Scrum Masters: Who They Are and What They Do

A lot of people come to me with the question: How do I become a Scrum Master?

Or when they become one, they go: “YAY! I’m a Scrum Master, now what?” There are still many doubts about who Scrum Masters are and what they do. Since it’s a profession with a growing demand in the market, and there are no colleges where you can train, the question remains: now what?

I remember that when I did the CSM training with Marcos Garrido, in 2011, everything became clearer and I decided to become a Scrum Master.

When we talk about the 4 domains of agility, we realize that the Scrum Master is the role which focuses on the team’s culture. Being a specialist in the Scrum process and having a series of behavioral skills, he helps the Scrum Team on a journey to understand the process, its values, rules, and practices so that his team is self-organized.

During CSM training, the tool created by Rafael Sabbagh, Is / Isn’t / Does/ Doesn’t, helps us understand this role in a collaborative way. Let’s put a few points in this format and I’ll focus on a few. Here goes!


The Scrum Master Is:

  • Servant Leader and guide for the Scrum Team
  • A facilitator
  • Present to help the whole Scrum Team
  • An Agent of Change
  • Specialist in the Scrum process
  • Someone who resolves conflicts
  • Sufficiently neutral
  • Proactive, self-confident and courageous

 

The Scrum Master Isn’t:

  • The Scrum Team’s Product Owner (seems obvious, but I’ll explain more later on)
  • Boss
  • Project Manager
  • A complicator for the Scrum Team
  • Project owner
  • Team owner
  • Board owner
  • Proxy between the PO and the team

 

The Scrum Master Does:

  • make the Product Owner understand the product’s empirical development
  • make the Scrum Team understand the purposes of Scrum ceremonies
  • empower the team and increase its autonomy
  • help the team remove impediments
  • help the organization in adopting Scrum
  • work with other Scrum Masters in the organization to increase efficiency in the application of Scrum
  • facilitate and create mechanisms to guide the team in being self-organizing

 

The Scrum Master Doesn’t:

  • tell the development team how to turn items in the Product Backlog into a potential product
  • constantly update the team’s board
  • say how things should be done
  • head the team
  • chase the Scrum Team for deliveries at the end of the cycle

Check out another article about the role of the Scrum Master:

Scrum Master: The Skilled Facilitator

Does the Scrum Master leave the team to drift?

To explain this, I’ll use the analogy of a bicycle. The team is able to ride a bike without the two little rear wheels to steady it. Great! The Scrum Master leaves this team and goes on to another … Wait! Even if the team can do without the little wheels, it can still fall off. And… where’s the Scrum Master? Exactly! In this case, even if the team has reached a certain level of maturity, the Scrum Master should really be around and be a foundation so that, if the team does fall off one day, he or she can ask: why did we fall off? What can we do so we don’t fall again? What are the next challenges facing us? Do we need to increment our bicycle?

It’s worth remembering what Bruce Tuckman says, that when a member joins or leaves the team, it becomes something different from what it was. So, as Scrum Master, you always need to pay attention!

Scrum Master x Boss/Leader or Project Manager

I’ve seen this in many companies, where the Scrum Master plays the role of project manager at the same time. The Scrum Master facilitates the team’s autonomy and self-organization so that it can increase its efficiency. In other words, the development team is responsible for itself and for its deliveries. Not forgetting that the Scrum Master is a servant leader within the team and will observe and understand the team so that it achieves the best results.

“Team crutch” Scrum Master

The team always needs the Scrum Master to resolve everything which comes along. If the Scrum Master isn’t around, nothing moves, there’s no daily meeting, the team doesn’t update the board, among other dysfunctional behavior. The team becomes dependent on the Scrum Master to pull things along and to solve all the problems. In this case, when will the team ever be self-organizing? This is the “team crutch” Scrum Master. It’s normal for this to occur in the first phase of adopting Scrum, but it’s like riding a bike for the first time: first the team uses the little wheels, then the SM starts giving it autonomy, takes away another little wheel and later the team can carry on without the two little wheels.

Example: Empathy Map of a Scrum Master

I’m a Scrum Master and Product Owner

Very often the person inherits these two responsibilities and has no choice in the matter. The Product Owner is focused on creating the best product, while the Scrum Master focuses on having the best team. How can we be sufficiently neutral in this situation, so the team becomes self-organized? It’s very difficult! Which is why the Scrum Guide prescribes two different roles, to avoid the well-known intrinsic idea: “I’ll look after number one first”.

One suggestion, for example, is to do exercises with management which make them understand the difference between the two roles. Andressa Chiara wrote a great post about what a Product Owner is and what they do. Check it out here!

If there’s any point we haven’t covered and which interests you, add it to the comments below. Let’s talk more about the role of the Scrum Master. Let’s collaborate!

Well? Do you identify with the role of Scrum Master? Check the dates and come and take part in our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course and get your international Scrum Alliance certification!

Lucas Gomes
Lucas Gomes

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