Who is the most important member in the Scrum team? Is it the Product Owner, the Scrum Master or the developers? While the question as to who is the most important is highly debatable, there is no denying that each of these three roles have their own significance, importance and prerogatives. In this blog, we try to look at the role of the Scrum Master and what is one prerogative of a scrum master.
Who Is a Scrum Master?
A Scrum Master, according to Scrum.org is “accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. They do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory and practice, both within the Scrum Team and the organization. The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. They do this by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework.”
The Scrum Master is part of a small group of members, generally 9-10 members, that form the Scrum Team. Scrum Teams are cross-functional, self-managed, and practice a high degree of autonomy. The Scrum Guide suggests keeping team sizes small, as smaller teams are more efficient when it comes to being productive and more communicative.
The Scrum Team has one objective and that is to achieve the project goal. Although the members of the Scrum Team may be separated by their role and responsibilities, they work towards this one common goal.
The Scrum Master is among the three accountabilities, along with the Product Owner and the developers, as mentioned in the Scrum Guide. The Scrum Team has no hierarchies, and as a cohesive unit, all work towards achieving the same goal.
What Is the One Prerogative of a Scrum Master?
This can be subjective, as a Scum Master’s role in a team and the organization varies. The Scrum Master is a coach, guide and friend. At the team level, the Scrum Master plays the role of a guide and ensures that the team has all the right tools at its disposal to reach the sprint goal. At the organization level, the Scrum Master is a guide and mentor, helping across the enterprise level to implement and practice Scrum.
The Scrum Master has responsibilities not just towards the team but also helps the Product Owner and the organization as a whole in a number of ways.
Let’s look at the prerogative of the Scrum Master in context to the team:
If we were to define the prerogative of the Scrum Master in the context of a project and the team, then it would be to support the team at all stages of the project.
The Scrum Guide lists the following ways in which the Scrum Master serves the team:
- Coaching the team members in self-management and cross-functionality.
- Helping the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value Increments that meet the Definition of Done.
- Causing the removal of impediments to the Scrum Team’s progress; and,
- Ensuring that all Scrum events take place and are positive, productive, and kept within the timebox.
The Scrum master’s in earlier versions of the Scrum Guide was known as the servant leader. Despite the fact that in the latest Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master is no longer called a servant leader, it is meant to convey the fact that the Scrum Master’s role is completely dedicated to the betterment of the team.
The Scrum Master accomplishes this by removing all impediments that may block the team from reaching its goal. What exactly is an impediment?
“An impediment in Scrum is a factor that blocks the Development Team in its creation of a valuable piece of software in a Sprint, or that restricts the team in achieving its intrinsic level of progress”–Scrum a Pocket Guide
Some of the impediments that a team may encounter include:
- Sudden leave taken by a team member due to which work may accumulate
- Team members are not skilled enough to carry out tasks or reach the sprint goal
- Accumulation of technical debt
- Product Owner is not available to clarify doubts
- Product Owner is not decisive
- Pressure from management to cut costs or speed up work
- Misunderstanding or conflict between team members
- Unnecessary meetings that the developers may need to attend
- No transparency in the Scrum team
- A restrictive environment
How does a Scrum Master help here?
“A good Scrum Master creates an environment where raising impediments can occur. A great Scrum Master creates an environment where creativity can occur.” Scrum Mastery
Removing impediments is only one of the many ways the Scrum Master helps the developers. The Scrum Master guides the team in being self-managed and cross functional. The Scrum Master guides and coaches the team in all things Scrum, helping the team implement Scrum tools and develop the project as per Scrum techniques. By motivating the team, the Scrum Master ensures that the team is always committed and works at its highest potential.
There are a number of ways in which the Scrum Master can help towards removing impediments:
- Daily Scrum: The daily scrum is a time boxed meeting held every day and is arranged and conducted by the Scrum Master. It is attended by the Scrum Master and the developers. The Product Owner may also attend but does not participate. The Daily Scrum is not just a meeting where goals and project objectives are discussed, but it also gives developers a chance to air out their grievances. The Scrum Master tries to solve or remove the impediment as soon as possible so that work can continue and there is no break in productivity,
- Being approachable: The Daily Scrum should not be the only time when the team can take their problems up to the Scrum Master. A Scrum Master should encourage open communication where developers can talk without the fear of being called out.
- No mistaking a ‘block’ for an ‘impediment’: It is important to understand what a block is and what an impediment is. A block is likely to affect only one task while an impediment has the potential to halt progress in its tracks. Blocks seldom need the interference of the Scrum Master and can be fixed by the developers themselves, while impediments would need intervention by the Scrum Master who can resolve the impediment for the team and help them move on.
- Ensuring more transparency: Transparency and trust are the key to having successful teams and successful projects. A Scrum Master can help ensure maximum transparency between teams, the product owner and with stakeholders. This can be done through tools and the right communication channels.
- Helping the team do Scrum: A team relatively new to Scrum may struggle to implement Scrum. The Scrum Master’s prerogative in this case is to help the team perform all Scrum activities and ensure that development always is according to Scrum principles.
Let’s look at the prerogative of the Scrum Master in context to the Product Owner
Helping the Product Owner is also the prerogative of the Scrum Master. This they do by:
- Helping the Product Owner in Product Backlog prioritization and ordering through effective techniques and tools
- Helping the Product Owner in effective Product Goal definition
- Aiding the product owner in explaining and giving a clear vision of the product backlog items
- Helping the Product Owner establish empirical product planning for a complex environment
- Aiding the product owner to engage and collaborate with stakeholders
Let’s look at the prerogative of the Scrum Master in context to the organization
While the Scrum Master’s primary responsibility is to help the team understand Scrum, their responsibilities go beyond the team and extend to the entire enterprise. Coaching, guiding and mentoring all teams and departments at the enterprise level, is a prerogative of the Scrum Master.
The Scrum Master helps the organization by:
- Performing leading, coaching and training activities in Scrum to help in enterprise level Scrum adoption
- Planning and advising Scrum projects and implementations in the enterprise
- Helping stakeholders understand how Scrum will impact their projects and the benefits that Scrum brings to them
- Coaching the workforce on the benefits of Scrum
- Helping Scrum teams be more approachable and removing any communication barriers that may exist between the team and stakeholders.
This shows that the Scrum Master has no one single prerogative, but has multiple prerogatives based on who they are helping. In order to fulfil these responsibilities, Scrum Masters need to have some special skills and qualifications. These include:
- Coaching ability: Being a coach and an Agile mentor is a Scrum Master’s primary skill. By having exceptional expertise in Scrum, themselves, Scrum Masters can help teams to understand Scrum and navigate the project based on Scrum. Becoming an Agile coach is a natural progression in a Scrum Master’s career journey.
- Communication skills: A Scrum Master should have great soft skills and interpersonal skills. Scrum Masters should be excellent negotiators, communicators, conflict resolvers and change agents. They need these skills to resolve internal and external conflicts and show empathy towards team members.
- Technological skills: Being technologically inclined and having technical expertise is a must-have skill for Scrum Masters. This is especially so if the team is working on a technical project.
There are several reasons why Scrum Master is among the most in-demand roles in Agile organizations. Professionals who are embarking on a career in Agile can turbocharge their careers by doing a Scrum Master course like the Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM©), Professional Scrum MasterTM (PSM) and more.