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The role of a “Scrum Master” was first mentioned in the mid-1990s, when the Agile framework known as Scrum was introduced by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland as an agile framework designed to manage complex projects and improve product development processes.

The role of the Scrum Master was established as a key component of the Scrum framework, that has delivery by cross-functional teams as its recipe for success. And as any successful team requires a coach, the role of the Scrum Master emerged.

However, as various agile frameworks are still making its way to late majority and laggards, there are still a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings around the responsibilities of a Scrum Master.

Image: Crossing the Chasm in Technology Adoption Life Cycle EXPLAINED | B2U

To start with, every job board would have a plethora of “combined” roles like “IT Project Manager / Scrum Master”, “Business Analyst / Scrum Master”, or even the roles requiring scrum masters to identify and fix problems with software architecture while also leading data science initiatives.

3 in a row: Mixed Scrum Master job postings
Engineer, or an Architect? not a Scrum Master

But it is not only the companies that are just dipping their toes into the fast flowing waters of agile delivery. Even with the companies that have been successful on their way to agile maturity I still often work with the executives who expect Scrum Masters to accomplish things way outside of their R&R. (This can also lead us to the importance of stakeholder management by Agilists, but I’ll save this for another post).

So who is the Scrum Master and what should you expect when you hire one?

While many people might confuse a Scrum Master with a Product Owner, Project Manager or even a Systems Architect, the Scrum Master’s primary focus is on coaching the development team. And as such, their key responsibility is to train the team to be as efficient as possible, and to coach organization around their team to allow the team to be as efficient as possible.  

They are the ones who work tirelessly to help the team understand and embrace the agile principles, remove any obstacles that might be blocking progress, and promote a continuous improvement mindset.

A skilled Scrum Master is like a sports coach, guiding the team to greatness by fostering collaboration, facilitating effective communication, and promoting accountability. In short, a Scrum Master is the team’s biggest advocate, always working behind the scenes to help the team achieve their goals and deliver high-quality results.

14 Things to Expect from a Scrum Master

  1. Facilitation: A scrum master is responsible for facilitating the Scrum process, ensuring that team members have the tools, resources, and support they need to work effectively.
  2. Team coaching: The scrum master acts as a coach, helping the team improve their Agile practices and continuously enhance their performance.
  3. Problem-solving: A scrum master is adept at identifying and resolving obstacles that are impeding the team’s progress, using creative problem-solving skills to find solutions.
  4. Process improvement: A scrum master is constantly looking for ways to improve the Scrum process, seeking feedback from the team and making adjustments as needed.
  5. Communication: The scrum master is a skilled communicator, ensuring that all team members are on the same page and that information is being shared effectively.
  6. Conflict resolution: A scrum master is trained in resolving conflicts that may arise within the team, helping team members work through differences and find common ground. Scrum Masters must remain neutral and impartial to all stakeholders involved in the Scrum process.
  7. Agile expertise: A scrum master has a deep understanding of Agile principles and practices, and is able to apply this knowledge to help the team work more efficiently.
  8. Protecting the team: A scrum master is responsible for protecting the team from distractions and interruptions, ensuring that they are able to focus on delivering high-quality work.
  9. Understanding of product and business landscape: great Scrum Masters not only care about the efficiency of the team, but share ownership of the outcomes with the team. SM can not lead the team if they don’t care about the results that team produces.
  10. Continuous improvement: A scrum master is committed to continuously improving the team’s performance, seeking out new methods, tools, and techniques that can help the team achieve its goals.
  11. Servant leadership: A scrum master adopts a servant leadership approach, putting the needs of the team ahead of their own and working to empower team members to take ownership of their work.
  12. Stakeholder management: A scrum master is responsible for managing stakeholder expectations, making delivery progress transparent and ensuring that stakeholders are informed and engaged at all times.
  13. Adaptability: A scrum master must be adaptable and flexible, able to adapt to changing circumstances and help the team navigate uncertainty and ambiguity.
  14. Team building: A scrum master plays a key role in building strong, cohesive teams, fostering collaboration, trust, and mutual respect among team members.

14 Things Not to Expect from a Scrum Master

  1. Directing the team: A scrum master is not a traditional manager or supervisor, and should not be directing the team on what tasks to perform or how to perform them.
  2. Making decisions: A scrum master is not responsible for making decisions on behalf of the team, but rather facilitating the team’s decision-making process.
  3. Managing project details: A scrum master is not responsible for managing the details of the project, such as scheduling, budgeting, or resource allocation.
  4. Controlling the team’s work: A scrum master should not be dictating how the team should work or imposing their own work style on the team.
  5. Being a sole point of contact: A scrum master should not be the only point of contact for the team or stakeholders, but rather facilitate communication and collaboration between them.
  6. Being an authoritarian: A scrum master should not adopt an authoritarian leadership style and dictate how team should do the work. But rather be a facilitator, coach, and servant leader.
  7. Doing the development team’s work: A scrum master should not be performing work that is the responsibility of the team, but rather supporting the team in their work. 
  8. Doing the work of a product owner  in managing the product backlog.
  9. Doing the work of a project manager, managing schedules and project budgets.
  10. Blindly following all the senior managers directions: Scrum Masters are there to facilitate change, not to conform to practices that don’t add value, and should not be punished for doing their job; A scrum master should not neglect continuous improvement, failing to seek out new methods, tools, and techniques that can help the team work more effectively.
  11. Technical expertise: A scrum master is not necessarily going to have technical expertise. If they do, they will be able to consult the team on the best practices. A soccer coach might know how to play, but will not step to the field to try and score the goal.
  12. Ignoring team needs: A scrum master should not ignore the needs of the team, but rather work to address these needs and ensure that the team has the resources and support they need to succeed.
  13. Being inflexible: A scrum master should not be inflexible, unable to adapt to changing circumstances or respond to the needs of the team.
  14. Being passive: A scrum master should not be passive, failing to take action when necessary or failing to help the team overcome obstacles.

Scrum Masters are there to train the teams and challenge status quo to enable the organization to become a better, more efficient and adaptable version of itself. They are there to apply systems thinking approach and transform the organization around them to become a well-oiled machine, delivering the best products at the shortest time. Scrum Master is a full-time role with its own unique skillset. And I hope that this article will help to accomplish two goals: help leadership to utilize Scrum Masters’ skills to benefit their organizations; 2. Help Scrum Masters to stay true to what they really should be doing.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!