Scrum Roles: The ScrumMaster

The ScrumMaster can be thought of as a coach to the Scrum team – someone who is responsible for ensuring that the team is sufficiently motivated to achieve the goals they’ve agreed upon; for making sure the team guards against complacency; and for removing any roadblocks that impede their progress.

In the Scrum Guide, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland describe the ScrumMaster as a ‘servant-leader for the Scrum team’ which hints at the dual-nature of the role: the ScrumMaster has both inward-facing and outward-facing responsibilities.

The inward-facing ScrumMaster

Within the team the ScrumMaster is the owner of the Scrum process.

The ScrumMaster arranges and facilitates the team’s meetings – daily Scrum, planning sessions, sprint retros etc – and ensures that they’re attended.

Because the team is self-organising the ScrumMaster has no authority over individuals within the team but can make procedural changes. For example, they might change the format for retrospectives or daily Scrums or even change the length of sprints. It is the containers, differences and exchanges that affect how self-organisation works.

While the ScrumMaster can’t set goals for the team they can make sure that goals have been agreed upon by all team members and provide reminders of these goals to improve motivation or guard against complacency.

The outward-facing ScrumMaster

The ScrumMaster of course also has responsibilities to the organisation.

These include helping the organisation in its adoption of Scrum, planning Scrum implementations, making sure that the organisation understands what the Scrum team is doing and protecting the Scrum team from any interactions that would hamper them e.g. moving of team members to different projects

In short, the ScrumMaster is responsible for improving interactions between the Scrum team and the organisation in order to maximise the productivity of the Scrum team.


The ScrumMaster and the Product Owner

The relationship between the ScrumMaster and the Product Owner is very important in Scrum as it largely determines the efficacy of product backlog management.

Both the ScrumMaster and Product Owner are part of the Scrum team and both have responsibilities to the organisation but the ScrumMaster also has responsibilities to the Product Owner.

These hinge around finding the most effective techniques for managing the Product Backlog: coaching the Product Owner to arrange the backlog in a way that maximises value; and making sure the Scrum team understands the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items.

For example, in many real-world Scrum scenarios the Product Owner will write the user stories that enter into each sprint. The ScrumMaster needs to make sure that these user stories are fully understood by the team. If not, she could e.g. suggest that the Product Owner breaks them down into smaller constituent user stories.

Common ScrumMaster pitfalls

In actuality a ScrumMaster will often find themselves in an environment where Scrum is in the process of being adopted or has intentionally been adopted in a diluted or hybrid form (check out our blog post for agile vs waterfall project management methods).

In such environments the ScrumMaster may find themselves requested to take on the role of contributor to the Scrum team as well as the facilitator of the Scrum process.

While the Scrum framework doesn’t prohibit this, the ScrumMaster has to ensure they have enough capacity left over after contributing to the work to carry out their main objective: maximising the value created by the Scrum team.

They need to work with the organisation to make sure the version of Scrum that is being used doesn’t prevent the team from being productive.

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