Scrum Master — definition, role and responsibilities

A woman in an office uses her laptop to learn about Scrum Master.

You’ve probably heard of Scrum, the Agile project management framework. But you might not know what a Scrum Master is or what they do. Perhaps you’re going to work on a Scrum team — or are becoming a Scrum Master — and need a better understanding of the position.

The Scrum Master is a vital leadership role for any successful Scrum team. The Scrum Master’s responsibilities include sprint planning, leading daily stand-up meetings, and conducting retrospectives.

Whether you’re new to Agile project management, joining a Scrum team, or stepping into the role of Scrum Master, this article will help you learn everything you need to know. We’ll cover the definition of a Scrum Master, the primary job tasks of the role, and how a Scrum Master differs from other management roles.

Specifically, this post will discuss:

What is a Scrum Master?

A Scrum Master is a role in the Scrum framework for Agile project management. A Scrum Master leads Agile teams and facilitates the Scrum process. Their main role is to support the team’s self-organization and help their team members feel well-equipped to work using the Scrum methodology. They are also responsible for ensuring the Scrum process is followed while finding solutions to any challenges that may be holding their team back.

Although the title sounds authoritative, the Scrum Master is often called a servant leader. A Scrum Master is a facilitator and coach for a Scrum team. The Scrum Master also ensures their team is fully empowered to make decisions and take ownership of projects they work on.

Scrum Masters are usually experienced Scrum veterans who have a deep understanding of the Agile project management framework. They bring organization to the process by guiding others using Scrum values and best practices.

Scrum Master responsibilities

Some of Scrum Master's responsibilities are to lead the daily stand-up, guide the spirit, and conduct retrospectives.

A Scrum Master works in many different settings, but their primary responsibilities include:

  1. Leading the daily stand-up. The Scrum Master leads the daily stand-up meeting where team members discuss what they accomplished yesterday, what they plan to do today, and any obstacles they face.
  2. Guiding the sprint. The sprint refers to a short period of time that a Scrum team has designated to complete a task. The Scrum Master guides the sprint by helping the team stay focused on the sprint goal and ensuring they follow the Scrum process.
  3. Supporting others in their work. The Scrum Master provides guidance and feedback and removes obstacles that may be hindering the team’s progress.
  4. Conducting retrospectives. The Scrum Master conducts retrospectives at the end of each sprint to reflect on the sprint and identify areas for improvement.
  5. Reporting on progress. The Scrum Master reports on the team’s progress to stakeholders, ensuring transparency and visibility into the project.

It’s not uncommon for a company to wonder if the Scrum Master role is already being filled by another team member. Misunderstanding the responsibilities of the Scrum Master can result in other team leaders having to take on too much work or perform tasks that aren’t in their wheelhouse.

Now that we know the responsibilities of a Scrum Master — and to better understand why delegating leadership to this role is beneficial for Agile teams — let’s look at the differences between the Scrum Master and other leadership roles.

Scrum Master vs. project manager

A Scrum Master’s role is distinct from the role of a project manager — and also the role of a product manager or a Scrum Product Owner. The difference between the Scrum Master and the project manager is in their involvement.

First, a Scrum Master is part of the Scrum team. Their goal is to lead, coach, and help the team function as best as it can. The Scrum Master gets into the nitty-gritty details — analyzing strategies working for their team, addressing areas where the team is struggling, and helping to increase efficiency. A Scrum Master is very involved and works collaboratively rather than controlling the team in a traditional sense.

On the other hand, a project manager has a different type of involvement with Scrum teams — checking in, collecting status updates on tasks, and giving feedback on completed subtasks. Because of a project manager’s lack of one-on-one involvement, it’s necessary to have a Scrum Master leading the team.

Another distinction is that the Scrum Master focuses more on day-to-day tasks than a project manager, who concentrates on bigger-picture and longer-term items. Because they hold daily stand-up meetings, a Scrum Master is always aware of what their team is working on, planning, and accomplishing, in addition to the obstacles they’re facing.

As they evaluate these needs each day, a Scrum Master can personalize their leadership to promote productivity within their team. Because a project manager’s role is to focus on more macro-level items, they cannot perform the Scrum Master’s role in this capacity.

