The Ultimate Scrum Master Guide

The Ultimate Scrum Master Guide

To those who want to start using and maintaining an agile project management framework, Scrum would be the best choice. Of course, every framework needs a leader, and in this case, that would be the Scrum Master. This article will first cover what Scrum is and how it functions, and then move on to how you can become a great Scrum Master and utilize all the tools made available by this framework. Let us begin this guide by asking the following question:

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a type of framework meant for developing, delivering, and sustaining complex products, with an initial emphasis on software development. However, it has been used in other fields including research, sales, marketing, and advanced technologies.

It is a lightweight framework that helps people and organizations generate value through flexible solutions for complex problems. For it to work, Scrum requires a Scrum Master to oversee and foster an environment in which: 

  1. A Product Owner can order the work for a complex problem using Product Backlog. 
  2. The Scrum Team can turn a selection of work into an Increment of value throughout the duration of a Sprint. 
  3. After the second step, the Scrum Team and its stakeholders should be able to inspect the results and adjust the process as needed for the next Sprint. 
  4. Repeating Scrum is simple. 

This framework is purposefully simple, only defining the parts that are required to implement the Scrum theory. Scrum is built upon by the people using it with their ideas and solutions. To be more precise, rather than readily provide people with full instructions, the rules of Scrum are meant to guide their interactions and relationships. Many different techniques, processes, and methods are available within this framework. It can be established as part of an already existing practice, or replace old practices altogether. It clarifies the efficiency of current management, environment, and work techniques in order to make improvements.

Scrum Theory

Scrum is founded on empiricism and lean ways of working – namely, lean thinking. Empiricism asserts that knowledge does come from experience, and it requires making decisions based on what is already observed. Additionally, lean thinking focuses on reducing waste, small batch sizes, and fast feedback.

It means employing an incremental and iterative approach to optimize the use of predictability and to control risk efficiently. This framework makes sure to engage groups of people who all collectively have the skills and expertise to do the work required, and who can share or acquire these skills if needed.

There are four formal events reserved for monitoring and adapting during the Sprint. These events work through the empirical pillars that are the basis of Scrum: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

  • Transparency: This requires that the emergent processes and work are visible to those performing the tasks, as well as those receiving the results of the work. In this framework, many crucial decisions are based on the perceived state of its three formal Scrum artifacts (Product Goal, Sprint Goal, and the Definition of Done). Artifacts that have low transparency lead to decisions that can diminish the value, as well as increase risk. Moreover, transparency enables the second pillar – inspection. Without transparency, inspection is wasteful and misleading.
  • Inspection: The artifacts and the progress toward agreed goals must be monitored diligently and inspected frequently to detect and prevent potential problems or undesirable variances. Scrum provides space for inspection in the form of its four events. As it is the case with transparency, inspection enables the next pillar – adaptation, as inspection without adaptation does not hold much meaning or value.
  • Adaptation: If inspection shows that any aspects of the process deviate outside acceptable limits or predictions (or if the result is unacceptable), it is a sign that the method or the materials used must be adjusted. This adaptation must be made as soon as possible in order to minimize further deviation from the original plan. That is why a Scrum Team is expected to adjust the process the moment they receive any new information through inspection.

Scrum Values

Scrum’s successful implementation wholly depends on the way people adopt the following five values: focus, respect, commitment, openness, and courage. These values are especially important because the Scrum Team should commit not only to achieving its goals, but also to supporting each other. Their primary focus during a Sprint is to make the most significant steps towards the goals outlined in the Product Goal. The Scrum Team and other stakeholders should be transparent about the work and the possible challenges. 

These values should direct the Scrum Team in their work, actions, and behavior. The decisions that are made, the steps that are taken, and the way Scrum is implemented should reinforce these values. Members of the Scrum Team need to learn and explore the values as they work with the events and artifacts. At the moment when these values become embodied by the Scrum Team and other stakeholders, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation are at their full power, aiding the progress of the project.

Scrum Team

The most crucial unit for Scrum projects is a small team of people – appropriately named a Scrum Team. It consists of one Scrum Master and one Product Owner each, as well as Developers. There are no sub-teams or hierarchies within a Scrum Team, as it should form a cohesive unit of professional individuals who are all focused on the same objective – namely, the Product Goal.

