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The Scrum Master (SM) | David Tzemach

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

The Scrum Master is one of the three roles of the Scrum framework; the SM’s primary responsibility is to ensure that the team lives by the values, principles, and practices of Scrum.

The SM is often considered the team’s coach, overseeing all aspects of Scrum. As part of the coaching activities, the SM does everything possible to assist the team in flourishing in this environment and realizing their full potential as individuals and as a team.

To do this, the SM must do his best to remove impediments affecting the team’s progress, work with the PO to ensure the product backlog is ready for the sprint planning meeting, and facilitate meetings (at least at the beginning of the transition).

The SM protects the team from over-committing itself, from the Product Owner that can be aggressive and push more work than the team can deliver, from external stakeholders that interfere in team events and from the SM himself when he fails to do his job.

Who Can Be the Scrum Master?

In most cases, organizations will not hire a professional full-time Scrum Master; therefore, the SM’s role is often carried out by:

  • Anyone on the team that volunteers for the job.

  • A project manager, product manager or technical lead.

  • Any function in the Scrum team (Developer, Tester, etc.).

  • Each team member will do it for one sprint (Using Rotations).

In my experience, the best possible scenario is when the team members select the SM. Any SM forced on the team by external decisions will find it almost impossible to succeed.

What the Scrum Master Is Not?

  • Guaranteed to be a team member (the SM can be anyone accepted by the team).

  • Someone who can make decisions on behalf of the team. The team takes decisions, and it’s up to the team to take responsibility for their choices.

  • An easy role to perform. The SM’s role is a full-time job demanding specific skills, characteristics, and qualities.

  • Above the team. The SM does not have a "higher" position than other team members.

What Are the Main Responsibilities of a Scrum Master?

Although the Scrum Master performs a critical role in the Scrum framework, we must remember that the Scrum Master needs to perform his work without formal authority. So, the question is...what can we expect from this role?

Facilitator of the Scrum process

The Scrum Master is the facilitator of the Scrum process. As the facilitator, the SM is responsible for scheduling the different Scrum events, managing the discussions, processing the meeting results, and more. This is just at the start of the transition when the team is still new to the Scrum framework. Once the team gain experience, this responsibility should be shared among all team members.

Mentoring, coaching and implementing Scrum.

The first responsibility of the SM is to coach the team with respect to Scrum artifacts and make sure that the team follows the Scrum spirit, rules, values, and practices.

Improving communication with other stakeholders

The Scrum Master should maintain a good relationship between the team, the Product Owner, and other stakeholders to promote team success.

Protecting the team with balance

A good SM should protect the team without being overprotective. Why? Because we want the team to develop tools and practices that allow them to solve their problems to grow professionally.

Clearing impediments

The SM is responsible for ensuring that the Scrum team members can work without any impediments that affect their ability to deliver their commitments. The Scrum Master must create an optimal working environment for the team and is also responsible for maintaining it.

An important point is that the Scrum Master is not directly responsible for removing impediments; his job is to ensure each impediment is taken care of by the relevant stakeholders (SMs from other teams, PO, Agile coach, team member etc.).

Serving the organization

  • Lead the Agile transition among the different teams.

  • Coach the organization on Scrum practices.

  • Provide training on Scrum events.

  • Work with other Scrum Masters to increase the collaboration and effectiveness of the transition to Scrum.

  • Help the organization scale Scrum using common practices.

  • Assist in setting standards for acceptance criteria, Definition of Done (DoD) and Definition of Ready (DoR) across teams.

  • Create a template to create stories and tasks that establish a common language.

Serving the Product Owner

  • Help the Product Owner to understand the importance of clear, self-explained, testable, non-ambiguous user stories.

  • Help the Product Owner understand the profound technical aspects of the technology/product.

  • Help the PO prioritize the backlog based on ROI to the customer.

  • Help the PO increase the product backlog’s visibility to stakeholders.

  • Help the PO learn about technical debt and how to avoid it.

  • Help the PO understand the team’s limitations, both technical and personal.

Leading continuous improvement of the process

  • Determine KPIs to measure process improvements (Velocity, Quality, etc.).

  • Continually search for new ways to improve the process.

  • Enable various stakeholders to share their knowledge with the Scrum team to increase the effectiveness of the process.

  • Help stakeholders understand the Scrum process and how it is linked to product development.

  • Collaborate with other Scrum Masters’ to improve communication among the different teams.

Helping the team to succeed

  • Protect the team from themselves and external stakeholders to allow continuous growth.

  • Help the team maintain their tools (burn-down chart, sprint backlog, etc.).

  • Enforce meeting time-boxes while conducting the different Scrum events.

  • Silently observe the team and then reflect issues to them.

  • Provide valuable, constructive feedback to the team.

  • Keep morale high by reflecting success.

  • Help the team resolve internal conflicts.

  • Promote the continuous improvement process.

  • Help the team keep their focus.

  • Ensure there is a “power balance” among the different stakeholders (Team, PO and senior management).

  • Create a safe environment that allows the team to perform with minimum interruptions.

  • Help the team gain knowledge in Agile through dedicated training and workshops.

  • Promote Agile values (clarity, transparency, commitment etc.).

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