A Scrum Master's responsibilities compared to a project manager's responsibilities.

Scrum Master vs. product manager

Identifying the distinction between the Scrum Master and the product manager comes down to different objectives within the company.

Typically, a product manager’s role is to focus on the customers’ needs. Rather than leading a Scrum team, product managers spend their time focused on the higher-level, overall direction of the product. Product managers might collaborate with a Scrum Master when it would be beneficial to assign tasks and subtasks to their Scrum team, but they will not have the same level of involvement with the team as the Scrum Master.

How to become a Scrum Master

There are several ways to become a Scrum Master, including taking online courses, gaining hands-on experience, or attending certification programs.

Although gaining hands-on experience will be crucial in learning how to be a Scrum Master, online courses are a great way to receive free training and are beneficial for those interested in the role to learn more about it and see if it’s right for them. After completing a course to become a Scrum Master, you’ll often have to take a test in order to become certified.

Scrum Master training and certification

Certification programs provide a more in-depth approach. Although they take longer to complete and cost money, becoming certified as a Scrum Master increases your chances of stepping into the role officially. The Scrum certification tests from demonstrate a high level of qualification for those who complete them, and the organization’s Professional Scrum Master Certifications are well regarded. Researching an option that works for your schedule, learning style, and budget is the best way to reach your goal of becoming a Scrum Master.

Another way to become a Scrum Master is through on-the-job training. This involves working on a Scrum team as a member and gradually learning the Scrum process through experience. By participating in team meetings and ceremonies, you’ll get hands-on training with the Scrum framework, and this will provide you with a deeper understanding of what a Scrum Master does. Additionally, you can learn from other Scrum Masters in your organization or community, attend workshops and meetups, and read books and articles on the topic.

It's also essential to have the right technical and soft skills to become a successful Scrum Master. Effective communication, leadership, problem-solving, and facilitation skills are critical. A Scrum Master needs to be able to communicate effectively with team members and stakeholders, lead the team, and facilitate decision-making processes. A Scrum Master must also be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances, have a strong work ethic, be well organized, and committed to continuous learning and improvement.

It’s also important to note that becoming a Scrum Master is not a one-time event. As the Scrum process evolves, a Scrum Master must continue to learn and stay up to date on the latest ideas and developments. This involves participating in training programs, attending conferences and workshops, and networking with other Scrum Masters in the community. By doing so, they can continue to grow their skills, improve their effectiveness, and help their teams achieve greater success.

A Scrum Master’s primary role is to ensure a smooth process that helps the team accomplish its objectives. A Scrum Master typically serves the product owner — offering tools, techniques, and expertise to keep the team on track.

Help teams master the Scrum process

A Scrum Master plays an essential role in helping team members stay true to Agile development processes, which are characterized by continuous, iterative work cycles. By managing daily meetings, removing obstacles, and prioritizing organization, a Scrum Master empowers teams to develop products quickly and effectively in a market that demands speed and flexibility.

Mastering the Scrum process is essential for teams that operate in an Agile environment. If you’re looking to bring organization and coaching to your team, consider bringing a Scrum Master on board. Whether they have a full- or part-time role, this individual will guide your team through the Scrum process and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Here are some next steps to consider:

  1. If your company already has a Scrum Master, take the time to talk with them about their experience, how they moved into the role, and what steps you might take to get there yourself.
  2. If your team doesn’t have a Scrum Master, discuss the benefits of having one and consider recruiting someone for the role.
  3. If you’re ready to take on the responsibilities of Scrum Master and your organization needs someone to fill the position, look into the certification process and get started on your journey.

Adobe can support your Scrum goals

Adobe Workfront is enterprise work management software that connects work to strategy and drives better collaboration to deliver measurable business outcomes. It integrates people, data, processes, and technology across an organization so that you can manage the entire lifecycle of projects from start to finish. By optimizing and centralizing digital projects, cross-functional teams can connect and execute from anywhere to help them do their best work.

Workfront can support your organization’s Scrum goals, helping teams collaborate, communicate, and fine-tune the best process for them.

Take a product tour or watch the overview video to learn more.