The Main Responsibilities of a Scrum Master

The Agile Practice Guide says “The scrum master is responsible for ensuring the Scrum process is upheld and works to ensure the Scrum team adheres to the practices and rules as well as coaches the team on improving impediments.” As a single sentence definition of the scrum master’s role this is adequate, but it cannot hope to explain what this critical position really demands. What does the job entail, hence what are the responsibilities, and what sort of credentials should your ideal person have?

The Scrum Job and Its Responsibilities

Part-Time or Full-Time

The scrum master’s job is not only a skilled one but also a very big one and the first point to make is that for this position to work, it really needs to be full-time. Unless your project is small and easy to manage, forget what you might have read on some websites, you can’t just make anyone in your business your scrum master. Why not? Well, the extent of his or her duties, which are outlined below, would definitely make that too demanding:    

The Scrum Practices

By utilizing scrum as a concept, an organization is committing to what are often referred to as its ceremonies. These consist of the daily scrum, sprint planning, sprint demo (in which project progress is demonstrated to stakeholders) and retrospective meetings. The scrum master has the responsibility of organizing, monitoring and facilitating these processes, of writing and scoring User Stories and scoring them, and of ensuring that the Definition of Done is followed.

Scrum Planning and Interaction

With the Team

The scrum master is responsible for creating release plans including deliverables and the release deadline and, in addition, plans and estimates the highest value deliverables for the next release. He must ensure that a scrum team lives by the practices and rules of scrum; its ethics. These include achieving specific milestones through accurate forecasting and then providing deliverables in an iteration whilst, simultaneously, tracking and removing any impediments. To achieve these aims, he must be able to train individuals and teams in processes and tools, protect them from external interferences, and motivate team members towards self-organization in order to maximize potential. This should all be carried out within an environment where the team members feel comfortable with the pace of progress and their pro-active roles within it.

In this way the job of a scrum master is often likened to that of a coach in a sports team although through that analogy you will not get the full picture. Most of us have the image of a typical sports coach shouting at his players and telling them everything that they have to do. The scrum master, in contrast, tries to get the right results without coercion, assignment and dictation of how work should be done, albeit not allowing any sense of lethargy to set in amongst the team or any reduction in quality or productivity. This approach is described as “servant leadership style” rather than what is traditionally thought of as “the manager as the boss”; the role being to facilitate discussion, decision making, and conflict resolution.

With the Product Owner   

Whilst playing the role of “coach”, the scrum master must also be the link between the product owner and the teams. The product owner naturally has a wish list for his project and needs to be constantly updated on progress whilst working together with the scrum master to make sure that the product backlog is in good shape and made ready for the next sprint.

The scrum master has to create a balance between the pressure which may be applied by a product owner looking for rapid results and the capabilities of the team. In this way, he becomes the protector of the team but, at the same, time still the right-hand man of the product owner. For these reasons, the ideal candidate for the job is quite often an individual who was employed as a technical team leader or is a former project manager; namely, a person who has relevant experience in either technical aspects or management of past projects. Even better, someone who can boast both these attributes and many more.      

The Scrum Person

Why do we need to think about the person who is the scrum master? Their job role and their responsibilities have already been made clear. But, ultimately, it is the person himself or herself who is the real key to success; job descriptions and job responsibilities are just theory. So, there exists a responsibility with the employer to engage a character suitable for the job and for that character himself to be responsible in obtaining, where possible, as many of the criteria needed to fulfill it. Maybe, we can consider those criteria for the perfect candidate by laying them out as they might have appeared in an old-style Curriculum Vitae:

______________________________________________________________________________

Name: Scrum Master Applicant

Experience:

  • Over 5 years working with Agile and Scrum methodology in successful projects.
  • Highly developed skills in coaching teams in scrum.
  • Acquired knowledge of the product and discipline in its practical use.
  • Extensive planning experience.
  • Experience of administrating Burndown technologies, Retrospective formats, and handling bugs.

Education:

  • Formally and informally educated in Agile methodology.
  • Qualified as a scrum master.
  • An understanding of the rules and practices of other Agile approaches. This includes the differences between Scrum and Kanban and how they may be blended together for optimum results. Similarly, educated in Extreme Programming, Lean, and Crystal and their possible integration into a project based upon scrum techniques.
  • An above average knowledge of technical matters in software development processes and procedures.

Personal Characteristics:

  • I am an open-minded, caring and communicative person having the necessary social skills to interact efficiently with peers, seniors, juniors, and customers.
  • Others describe me as a selfless individual who can both motivate colleagues and put them before myself.
  • I have a proven record of being honest, punctual and professional in the workplace.
  • I have developed to become a natural servant leader and team player with a recognized ability in coaching others, team collaboration and solving conflicts.
  • I consider myself a meticulous and organized person with expertise in estimation and planning. _________________________________________________________________________

It’s not good composition to conclude with an example, or hyperlink as we utilize these days, but let’s make an exception here in order to appreciate how much the scrum master’s role is valued. In the agile project world in the USA, starting salaries alone command over 80,000 dollars/year, with experienced scrum masters earning well into six figures. Software development is a highly lucrative industry and those who help to successfully oil the wheels in project management are both financially rewarded and greatly appreciated. The scrum master has a plethora of responsibilities to undertake and so, as to be of real asset to your business, must be able to provide a CV as close as possible to the ideal one above.