Moreover, Scrum Teams are cross-functional. That means all the members have the skills necessary for creating value during each Sprint. Additionally, the members should be self-managing.

The Scrum Team should be small enough to remain flexible, but it should also be large enough to complete a satisfactory amount of work during a Sprint. A typical Scrum Team includes 3 to 9 developers, a scrum master, and a product owner. In general, smaller teams are able to communicate better and can be more productive. If a Scrum Team becomes too large, it can be reorganized into multiple smaller Scrum Teams focused on the same end goal. They can share the same Product Owner, Product Goal, and Product Backlog. 

Responsibilities of the Scrum Team include all product-related activities. That can range from stakeholder collaboration, verification, maintenance, operation, and experimentation, to research and development, as well as anything else that might be required during the process. Additionally, making sure the team is working at a sustainable pace during the Sprint improves their focus and consistency – which is where understanding the team capacity comes into play. Additionally, the entire Scrum Team is responsible for creating value every Sprint. 

There are three specific accountabilities within the Scrum Team: the Developers, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master.

Developers and product owners

Developers are the Scrum Team members committed to creating aspects of a usable Increment for each Sprint. The skills required of the Developers will vary with the domain of work. However, the Developers are always accountable for:

  • Creating a plan for the Sprint, which is called the Sprint Backlog; 
  • Ensuring quality by respecting the Definition of Done; 
  • Adjusting their plan as needed in order to reach the Sprint Goal; and
  • Holding each other accountable as professionals. 

The Product Owner is the person accountable for maximizing the product’s value resulting from the Scrum Team’s work. They are also responsible for efficient Product Backlog management, which includes the following:

  • Development and direct communication about the Product Goal;
  • Creation and direct communication regarding Product Backlog items;
  • Prioritizing items for the Product Backlog; and
  • Making sure that the Product Backlog is fully transparent, available for everyone in the team, and, last but not least, understood by all.

Moreover, the Product Owner may delegate the responsibility of doing the above mentioned work to the others. However, they are still accountable for the results.

The entire organization must respect the Product Owners’ decisions in order for them to succeed. These decisions are visible in the Product Backlog’s content and ordering, as well as through the Sprint Review’s inspectable increment. 

The Product Owner can only be one person. While they may represent many stakeholders’ needs in the Product Backlog, the Product owner cannot be a committee.

What does a Scrum Master do?

The Scrum Master is the one held accountable for ensuring the Scrum theory and values are executed in practice as outlined in the Scrum Guide. To this end, the Scrum Master role is to serve as something akin to teachers, aiding everyone both within the Scrum Team and the organization in understanding Scrum theory and practice. They are also accountable for the effectiveness of the Scrum Team. This is achieved by helping the Scrum Team improve the way it works within the Scrum framework. 

Scrum Masters are the true leaders who serve both the Scrum Team, as well as the larger organization. 

They serve the team in several ways, including but not limited to: 

  • Teaching the team members cross-functionality and self-management; 
  • Aiding the team to focus on the creation of Increments of high-value that also meet the Definition of Done; 
  • Removing the possible impediments of the Scrum Team’s progress; and 
  • Making sure that all Scrum events take place as intended, including meeting the deadlines. 

Some of the ways Scrum Masters aid the Scrum Product Owner are the following: 

  • Aid in finding techniques for an efficient definition of the Product Goal and management of Product Backlog; 
  • Help with teaching the Scrum Team the importance of concise and comprehensible Product Backlog items;
  • Aid in establishing empirical product planning for complex environments; and
  • Facilitation of stakeholder collaboration per request or need.

The Scrum Master also serves the organization in the following ways: 

  • Leading, training, and coaching while the organization is implementing Scrum; 
  • Planning and advising the organization concerning Scrum implementations; 
  • Aiding the employees and stakeholders in understanding and enacting empirical approaches for complex work; and 
  • Removing barriers between Scrum Teams and stakeholders.

Scrum Events

To fully understand the responsibilities of a Scrum Master, we will need to go over the essential Scrum Events. The most important one is The Sprint.

The Sprint

Sprints are the core Scrum Event, where ideas are turned into concrete goals and value. Sprints typically run for 2 weeks. Immediately after the conclusion of a Sprint, the new one begins. During Sprints, all of the work necessary to achieve the Product Goal is completed, including Sprint Planning, Daily Scrums, Sprint Review, and Sprint retrospectives. Throughout the duration of a Sprint: 

  • There must be no changes that endanger the Sprint Goal unless extraordinary circumstances require the team to pivot; 
  • Quality must not decrease; 
  • The Product Backlog is refined; and 
  • As more is learned, the scope may be clarified and renegotiated with the Product Owner. 

