Scrum is a project management framework whose primary purpose is to increase teams’ ability to self-manage and adapt. There are three roles for people in a Scrum Team – Developers, Product Owners, and Scrum Masters. Despite the title, Scrum Masters are not leaders of Scrum Teams. Scrum Teams have no hierarchy, so Scrum Masters serve as coaches who help the Team self-organize as efficiently as possible. This article will further explain what a Scrum Master is, their responsibilities, and the best practices for Scrum Masters.
What is a Scrum Master?
As previously mentioned, a Scrum Master is mainly a facilitator for the Scrum Team. Their responsibilities are overseeing the Team and ensuring they are respecting the Scrum Values, and following the processes and practices outlined in the Sprint Backlog.
In order to further clarify the Scrum methodology and the Scrum Master’s role, it will be of utmost importance to explain the origin of the word scrum. It was created to describe the formation of players in rugby. Namely, a scrum (short for scrummage) is a method of restarting play in rugby. It involves players coming close to each other with their heads down and then attempting to gain possession of the ball. This sentiment is present in the Scrum framework, where every member of the Team is equally responsible for the final outcome. Even though they share responsibility for the finished product, members of the Scrum Team have different roles throughout the duration of the Sprint.
The Scrum Master’s role is to ensure the team is able to work smoothly, with no interruptions or outside disruptions, as well as to ensure that they are self-managing in accordance with the core values of Scrum. Moreover, they are tasked with handling the processes of information exchange between different group members, with the responsibility to ensure that everyone has fully understood every required aspect.
To sum it up – the role of a Scrum Master can be described as a coach or a trainer. They are there to ensure everyone is at their best performance during the Sprint, providing advice and assistance where needed and ensuring that the processes are going smoothly. Additionally, they might have a bit more responsibility concerning Scrum Artifacts. We will briefly cover them in this section:
Product backlog: The Product Backlog contains information about everything that needs to be done in order to develop the product. It is a continually changing list of requirements, where the Scrum Team is estimating the effort for each item, stakeholders are assigning the value, and the Product Owner decides on the priority.
Sprint backlog: This is the part of the Product Backlog that the Development Team found doable in one Sprint. It is created during the Sprint Planning phase. If their estimation of the effort is accurate, the end result is the delivery of a valuable part of the product that can be used right away. This artifact consists of concise and simple User Stories, where each and every one has a clear breakdown of tasks. Once the Sprint Backlog is decided upon, it should not be changed.
User story: This is a concise summary of a product feature or function: what the feature is, how it will work, and why the user wants it. They are added to and removed from the Product Backlog as needed. Writing a good User Story is quite important, as it makes sure that the final product meets the user’s needs and the Sprint Goal is defined correctly.
Increment: This is the total of all the items from the Product Backlog that were completed during the Sprint, as well as the continuous value of all Increments completed previously. If the Product Owner deems an Increment as Done, only then it can be sent to the customer. Any quality issues should be resolved by this stage if testing and quality assurance have been integrated into the development cycle. However, if there are any remaining non-critical bugs, they will be prioritized for future Sprints.
Definition of Done: Participation in writing the Definition of Done during the Sprint Planning Event ensures a shared understanding of what amount of work is required for a certain increment of the project. The Definition of Done also puts in place measures of quality, which means that it is not a subjective value. Moreover, the Definition of Done creates transparency, respecting one of the core Scrum Values and getting everyone’s expectations on the same page.
What are some of the Scrum Master best practices?
Any good Scrum Master can follow directions, but only great ones go out of their way to ensure that everything is in order. This part of the article will cover some of the essential practices during a Scrum project. As a Scrum Master is supposed to work on communication, coaching, and monitoring of the entire Team, this will cover a variety of different practices. Let us start with the most important one, pertaining to the Scrum Value of transparency:
Never commit the Team to anything without their prior knowledge
You are a bridge between the stakeholders and the Team. That means that you do not have the authority to accept change requests on behalf of the Team. Although you may be absolutely certain that the Team can fulfill the request in question, you still need to communicate this change with them. This especially applies to deliverables, deadlines, or anything similar. However, you may not need to speak to the whole Team. Depending on their self-management, they may designate someone to accept or deny the requests on behalf of the whole Team. Still, keep in mind that it is their decision and not yours.
Promote peer-to-peer collaboration
In short, this means that you need to ensure that Team Members and Stakeholders see each other as peers. Both Team members and business-side stakeholders bring an essential perspective to the product development process, and both perspectives are equally valuable. Your responsibility is to help stakeholders and the development team to understand each other’s unique challenges. This becomes especially important when developers conclude that a deadline is impossible, and may also include coaching the Development Teams to understand the perspective brought by stakeholders.
Learn how to listen and let the Team work their magic
Sometimes, you will need to simply stay silent and let the Team figure out the answer by themselves. It is completely natural to feel the need to jump in and aid your Team when you see they are struggling to figure out what to do. But if you solve problems or even provide suggestions too readily, team members may learn that waiting for you to solve every problem for them is the way to go. That does not mean that you should never provide suggestions, but a part of being a great Scrum Master is learning how to balance that with the learning process of your Team. They must also learn how to solve problems themselves in order to grow.
Protect the Team
This is, perhaps, the most often offered agile advice – a Scrum Master needs to ensure that their Team is not overworked due to an overly demanding product owner or stakeholders. Product owners sometimes ask for far too much, far too often. Sometimes these requests become aggressive in nature. This, in turn, can force your team to cut corners, resulting in decreased quality of the product. And with this in mind, you can now see why a good Scrum Master needs to protect their Team. What you do not often hear, is that a good Scrum Master should also protect the Team against complacency. Good agile teams seek continuous improvement, and great Scrum Masters should protect their teams from feeling like they have nothing left to learn.
Coach the Team so well they won’t feel a need for you anymore
However contradictory this statement might seem, it is true. A team that is new to the agile framework will rely on their Scrum Master to coach them on various matters. They may not know how to keep the Daily Scrum Meeting under fifteen minutes or, perhaps, they may not understand the importance of being a cross-functional team. No matter how experienced an agile team is, it can still benefit from having a Scrum Master. For example – good agile teams take initiative and do certain coaching tasks by themselves. That is a part of their own journey to mastering the skills needed in product development. A crucial part of your role is to teach them how to master that. If this sounds like a job for you and you would like to become a certified Scrum Master, head over to this page. This course explores the role of the Scrum Master in the context of the entire enterprise. It will prepare you to successfully plan and execute Increments, teach you how to manage every Scrum Event and communication between multiple teams, as well as ensure you are on a road of continuous improvement as an agile coach yourself.