The Scrum Master, along with the Product Owner and the Development Team, is part of the Agile Scrum team. Although the title Scrum Master sounds ”all knowing,” the Scrum Master is not the project leader and is not held accountable for outcomes. The team as a whole is responsible for their outcomes.
The Scrum Master facilitates meetings, especially the Daily Stand Up meeting, but does not run or own it. This meeting belongs to the team and as such, is run by the team (see Five Steps to a Great Daily Stand Up Meeting).
The Scrum Master does not assign tasks to individuals on the delivery team or manage the team. The delivery team is self-organizing and they manage themselves. I'll talk about self-organization in my next blog when I discuss the Delivery Team.
The Scrum Master is not responsible for helping the team meet external commitments. They are responsible for helping the team meet the commitments the teams themselves made.
So then, what is a Scrum Master and what does the Scrum Master really do?
First let’s look at the description of the Scrum Master from the Scrum Guide created by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber:
“The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the Team adheres to Scrum values, practices, and rules. The Scrum Master helps the Scrum Team and the organization adopt Scrum. The Scrum Master teaches the Team by coaching and by leading it to be more productive and produce higher quality products. The Scrum Master helps the Team understand and use self-management and cross-functionality. However, the Scrum Master does not manage the team; the team is self-managing.”1
This role is often described as a servant-leader position. But what exactly does that mean? From the Servant Leadership Institute, ”Servant leadership is a set of behaviors and practices that turn the traditional ‘power leadership’ model upside down; instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people. When leaders shift their mindset and serve first, they unlock purpose and ingenuity in those around them, which results in higher performance and engaged, fulfilled employees. As servant leaders, our purpose is to inspire and equip those we influence.”2
So rather than micromanage and direct, a Scrum Master creates the environment that allows the delivery team to perform at their best. There are a few ways they do this, but it all boils down to acting as the team protector.
The Role of Team Protector
One way to protect the team is by removing impediments. Whether the impediment is a technical prerequisite that has not been met, mediation of the interpersonal relationships amongst the team members or external stakeholder attempts to reach out to the delivery team directly, the Scrum Master is the arbiter of disputes, the guardian of the process and the person who has to pave the way for the team to proceed by protecting both the team and the process.
The Scrum Master acts as the team protector by persuading them not to overcommit. A delivery team often has a tendency to compete with one another and while this is okay to some extent, when they start overcommitting the Scrum Master has to step in and remind the team that they are accountable for their commitment. Particularly aggressive Product Owner behavior can also lead to over-commitment. It is the responsibility if the Scrum Master to shield the delivery team from unrealistic obligation.
Shielding the delivery team from more insistent stakeholders is another very important responsibility for the Scrum Master. There is no end to requests for delivery team time. For some reason a lot of stakeholders feel the need to discuss their requirements or any concerns directly with the delivery team. The Scrum Master is responsible to intercept and divert this distraction.
Finally, the Scrum Master works with the Product Owner (see 6 Key Roles of the Scrum Product Owner) to groom the Product Backlog (see The Agile Sprint: Backlog Grooming Takes 3 Key Steps). The Product Backlog is owned by the Product Owner, and it is their responsibility to keep it groomed and prioritized. Help from the Scrum Master ensures that if the Product Owner is not available, the Scrum Master may be able to communicate the Product Owner’s vision. As you can see, the Scrum Master has a very busy role. Often you will find a Scrum Master with responsibility for multiple teams. This is doable, but if you want really great teams that live up to their best potential, a dedicated Scrum Master is the way to go. When the role is properly defined, the Scrum Master can bring out the very best in a team.
1. The Scrum GuideTM, http://www.scrumguides.org, retrieved December 19, 2017.
2. Servant Leadership Institute, https://www.servantleadershipinstitute.com/what-is-servant-leadership-1, retrieved December 19, 2017.