Nowadays, Scrum is the most used Agile framework for the majority of organizations wanting to adopt an Agile approach. More and more, I find out that several aspects of Agility are poorly understood or even not at all.

A little while ago, I wrote a blog post named Why Scrum? in order to explain the reasons that could motivate teams to choose and use Scrum. Then, I decided to write a series of posts to discuss the fundamentals of Agility in general and of Scrum in particular. The first one I am proposing here is an exploration of the Scrum Master’s role.

My reflection around this question has been fed by several situations that occurred during my interventions with different clients. The justification for requiring the help of an internal or external Scrum Master is an important subject and a difficult choice for the management team, even when it is convinced of Agility’s contribution to its organization.

Several questions (or even certainties) are implicitly or explicitly expressed about this role. By my understanding, most of them are linked to the question I am examining: Why a Scrum Master? These questions (or certainties) are formulated by different actors in an organization, and even by certain Scrum Masters. I will give you my perspective regarding those.

So here are some things I hear and observe about the Scrum Mater’s role :

  • “What’s the point of the Scrum Master?”
  • “Why is he not taking part in the development?”
  • “The team is already Agile, it already knows what to do and doesn’t need a Scrum Master.”
  • “It’s not a full-time job.”
  • “We have a rotating Scrum Master in the team.”
  • “What does he do concretely?”
  • “What are your tangible deliverables as a Scrum Master?”
  • “The Scrum Master’s role is unclear.”
  • “I take on the tasks that the team does not want.” Scrum Master X
  • “The Team Lead takes the Scrum Master’s role.”
  • “Scrum Master is a temporary role.”
  • “A Scrum Master developer.”
  • “Scrum without a Scrum Master.”
  • “Scrum Master/Project manager.”

In my mind, most of these statements show that the role is misunderstood, or considered in the wrong way. Out of curiosity, I have looked for Scrum Master job offers and it has confirmed my idea that there is indeed a true misunderstanding of the role. Here are two examples, taken randomly on the net :

First job offer :

Job description

You will be part of steering Web and/or Mobile IT projects by ensuring they proceed as they should. Your main mission will be to:

  • Collecting and analyzing the client’s needs;
  • Conducting feasibility studies;
  • Writing and validating specifications;
  • Estimating charges;
  • Managing and monitoring all the project phases;
  • Being the client’s main contact;
  • Piloting the project team;
  • Making sure the budget is respected;
  • Ensuring the deployment of applications until their delivery.

Being a true coordinator, you will be the conductor of the technical teams to ensure the success of IT projects.

Second job offer :

Contributing to the e-commerce domain, you will pilot our projects in an entirely Agile context. You will be in charge of conducting projects completely (design, development and presales), coordinating work between project teams, supervising and controlling of the teams, monitoring and planning costs, production and delivery. You should have experience with new technologies.

Required skills : Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Project Management, New Technologies

But then, what is a Scrum Master?

As a reminder, here is an excerpt of the Scrum Guide’s definition of Scrum Master:

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.

The Scrum Master is a servant leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

I have put in bold all the words that I think are important to define the Scrum Master’s role and read the end of the Scrum Guide’s paragraph about it (read it here), then I identified the keywords associated with the role: ensure, help, understand, facilitate, coach, cause changes, collaborate, remove obstacles, etc.

These are words highlighting the few important postures of a Scrum Master. He has several responsibilities towards the development team, the Product Owner and the organization. The Scrum Guide lists these different responsibilities. Otherwise, he can adopt one or several of the following postures:

  • Teacher: he makes sure that Scrum is understood and properly applied and that the rules, practices and values are respected. The Scrum Master teaches the distinction between Scrum and other Agile best practices.
  • Servant-Leader: he serves the development team, the Product Owner and the organization in the context of implementing Scrum. All the other postures are adopted by the Scrum Master in order to help his team.
  • Facilitator: it’s about facilitating the Scrum events if needed. He could have to facilitate other discussions if necessary, and find consensus for the decisions that need to be made by the team.
  • Coach: the Scrum Master takes the posture of a coach to help the teams be self-organized and multidisciplinary, while guiding them on the path of continuous improvement. He works to create a safe environment allowing everyone to express themselves and evolve within the organization.
  • Change Agent: The Scrum Master provokes the necessary changes allowing a better implementation of Scrum. He helps organizations with the adoption of Scrum to benefit from Agility on different levels.
  • Mentor: the Scrum Master can share his knowledge, his experiences and even his opinions in order to help for a better application of Scrum or Agility in general.
  • Remover of obstacles: he works on removing all the obstacles preventing the development team from working in the best conditions, while encouraging self-organization, allowing the team to take charge of the maximum number of obstacles possible, according to the situation and context.
  • Manager of the framework: the Scrum Master is responsible for the framework within which the team works, self-organizes and improves continuously.

A Scrum Master knows how to adapt his or her approach and style according to the needs, the situations and the context.

I hear a small voice telling me (it is a voice I recognize because I have heard it several times coming from my clients): “Yes, but concretely, what is the Scrum Master doing all day?” My answer was probably vague for most of the people who asked the question and were expecting a detailed and precise list of tasks. Even when I was giving examples of concrete tasks according to the context, I was adding an important “task” in my mind: observation of what is happening and what is being said.

Generally, the person was not leaving very convinced, probably telling herself that the Scrum Master does almost nothing. On the other hand, they were sometimes coming back to me (it happened at least thrice) a few weeks or months later to say: “I finally understood, it’s pretty subtle, I needed to live it and see it. ” That being said, it is not a given!

What are the qualities of a good Scrum Master?

One of the situations related to the Scrum Master that especially surprises me is when we want to put “anybody” in this role or even have a rotating Scrum Master. Imagine a rotating developer, a rotating tester or a rotating project manager changing every month!

Like any other job, the Scrum Master needs specific skills and qualities. Without being comprehensive, and going beyond the Scrum and Agile knowledge and skills, here is a list of what I think are the most important qualities of a Scrum Master:

  • He adheres to Agile and Scrum values (he has an Agile mind).
  • He is a good communicator.
  • He has facilitation and coaching assets.
  • He is attentive and curious.
  • He is a good observer.
  • He shows great listening ability.
  • He is pleasant and shows empathy.
  • He knows how to give and receive feedback.
  • He is humble.
  • He is tenacious and patient.
  • He knows to adapt without touching to the heart of Scrum and Agility.

There are many other human qualities helping the Scrum Master to operate changes in organizations. For a Scrum Master, the goal is not to possess all of them, but to do what is necessary to improve; be it through training, coaching, participation to Agile events or any other tool allowing him or her to get better…

Why is the Scrum Master’s role essential?

It is said that Scrum is easy to understand but hard to master. Hence the necessity to have the intervention of someone mastering the framework and possessing the specific qualities required to guarantee its application.

A Scrum Master is useful even for advanced teams, because he focuses on the framework, not only the content. A good Scrum Master helps the team ask the right questions. It is not a role that can be improvised, it is subtle work fundamental to the success and implementation of Scrum within organizations.

A Scrum Master is not a secretary, a reporter, a chief, and even less a mother. It does not have an equivalent in traditional project management approaches (he is not a project manager in disguise), it is a new role that needs specific skills and qualities.

The “quality” of the Scrum Master has an important impact on the benefits that organizations can obtain from the adoption of Scrum.

_________________

I would be curious to read your outlook on the subject. Do you have experiences to share about the Scrum Master’s role as it is seen today in your organization or elsewhere? I invite you to leave your comments to enrich the discussion. It will be my pleasure to answer.

 

 

 

 

 

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Nedjma Saidani

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