As with most projects or group endeavours, teams need leaders to make sure operations are running smoothly. For Agile teams, Scrum Masters provide that leadership. Scrum Masters are responsible for helping Agile teams develop products quickly and effectively. Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Scrum Masters and their role and responsibilities within product development teams.
What is a Scrum Master?
A Scrum Master is accountable for making sure the team follows Scrum protocols during each phase of the process. While the name “master” sounds authoritative, the Scrum Master is a servant-leader who doesn’t have direct authority over any of the other team members and isn’t involved in high-level decision-making. Instead, the Scrum Master facilitates the Scrum process and keeps the team on track.
Scrum Masters are usually seasoned Scrum veterans who have a deep understanding of the Agile project management framework. Most Scrum teams won’t need a full-time Scrum master, especially if they’re a more experienced or seasoned team, so it’s not uncommon to have someone in the role part time, or for two or three teams to share the same Scrum Master.
On top of clearing obstacles and ensuring the team adheres to the Agile practices the team has agreed to follow, one of the Scrum Master’s most vital roles is to encourage a sense of trust and community. Because the Scrum Master isn’t anyone’s boss, they can focus on connecting with team members on a personal level without worrying about sticking to a hierarchy. The Scrum Master is more of a guide or a coach than a boss or superior.
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Scrum Master responsibilities
A Scrum Master’s primary role is to ensure a smooth process that enables the team to accomplish their objectives. Scrum Masters typically serve the product owner, offering tools, techniques, and expertise to keep the team on track.
In Scrum methodology, work is organized into sprints—short, repeating boxes of time in which the team aims to complete a set amount of work. Scrum Masters help ensure each sprint stays organized and productive. Often, Scrum Masters will use work management software to provide visibility into the team’s progress. The greater the levels of transparency within the team, the easier it is for the Scrum Master to monitor progress and minimize misunderstandings. If it looks like team members aren’t communicating effectively or work is falling behind, the Scrum Master can step in and help resolve any differences.
One of the Scrum Master’s most important functions is to oversee the four Scrum ceremonies that make up each sprint, including:
- Sprint planning—In this initial phase, the Scrum team meets and decides what goals they want to accomplish during the sprint.
- Daily Scrum meeting—The daily Scrum is a short, time-bound meeting, usually no more than 15 minutes, where team members share their progress, challenges, and obstacles.
- Sprint review—The sprint review, which comes at the end of the sprint, is when the Scrum team demonstrates their completed work to stakeholders and the broader product team.
- Sprint retrospective—Finally, after the sprint review, the team looks back and reviews its work during the sprint. The Scrum Master may identify successes, challenges, and opportunities to improve during the next iteration.
By ensuring these Scrum meetings are held regularly and remain brief and focused on the task at hand, the Scrum Master can keep the team on track for success.
During the sprint, team members should feel comfortable approaching the Scrum Master to discuss the obstacles that inevitably crop up, from slow approval processes and unforeseen technical challenges to unclear expectations and communication difficulties. The Scrum Master should have excellent interpersonal skills and experience in conflict resolution to move the team through these continuous development cycles.
After the sprint concludes, the sprint retrospective is a crucial phase where the Scrum Master facilitates a conversation about successes and challenges, gathering feedback and suggestions for how the team can improve future sprints. The Scrum Master may also work with Scrum Masters from other teams to identify best practices that can help the whole organization thrive.
Scrum Master vs. project manager
The Scrum Master and the project manager are two distinct roles, each with different functions and expertise. While the Scrum Master is in charge of ensuring a smooth Scrum process, the project manager is the point person on the product development team who communicates with higher-level managers and stakeholders.
Project managers develop long-term product roadmaps and decide on features and functionalities, prioritizing different aspects of the project and overseeing development.
Scrum Masters, on the other hand, don’t have authority over the overall direction of the project—they are embedded with the teams in order to ensure they stay true to the Scrum framework during each sprint.
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How to become a Scrum Master
While anyone with sufficient knowledge of the Scrum process can serve as a Scrum Master, there are also official certification programs available.
Scrum Master training and certification
The Scrum Alliance has a Scrum Master certification program that teaches candidates about the Agile framework and the Scrum system.
To become a certified Scrum Master, you’ll need to attend a live online or in-person course taught by a Scrum trainer. Each live session lasts two days and ends with a 60-minute exam, with a required score of at least 74%. Exam topics include planning, sprints, daily meetings, team organization, and more. Certified Scrum Masters must also keep up with continuing education and renew their certification every two years.
Scrum Masters tend to report high levels of job satisfaction and make an average of around $90,000 per year.
Help teams master the Scrum process
Scrum Masters play an essential role in helping team members stay true to Agile development processes, which are characterized by continuous, iterative cycles of work. By managing daily meetings, removing obstacles, and prioritizing organization, Scrum Masters empower teams to develop products quickly and effectively in a market that demands speed and flexibility.