the walk too. Just as there is a “Pilot” for the aircraft and a “Captain” for the ship, there is a Scrum Master for Scrum.
Be very clear on what a Scrum Master does and allow them to be a servant-leader. Don’t force them to be servants by forcing them to do Waterfall artefacts such as minutes of meetings, Gantt Charts, Project status reports, etc.
Treat the Scrum Master’s role as a full-time job, not as a part time facilitator
Do not combine the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner. They are very different.
Evolving traditional Project Managers into Scrum Masters requires a lot of unlearning and relearning. Old habits tend not to change. If possible build a team of Scrum Masters from ground up or choose to evolve PM’s that are flexible and have a belief in Agile. If they don’t believe in Agile they will be unable to make the team believe in it.
Treat Scrum Masters as “Process Owners” who own the Scrum process of Backlog Grooming, Release and Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective - without running them but facilitating and guiding the practices.
Elite coaches in Sports teams create and nurture winning teams by showing them ways to win. Effective Scrum Masters do exactly this in project environments.
The success of any Agile project is determined largely by the effectiveness and relationship between the Scrum Master and Product Owner. Facilitate great Scrum Mastery and Product Ownership in your organization