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What Is the Agile Scrum Master Role?

I was asked to put together a clear definition of an Agile Scrum Master role for a company I am working with that is new to Agile. I think the standard “textbook” definition of what a Scrum Master does is limited and needs some interpretation and elaboration. It also needs to be expanded with some best practices for Scrum Masters from a variety of sources (see below). Here is what I came up with:

What Is the Scrum Master Role?

Overview

There are a number of “textbook” definitions of the role of an Agile Scrum Master including The Scrum Guide and the Agile Alliance. Here’s what the Agile Alliance has to say:

The scrum master is the team role responsible for ensuring the team lives agile values and principles and follows the processes and practices that the team agreed they would use.

The responsibilities of this role include:

  • Clearing obstacles
  • Establishing an environment where the team can be effective
  • Addressing team dynamics
  • Ensuring a good relationship between the team and product owner as well as others outside the team
  • Protecting the team from outside interruptions and distractions.

The scrum master role was created as part of the Scrum framework.  The name was initially intended to indicate someone who is an expert at Scrum and can therefore coach others.

The role does not generally have any actual authority. People filling this role have to lead from a position of influence, often taking a servant-leadership stance.

“The scrum master is the team role responsible for ensuring the team lives agile values and principles and follows the processes and practices that the team agreed they would use.

The responsibilities of this role include:

  • Clearing obstacles
  • Establishing an environment where the team can be effective
  • Addressing team dynamics
  • Ensuring a good relationship between the team and product owner as well as others outside the team
  • Protecting the team from outside interruptions and distractions.

The scrum master role was created as part of the Scrum framework.  The name was initially intended to indicate someone who is an expert at Scrum and can therefore coach others.

The role does not generally have any actual authority. People filling this role have to lead from a position of influence, often taking a servant-leadership stance.”

Source: Agile Alliance

General Responsibilities

The general responsibilities of the Scrum Master fall into these general areas:

  1. Team Coaching and Mentoring
  2. Team Productivity
  3. Process Management
  4. Project Management
  5. Organizational Transformation

Each of these areas is described in more detail in the sections that follow.

1. Team Coaching and Mentoring

A commonly held view of the Agile Scrum Master role is that it is a passive facilitation role because the team is supposed to be self-organizing:

  • That may be true in an ideal world, but very few teams are really at that level from my experience and even teams that are at a high-level of proficiency can slip back
  • In my opinion, Scrum Masters have to use what I call “Adaptive Leadership” – if a Scrum Master is only a passive facilitator, he/she is not doing the job effectively, in my opinion
  • He/she has to provide a sufficient level of leadership to help the team get to a self-organizing level and then sustain it without over-managing the team

Adaptive leadership means providing just enough leadership to fit the situation and nothing more. Here are some specific components of that role:

2. Team Productivity

  • Ensures that the team is fully functional and productive including having the right tools, training, and process flows to maximize team productivity
  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality
  • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood
  • Constantly help to improve tools and practices used by the team so that the efficiency is always maintained

Performance Appraisal & Feedback

The Scrum Master will provide necessary feedback to the team members to help them improve their performance. (This does not imply a formal team management role)

Resolve Conflicts

The Scrum Master should be in touch with the team members to sense any conflicts early and resolve them

3. Process Management

A good Scrum Master, in my opinion, is passionate about Agile and doing it with a level of excellence. He/she should be somewhat of an “evangelist” to help others thoroughly integrate Agile/Scrum values, principles, and practices into the way that they work.

Meeting Facilitator

Facilitates Daily Scrums and Other Scrum Events to ensure that they are well-organized, time-boxed and productive.

Process Master

  • The Scrum Master will typically serve as the scrum expert on the team. This means they are responsible for helping the team optimize the use of scrum as the methodology they have chosen to build their software.
  • The Scrum Master creates the scrum rules for the project and then coaches the team to follow Agile principles and practices. At the end of the sprint, he needs to ensure that every user story is completed as per the definition of done.

Team Interface

Serves as the primary interface to the team to manage communications with the team and shield the team from disruptive external influences.

Continuous Improvement

Leads and facilitates retrospective meetings and champions efforts to improve on the quality, velocity, value to the business

4. Project Management

The Scrum Master is not really a Project Manager; however, there are some project management skills that are useful in the role. The Product Owner should really own responsibility for the overall success or failure of the project; however, a Scrum Master plays a number of roles in support of the Product Owner in performing the program/project management function.

Planning and Estimation

Coach the team on estimation practices, lead the team in estimation during the planning meeting, and work with the team to improve estimation and planning process

Remove Impediments

The Scrum Master should resolve all the impediments so that the team can concentrate on the engineering tasks to be done.

Radiate Information

Radiate information or ensure that a team’s progress and successes are highly visible to all stakeholders, including the team itself.

Support the Product Owner

Assists the Product Owner with various activities including assisting with backlog as well as project-level and release-level planning

  • Helping to ensure that the items in the backlog are clear and concise
  • Working with the Product Owner to prioritize the items in the backlog

5. Organizational Transformation

A good Scrum Master may also play a role in a higher level transformation that might include:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization

Sources

In addition to my own personal experience, I have used the following sources to compile this list:

  1. Scrum Guide – http://www.scrum.org/scrum-guides/
  2. Scrum Master Roles & Responsibilities by Amit Malik – http://amitsinghmalik.blogspot.com/2013/06/scrum-master-roles-responsibilities.html

Overall Summary

This is intended to be a real-world description of the role of an Agile Scrum Master in actual practice. It may differ slightly from some of the “textbook” definitions of the Scrum Master role that are out there.

Also, its important to understand that this role is very adaptive and it will naturally change and evolve as the team matures. The role of the Scrum Master is very much like a good athletic coach. His/her role is to basically help the team be successful and a good Scrum Master will put himself/herself out of a job. By helping the team reach a higher level of performance, the need for the Scrum Master role is minimized.

Related Articles

You can find related articles on the topic of “Understanding Agile” here:

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

5 thoughts on “What Is the Agile Scrum Master Role?”

  1. Hi Chuck. I love your pragmatic approach to Scrum and agile in general. We seem to be in close agreement in philosophy and consultive coaching guidance. You articulate better than I have how to take the dogmatic scrum guidance and adopt it to reality. I’ll continue being a regular blog reader via the PMI Agile LinkedIn forum emails.

    I believe you have a copy and paste mistake under “Performance Appraisal & Feedback”.

  2. This is a really well made explanation on the roles and responsibilities of a Scrum Master. This will be very helpful for students who are training for a CSM Certification and for people who are trying to decide if Scrum is a the correct career option for them.

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