What is a Scrum Master?

Scrum Master 22 Dec 2021

One can find the formal definition of the Scrum Master role in the official Scrum Guide.

In a nutshell, Scrum Masters are meant to be "true leaders" who serve the people, teams, and the organization, to foster an environment to deliver value at a sustainable pace by leveraging the Scrum framework.

A key point to note is that, the Scrum framework is purposefully incomplete and serves as a container for other techniques, methodologies, and practices. Depending on the situation and the context, the Scrum Master needs to employ various processes, techniques and methods - as needed, to increase the people, team and organizational effectiveness in delivering value. The term "Scrum Master" is intended to mean "master of the craft of using Scrum." Such mastery comes with the practical experience of using Scrum in varying situations and contexts.

In this whitepaper the author Barry Overeem gives an in-depth view of the Scrum Master role detailing the eight stances of this role, i.e., the Scrum Master as a Servant Leader, a Facilitator, a Coach, a Manager, a Mentor, a Teacher, an Impediment Remover and a Change Agent. Barry goes on to describe another eight commonly misunderstood stances of this role : as a Scribe, a Secretary, the Scrum Police, the Team Boss, the Admin, the Chairman, a Super Hero and the Coffee Clerk.

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) provides additional guidance for Scrum Masters in the enterprise, to leverage values, principles and practices from XP, Kanban and SAFe to foster an environment for high performing team dynamics, continuous flow of value and relentless improvement across the enterprise.

What are the activities of a Scrum Master, on a day-to-day basis?

This will vary based on the situation and context.

Let's consider the following scenario to better understand the activities of a Scrum Master.

Example scenario: Consider a newly hired Scrum Master, for a team that's new to Scrum

Key activities for Scrum Master

Key questions/concerns

Consult key leaders and stakeholders in the organization, to understand purpose and get buy-in and support.

  • What's the intent, purpose, behind adopting Scrum?
  • What's the expected benefit, value?
  • What's the buy-in support from leadership, for this change?
  • What's the current state?
  • What's the target future state?
  • What are the needed behavioral shifts? (e.g.,The Scrum Values)
  • What are the upcoming milestones (key events)?

Support an empirical approach to product planning & execution, to maximize value

  • What's the product goal?
  • How will the product backlog be managed?
  • Who are the key stakeholders from business, customer?
  • How to measure value? (e.g., EBM framework to measure value)

Support the formation of Teams, who can generate value though adaptive solutions for complex problems

  • What are the skills and competencies needed to achieve the product goal?
  • How many teams are needed?
  • What's the cross-functional composition, size of the team?
  • What are the team dependencies?
  • What's the motivation, hopes & fears?
  • How to enhance the definition of done to sustain and enhance quality?

Teach the basics - foster a continuous learning culture, with a strong focus on putting the learnings to practice

  • Who's the target audience?
  • What are the knowledge and skill gaps?

Facilitate the process -
the iteration/sprint cadence, key events for inspection & adaptation.

  • How to manage the events to be positive, productive and within the timebox?
  • What facilitation techniques to use? E.g., Liberating Structures
  • What's the appetite for self-management within the Scrum framework?

Increase Transparency - inspection and adaptation without transparency, is meaningless and a waste.

Facilitate removal of the impediments to progress

  • What are the impediments to progress towards the goals?
  • What's the progress on removal of the impediments?

Facilitate continuous improvement & progress towards the goals

  • What additional practices from XP, Kanban are needed, to improve quality and flow?
  • What are the measures and metrics, as evidence of progress? e.g., flow metrics

In the context of an enterprise, the Scrum Masters would also need to actively collaborate with each other and with other leaders & stakeholders across the enterprise, to improve value delivery at scale. They would additionally need to actively support transformation initiatives and org-wide Communities of Practice.

To sum up, Scrum Masters provide the foundational leadership, needed to increase the effectiveness of people, teams and the organization at large, in delivering value at a sustainable pace.