The ScrumMaster is one of the more poorly-named aspects of Scrum. The intended meaning isn’t to imply a controller or giver of orders. Rather, a ScrumMaster is expected to have Mastery of the knowledge of Scrum. This is a fairly tall order since Scrum touches on many parts of organizational life so true mastery takes years.
In more depth, ScrumMasters:
- coach the whole team in the art of Scrum
- coach the Product Owner
- coach the team on relevant technical or engineering practices – this will differ by problem domain
- watch the team to understand what is happening. Are team members collaborating? This involves watching both individual behaviour and team member interactions.
- maintain the Sprint Backlog with the team
- help the team understand the value of flow and coach them to achieve it
- help the team stay focused on quality – this often happens through reminding the team of their Definition of Done and improving the same.
- facilitate team events – including Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective, and Product Backlog Refinement. A great ScrumMaster is constantly finding new ways to improves these events and make them more engaging. Hint: this often involves changing event agendas so that team members don’t get bored.
- maintain team Impediments Backlog. The ScrumMaster should help the team by keeping their current list of impediments visible to the team and the team’s manager.
- protect the team from outside interference and, when it happens, track the effects.
- nurture the Team’s independence
- help the team remember important things they committed to and that they might be losing track of – example: many teams commit to Definition of Done or Improvements (from a Sprint Retrospective) but then, during the heat of Sprint, they forget to act on them.
- explain Scrum to the Organization – Scrum is different from the way many organizations work, and the ScrumMaster is responsible for helping others to understand those differences.
- change the Organization – Eventually the ScrumMaster is responsible for helping the organization evolve.
This list is only a start. The role has a great deal more depth and, unlike a traditional manager, you have no power to enforce your intentions. If you make the role work well, it will be through understanding people, empathy, understanding systems, some negotiation, and myriad of other skills. It is the hardest role I’ve attempted and, 20 years on, I’m still learning.
Mistakes that organizations make:
- thinking the ScrumMaster is just a meeting organizer and facilitator
- appointing a ScrumMaster instead of getting the team to make the decision about who would best help them
- making the Team’s Manager their ScrumMaster
- Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process – Kenneth S. Rubin
- Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas – Mary Lynn Manns Ph.D, Linda Rising Ph.D.
- The Scrum Field Guide: Practical Advice for Your First Year – Mitch Lacey
- Scrum Mastery: From Good To Great Servant-Leadership – Geoff Watts
- The Wisdom of Crowds – James Surowiecki
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