The Scrum Framework consists of three roles, the Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the Development Team. Together they form the Scrum Team. In this blog, we’ll cover the typical tasks, accountabilities, skills and traits of the Scrum Master role in Scrum. Similar posts have been created for the Product Owner and Development Team roles. Enjoy!

Purpose of the Scrum Master
The key responsibility, or the purpose of the Scrum Master role is to manage the (implementation of) the Scrum Framework, by promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. The Scrum Master is responsible for helping people to understand Scrum theory, practices, rules and values. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team who helpes the Scrum Team and it’s environment to collaborate and interact, in order to maximize the value delivered by the Scrum Team.

Accountabilities of the Scrum Master
The Scrum Master has three major accountabilities, which are to serve the Product Owner, to serve the Development Team and to serve the Organization. 

  1. Scrum Master services to the Product Owner:
    1. Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
    2. Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
    3. Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
    4. Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
    5. Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
    6. Understanding and practicing agility; and,
    7. Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.
  2. Scrum Master services to the Development Team:
    1. Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
    2. Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
    3. Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
    4. Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
    5. Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.
  3. Scrum Master services to the organization:
    1. Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
    2. Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
    3. Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
    4. Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
    5. Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.
  4. Besides the specific services to the Product Owner, Development Team and Organization, the Scrum Master is also responsible for Managing the Scrum Framework, which includes:
    1. Ensuring the Scrum Events take place and that the attendants understand the purpose;
    2. Teaching attendants how to keep the Scrum Events within their time-boxes;
    3. Ensure that people outside the Development Team who attend the Daily Scrum do not disrupt the meeting;
    4. Ensure the Sprint Retrospective is positive and productive;
    5. Act as a peer team member during the Sprint Retrospective and facilitate when asked or needed;
    6. Encourage the Scrum Team to improve continuously;
    7. Ensure all Scrum Artifacts are transparent and make sure the most appropriate practices are applied in the absence of complete transparency;
Typical Tasks of the Scrum Master

Organizations often find their own way of implementing the Scrum Master role and therefore, there are many kinds of Scrum Masters. There are Scrum Masters who are mostly focussed on the Development Team, facilitating them during the Scrum Events and in their work. This is often the result of the Scrum Master role being implemented as a part-time role. In other organizations, the Scrum Masters act more as Agile Change Agents, who are changing the organization, coaching senior management and really making the change happen. Based upon the role you have, there will be different tasks associated with the role.

The following list isn’t complete, but some of a Scrum Masters typical tasks include:

  1. Training people & facilitating workshops in order to gain a better understanding of and get better in applying the Scrum Framework;
  2. Facilitating the Scrum Events when needed or asked by the Scrum Team;
  3. Resolving impediments when needed and/or teaching the Scrum Team how to resolve impediments themselves;
  4. Supporting the Product Owner and Development Team in making sure that the Scrum Artifacts are completely transparent;
  5. Coaching the stakeholders (including customers, C-level, senior management and other stakeholders) on Agility & understanding of the Scrum Framework, to interact effectively with the Scrum Team;
  6. Preparing and hosting the Sprint Retrospective, by gathering data and observations during the Sprint; and,
  7. Supporting, training, coaching and facilitating the Product Owner, Development Team and Organization when needed or asked, in order to continuously improve and become more self-organizing;

Mandate / Authorities
The role of the Scrum Master is difficult, meaning that the role is difficult to master. This is often the case because organizations find it hard to describe the added value of the Scrum Master. Organizations often see the Scrum Master as someone who facilitates the Development Team, in a lot of cases, not much more. However, the role of Scrum Master is much more than that! It’s much more complex and looking at all the responsibilities, the role should be a full-time role (especially for starting teams and organizations)!

The fuzziness about the Scrum Master role is also what we see in the ‘mandate’ or ‘authorities’ of a Scrum Master. They are a bit fuzzy… So the mandate of the Scrum Master can be described best as a ‘management’ mandate. The Scrum Master role is also considered to be a ‘management position‘. However, the Scrum Master role is not a traditional management role! The Scrum Master doesn’t manage people, KPI’s, results or products. The Scrum Master manages the Scrum Framework! From this mandate, the Scrum Master is allowed to do what it takes in order to maximize the value of Scrum in the organization. Some of the things a Scrum Master might do with this mandate are:

  1. Conduct process interventions – The Scrum Master is responsible for maximizing the value of Scrum in the organization. In order to do so, the Scrum Master must be able to intervene in and adapt processes. An intervention may for example be to stop a Sprint Review for a short time-out, to explain to attendees that the current direction which the meeting is going in, isn’t supporting the creation of value for customers and users.
  2. Resolving Impediments – A Scrum Master should be able to resolve impediments for the Scrum Team. Therefore, a management mandate is needed in order to actually fix a problem!
  3. Coaching and training people – With the management mandate, the Scrum Master is also allowed to train, coach and mentor people in the organization, in order to help them understand Scrum.
  4. Servant-Leadership – The Scrum Master is also a ‘servant-leader’, he or she is leading the implementation and application of Scrum. The Scrum Master is leading by example, regarding the Scrum Values for example, displaying Openness, Respect, Courage, Focus and Commitment. The Scrum Master also teaches and coaches other people to adopt the Scrum Values. Therefore, the Scrum Master is a leader.

Top-3 Skills

  1. Agile Expert – Great Scrum Masters are experts in Agility. They have mastered the Scrum Framework, but they are also highly skilled in other Agile frameworks, methods and practices. Scrum Master are experts in Agile values & principles and know how train, mentor, coach and facilitate other people in adopting these values.
  2. Coach-Consultant – Great Scrum Masters are a ‘coach’ for the Development Team, Product Owner and Organization. They are able to coach people, by asking powerful questions for example, hereby changing peoples’ mindset and behaviors. They’re also consultants, who are able to offer advice, share practices and provide support for organizations regarding Agile governance or Agile contracting for example.
  3. Servant-Leader – The Scrum Master is a servant-leader. He or she leads by example. The Scrum Master leads the way by showing the behavior necessary to make the change happen.

Top-3 Traits

  1. Courage – There are many important skills and traits for Scrum Masters, but when making a top three, ‘courage’ should definitely be in there. As explained in the Skills section, the Scrum Master is a servant-leader. The Scrum Master leads the way. This is especially true for courage. Many organizations are ‘damaged’ in some sort of form. In many organizations, people are afraid to speak up, make mistakes and take responsibility for example. The Scrum Master as a leader has a major role to play by showing people courage, so that they will follow and also act courageous.
  2. Openness – Transparency, which is needed to inspect and adapt, is one of the pillars of Scrum. Openness is an extremely important value in Scrum. They are both crucial to Scrum being successful. However, being completely open and transparent is scary for a lot of people. Therefore, the Scrum Master should be open and honest, and again, be an example for other people to follow.
  3. Empathy – Being able to feel, being able to sense what is going on in a group of people, is crucial to the Scrum Masters’ success. The most valuable things are often said in between the lines or can be read from non-verbal communication. This is often input for the Scrum Master to be used for training and coaching people, in order to maximize the value of Scrum.