A scrum master serves as a servant to a product development team. This professional role is primarily related to working with people, and the essential tools of the work are eyes and ears. A scrum master is involved in the process of information exchange within the team. This is someone who has leadership qualities, i.e., can lead people in the right direction, and at the same time, serves and helps them.
The place of the scrum master in the organisation
A typical scrum team consists of a product owner, analysts, programmers, software architects, and a scrum master. Such a group is accountable to customers, stakeholders, managers, and bosses of the company.
So, what every member of the team does? A product owner is responsible for explaining to a team what to build and writing user stories; tells WHAT the function will do, but never says HOW it will be programmed. This is the role of developers and architects, who write a programming code for these stories.
And finally, there is a scrum master, who creates and organises work and ensures its smoothness. He/she overcomes possible obstacles so that the team of programmers can focus on their work. This specialist does it by:
- helping a product owner to create and improve the story;
- taking care of the tasks at a given time;
- removing any distracting or blocking factors;
- making sure that a team is meeting its obligations.
A scrum master does all of this outside of the direct authority of anyone in the team. The specialist connects all team members and stakeholders through the various Scrum “rituals”. Scrum master can be compared to a mechanism that holds everything together and makes people work together.
A scrum master’s duties according to the Scrum Guide™:
- is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum;
- helps everyone understand the theory, practice, principles, and values of Scrum;
- is the servant-leader of the scrum team;
- assists people outside of the scrum team in understanding which of their interactions with the scrum team are helpful and which are not;
- helps everyone change these interactions to maximise the value created by the scrum team.
A manager, coach, or mentor?
The role of a scrum master is a bit like the one of a project manager. The specialist’s work has some managerial qualities, but resembles more a coach. This is someone that also acts like a mentor who:
- motivates a team to work, strengthens, educates, but also demands;
- instills in his teammates the skills he owns so that they are self-supporting when, for example, “the mentor” is ever unavailable.
Scrum master is someone like a mentor, who motivates a team to work
Sometimes this professional can also take over the management field. Having more technical knowledge, they need to be strong in the areas of decision making, self-management, and also be able to solve problems in real-time. Simultaneously, they cannot be an apodictic supervisor not to alienate the team (even for using Scrum, in general) and to avoid achieving the opposite effect to the intended one. Instead, it is someone who is empathetic to the team.
Self-development and support
Every scrum master, in order to help others develop, must, above all, continuously work on self-development. The primary duty of a scrum master is to create a friendly environment for the whole team, in which he is someone who shows the concentration, respect, openness, commitment, and courage necessary to do his job.
Being a scrum master is also taking care of others’ development by discovering and supporting their potential. This happens during various scrum events such as sprint planning, daily scrum, review, and retrospective sprint.
Main scrum masters’ tasks:
- keep scrum processes running and remove all possible obstacles that may disrupt the process flow;
- maintain a balance of power between the team and management to ensure the proper course of the project;
- are responsible for the team with which they cooperate, so they must build it, i.e., encourage its action, protect against external problems, support in organising meetings;
- make it easier for the team to focus on the current sprint to achieve the goal;
- prioritise tasks, identify and assess potential risks associated with the project;
- cause the work performed by them and their colleagues to be clear.
Scrum master and the outside world
The Scrum master deeply understands Scrum and, on the other hand, how the organisation works. They are responsible for adapting Scrum within the principles defined in the Scrum Guide. Therefore, the area of their activity includes the team, the team environment (customer, stakeholders), and the entire organisation.
While working with a project team seems obvious, the remaining areas of scrum master’s activity are diverse. In practice, this means that if the client does not understand how the scrum team works, it is up to the scrum master to explain. It is a similar case with the head of the organisation. If this specialist undermines the Scrum team’s work and efforts on the way to agility, the scrum master explains to him the benefits the company can have from implementing Scrum.
Scrum master and programming knowledge
Can a non-IT person become a scrum master? Is the lack of IT and programming knowledge a limitation for them? Opinions on this issue are divided, but the arguments of both sides are possible and justified.
In general, the lack of a deep connection to IT does not limit the possibility of becoming a scrum master. Computer science or programming experience is not always a prerequisite for a scrum master’s role. Nonetheless, in reality, it is worthwhile for them to know the stages of software design. Detailed programming knowledge is not essential, although its higher level indeed allows a scrum master to understand deeper team discussion, blockades, risks, and approaches to different situations.
Detailed programming knowledge is not essential, but it helps to understand the project’s specifics
The same logic also applies to a product owner or a business analyst. Each of them should be generally aware of how the IT industry works and know the capabilities of their development team not to write history into the void. On the other hand, a non-IT person can become an excellent scrum master. The best candidates for this role are people with communication and conflict resolution skills, an empathetic and supportive nature, and the ability to listen; courageous people who believe in others and their success.
How to become a good scrum master?
It’s worth learning the basic principles and techniques by reading Scrum books, articles, and watching educational videos (YouTube has many videos of this sort). Besides, many web portals provide online training courses taught by the industry experts.
The most crucial benefit of online learning is taking these courses from home using easy-to-navigate websites and mobile applications. These courses can be beneficial before deciding whether to invest in formal Scrum certification. Most basic certificates require two days of training and a substantial investment.
Scrum master vs project manager
It happens that the position of a scrum master is associated with the role of a product owner or project manager. While the product owner’s scope of duties has already been discussed, the project manager role is also worth mentioning. Project manager and a scrum master’s relationship can be illustrated by the example of the project manager’s duties in the PMBOK® Guide.
According to this PMBOK principles, a project manager is a person appointed by the executive organisation to lead the team responsible for achieving project goals. The expert directs the project team to meet the objectives and expectations of the stakeholders. They also play a communication role between a project sponsor, team members, and other stakeholders, including indicating the direction and presenting a project success vision.
Other independent projects that are part of the same programme may affect the master project. Interaction with other project managers helps to have a positive impact on meeting the various project needs.
What is the purpose of comparing a project manager with a scrum master? In many aspects, these roles are similar. However, scrum masters are called “masters” in a company for a reason.
The personal qualities and interpersonal talent they should demonstrate are far outweighing the other roles. Many project managers choose the position of a scrum master. They do it on their own or by the organisation’s will when it decides to implement a Scrum-based project.