Sprints are essential as they enable and ensure predictability by implementing inspection and adaptation of processes used to achieve a Product Goal. When the planned time frame for a Sprint is too long, it may result in the Sprint Goal becoming invalid, rising complexity, and increased risk. By having shorter sprints, teams can utilize more learning cycles and address risks early. 

Various practices exist to forecast progress, such as burn-ups, burn-downs, or cumulative flows. While they can be useful, they cannot replace the importance of empiricism. In complex environments, predicting the future is nearly impossible. Only what has already happened may be used for forward-looking decision-making. With that in mind, Sprints can be canceled if the Sprint Goal becomes obsolete. However, only the Product Owner has the authority to do so.

Sprint Planning

Sprint Planning means laying out the work to be performed for the duration of a Sprint. This plan is created through the collaboration of the entire Scrum Team. During this process, the Product Owner is responsible for ensuring that attendees are fully prepared to consider and discuss the most important Product Backlog items, as well as the ways to map the process towards the Product Goal. Additionally, The Scrum Team is allowed to invite other people to attend this meeting in order to provide advice. 

Daily Scrums

The purpose of Daily Scrums is to inspect progress and adjust the Sprint Backlog as necessary to adapt upcoming work plans.

The Daily Scrum Meeting is a daily 15-minute event for the Developers of the Scrum Team. To reduce complexity, it is always held at the same time and place during the Sprint, typically at the start of the day. The Scrum Master leads the meeting to keep tabs on the active working items. Additionally, the Product Owner and Scrum Master may participate as Developers in cases when they are actively working on items in the Sprint Backlog. 

The structure of the daily scrum is to gain alignment on the active stories. Scrum Master generally asks 3 questions to address the work completed, what work will be worked on, and any impediments that can block the team.

It is crucial to keep in mind that the Daily Scrum is not the only time Developers can adjust their plan. They often meet for more detailed discussions about adapting or re-planning the rest of Sprint’s work throughout the day. 

Sprint Review

The Sprint Review’s purpose is to inspect the outcome of the Sprint and determine future adaptations. The Scrum Team presents their work to key stakeholders, and progress toward the Product Goal is discussed. 

Sprint Retrospective

The Sprint Retrospective serves to plan ways of increasing quality and effectiveness in future Sprints.

The Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went, taking into account interactions, individuals, tools, processes, and their Definition of Done used during the Sprint. The domain of work can influence the elements that are inspected. 

During this process, the Scrum Team aims to identify the best way to adjust the Sprint process to improve its effectiveness. Adjustments that carry the most importance are addressed as soon as possible, and can be added to the Sprint Backlog when planning for the next Sprint. 

The Sprint is concluded with The Sprint Retrospective. The general practice is to allow 45 minutes for each week of sprint length. Therefore, a two-week sprint would cap the sprint retrospective at an hour and a half; a four-week sprint at three hours.

How do I become a Scrum Master?

There are three steps to becoming a Certified Scrum Master:

  1. Familiarize yourself with Scrum methodology and meet the prerequisites for attending a Scrum Master course.
  2. Attend a Scrum Master course taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer.
  3. Pass a Scrum Master exam

By reading the first portion of this article, you have already started your journey towards becoming a Scrum Master. Moreover, you might want to familiarize yourself with agile framework concepts and principles, as well as develop an awareness of Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming (XP). You will also need a working knowledge of software and hardware development processes. If you are just beginning your journey, register for our Agile Fundamentals course. If you are ready to get started as a Scrum Master, sign up for our Certified Scrum Master course.

After successfully finishing the course and receiving your Scrum certification, you will be able to:

  • Describe Scrum in a SAFe enterprise
  • Facilitate Scrum events
  • Facilitate effective Iteration execution
  • Support effective Program Increment execution
  • Support relentless improvement
  • Coach Agile teams for maximum business results
  • Support DevOps implementation

And that concludes the ultimate scrum master guide. Whether you were a beginner or a person already knowledgeable on this subject, this should help clarify concepts and ensure you are the best Scrum Master you can be!