Agile & Development: Scrum Master

What is a Scrum Master?

A scrum master is a facilitator for an agile team working under the scrum methodology. The scrum master serves as a point person responsible for understanding the big development picture of each sprint. They are responsible for delegating tasks appropriately and ensuring the team is working on the right tasks at the right time. They also want to ensure the team is fully deployed and not idle.

The role of scrum master often involves working closely with the product owner to translate epics, stories, and other items on the sprint list into actionable tasks for developers.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a popular methodology in agile software development, because it allows a cross-functional team to self-organize and move quickly on projects by encouraging continuous feedback to guide decisions, and working adaptively according to that feedback.

The team credited with devising this framework for product development, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, decided on the name “scrum” to connote the brief huddles rugby teams engage in between plays, which are called scrums. The idea was to stress the importance of teamwork and frequent communication in successfully developing products or managing other complex projects.

In this environment, the scrum master is responsible for keeping the project moving forward. Building on the rugby metaphor, the scrum master also facilitates the team’s daily standup meeting each morning, a brief conversation similar to a rugby team’s pre-play huddle. Typically, the scrum master runs these meetings by asking the team members the following questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What will you do today?
  3. What if any obstacles are in your way?

Scrum Master Job Description and Responsibilities

The scrum master is often referred to as a servant leader, a coach, or a facilitator. That is because, despite the use of the term “master,” the person in this role does not have authority to make strategic or substantive decisions about the project and is not held accountable for its outcome. (The entire team shares responsibility for the project’s success or failure.) The scrum master is responsible only for managing the process of moving the project toward completion.

Broadly speaking, the scrum master’s responsibilities include:

  • Helping the team agree on what they can achieve during each development sprint (or other period of time).
  • Facilitating the daily standup (sometimes called the daily scrum) and helping the team reach consensus on each of the three questions.
  • Helping the team continuously make progress on the project by making sure each person is working on the right tasks, helping to remove any obstacles to the team members’ progress, and protecting the team from distractions.

Here is a high-level overview of how the scrum master serves the various members of the scrum team, and the organization in general.

The scrum master serves the product owner by:

  • Making sure everyone on the team understands the project’s goals and scope.
  • Helping the product owner maintain the product backlog.
  • Facilitating scrum events (daily standups, other meetings) as needed.

The scrum master serves the development team by:

  • Coaching the development team in self-organization.
  • Helping to remove obstacles to the developers’ progress.
  • Facilitating scrum events (daily standups, other meetings) as needed.

The scrum master serves the entire organization by:

  • Encouraging the organization to adopt the scrum methodology in their own workflow.
  • Coaching the organization on the transition to a scrum working framework.
  • Keeping the organization, particularly the project’s stakeholders, up to date on the progress of the scrum team’s projects.

Scrum Master Training and Certification

The scrum methodology has become so ubiquitous in software development that the industry association Scrum Alliance offers a widely recognized Certified Scrum Master (CSM) designation to professionals who complete the course and pass the official CSM exam.

There are also other industry courses and certifications that can help you both learn the fundamentals of the profession and demonstrate proficiency to potential employers. For example, Scrum.org offers both a Professional Scrum Master (PSM) course and a more advanced PSM II course. The organization also awards the following certifications:

  • PSM level I (which demonstrates basic scrum proficiency)
  • PSM level II (which demonstrates advanced scrum proficiency)
  • PSM level III (which demonstrates a distinguished level of scrum proficiency)