Nowadays Scrum is the most popular method among all those organizations promoting an agile project management approach. However, some of its specific roles are not that clear yet, for instance the Scrum Master one. What does the Scrum Master do? Do they take part in the development project? Is the Scrum Master a project manager ? Let’s take a step back to learn more about this key role.
What is a Scrum Master?
The Scrum Master is one of the three roles featured in Scrum agile method, including the Product Owner and the team, and is also involved in other frameworks and agile methodologies.
According to the Agile Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland: « The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum. To do so, Scum Masters help everyone understand Scrum theory practices, rules and values. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team who also helps those outside the Scrum team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team ».
In other words, a Scrum Master is a team leader; they can be described as the guarantor of projects’ successful execution.
But watch out! Before getting into details, let’s clear up any confusion about what a Scrum Master is and what they are not.
A Scrum Master is not…
- A project manager
- A manager
- A mother
- The eldest developer
- Someone compelled to take up this role
- Superman or Ladybug
… but rather
- An enabler
- A watchful and attentive guarantor
- A passionate agilist who embodies agile values
- A member of the development team, willing to make it advance
- An actor of change looking for new ideas, tools and agile games/approaches to solve pain-points
It is fundamental to underline once more that a Scrum Master is not a manager. Instead, he is an enabler, someone who smoothes processes and interactions. Actually, according to the Scrum approach, the decision-making is up to the team since neither the Scrum Master nor the Product Owner are in charge of dispatching tasks among team members. In other words, these latter assign tasks to themselves depending on their preferences, skills and competences.
Ideally, each team member should feel free to put forward one’s ideas and suggest to test new tools, without hesitation. However, it is not always that easy for everyone to speak up, it depends on people’s personality: within a team, it is common to find shy as well as more extroverted members. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that everyone feels involved.
Who can become a Scrum Master?
There is no need to attend a specific course or have an official certification to become a Scrum Master, since it is a role within the team rather than an occupation. What is of paramount importance is that they master the subject, have a comprehensive understanding of their responsibilities and obviously embody the values of the Agile Manifesto.
Since the human aspect is at the very heart of this role, it will be more suitable (and easier) for a « sociable » person who is familiar with the members of both the team and the whole organization. As a change agent, a Scrum Master has to be proactive, a driving force, and they must not fear changing organizational habits – smoothly, of course.
What’s more to complete the « perfect profile » of a Scrum Master? Being able to find alternatives as well as being organized and rigorous to plan events.
In addition to this, it is fundamental to keep in mind a crucial factor: collaborative spirit. A Scrum Master has to bring a community of people together in order to achieve a common goal, making sure everyone is involved and fostering collaborative dynamics.
It is also possible to have multiple Scrum Masters, for instance a two-people shift. Each one in turn, a developer takes up the role of Scrum Master when changing release, as to facilitate and lead the upcoming sprints. Opting to alternate between two Scrum Masters may turn out to be a useful solution to boost team dynamics, since each one of them will bring to the table their point of view, sensitivities and freshness. Moreover, this approach helps the current Scrum Master have more hindsight and hence better support the team.
What does a Scrum Master actually do?
Here’s some concrete examples of Scrum Master’s actions based on our experience:
The Scrum Master feeds back information to their teammates about the successful completion of the sprit or, otherwise, about the improvements needed. All this, thanks to previous analyses of Scrum charts, notably the Burnup and Burndown ones. As a consequence, the Scrum Master can also collaborate with the Product Owner to agree on future potential tasks.
The development team chooses to limit the number of simultaneous code review to avoid overloading the workflow. When this set capacity is reached, the Scrum Master warns the dev team in order to solve the problem.
Reminding the team of their organization
Serving as a mirror of the team, the Scrum Master may also remind his teammates of their own decisions, the work rules they had defined together initially. For example: “We decided not to start new tasks if we are still working on 4 others. Be careful, we were about to make this mistake”.
Challenging certain decisions
The Scrum Master can help both the team and the product Owner to accurately define important terms such as the Definition of Done and the Definition of Ready. For example, as it follows: “We had decided that our definition of done was… then, during our retrospectives, we realized that it didn’t really satisfy the whole team. So I suggest that we discuss it further again”.
Sharing agile values with everyone, including new hires
Each time a new developer joins the team, it is of paramount importance that they will be immediately immersed into the team culture, so the agile culture.
The easiest way to do so is to organize agile games (aka serious games). Actually, workshops such as LegoforScrum, Marshmallow challenge or even Scrum ball, turn out to be very useful for the whole team: on the one hand, they play as agile reminders for current developers; on the other hand, they facilitate agile values appropriation for new hires.
An agile tool for Scrum teams
Tuleap is an agile management software that properly serves development teams. It provides Scrum teams (or any other similar kind of team) with the necessary tools, allowing them to focus on their main mission: high-quality software development.