Scrum Master positions are now a must-have as more and more teams have realized the benefits of working with an Agile framework. The large adoption of Agile is in turn thanks to the applicable advantages that Agile has for modern teams. Agile promotes a highly efficient, autonomous, self-organizing, low-waste work environment that focuses on value, rather than output.
Especially in today’s climate of cost-cutting and streamlining, taking an Agile approach to work, which will most likely be a variation of Scrum, can prove to be the deciding factor for a company’s growth potential.
However, utilizing the Scrum framework isn’t that easy. It’s straightforward, but not easy. It takes someone who is well versed in the Scrum framework to steer the team in the right direction, make sure they’re working with Scrum as it was intended, and always improving.
This person is the Scrum Master. In this article, we will answer every important question about the Scrum Master, from their responsibilities to their skills, characteristics and qualifications.
What Is A Scrum Master?
A Scrum Master is a facilitator for a Scrum team. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader to the team, and in so is responsible for ensuring that the Scrum team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.
Scrum Masters aren’t used for their technical know how, operating skills or business acumen. They are there to ensure the scrum team is performing to the best of their abilities.
What Isn’t A Scrum Master?
The Scrum Master is not a manager, but rather a coach who helps the team to self-organize and become more efficient.
What Are The Responsibilities Of The Scrum Master?
Scrum Masters are tasked with ensuring that the team understands Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values. They also help the team remove any impediments that may be preventing them from achieving their goals.
Here are the main responsibilities of the Scrum Master:
Members of the Scrum team are often uneducated about Scrum, and lack the experience that helps make judgment decisions in Scrum scenarios. Here is where the Scrum Master must play a crucial role, as the Scrum educator. The Scrum Master must explain the scrum framework to the team and answer any questions they may have.
Here are some things the Scrum Master must teach the Scrum team about:
Explaining each component carefully and thoroughly will help the Scrum team better understand their own roles and responsibilities, encourage collaboration and communication, become more self-organizing, identify and eliminate waste, and continuously improve their process.
How Does A Scrum Master Teach Scrum?
Teaching Scrum to the team is how they become self-organizing, autonomous and motivated to work with Scrum.
Here are some techniques a Scrum Master can use to teach Scrum:
Start with the basics
When teaching Scrum to a team, it is essential to start with the basics. This means introducing the Scrum framework, explaining the roles and responsibilities of each team member, and defining the Scrum events. It is important to ensure that everyone on the team understands the fundamental concepts of Scrum and how it differs from traditional project management methodologies.
Use practical examples
While explaining the Scrum framework and its related concepts is important, it is equally important to provide practical examples to help the team members understand how to apply Scrum in real-world scenarios. Using examples from previous projects can be an effective way to demonstrate how Scrum can help teams to deliver high-quality products faster.
Provide feedback and coaching
Providing feedback and coaching to team members is a critical aspect of being a Scrum Master. Regular feedback helps team members to understand how they are performing and identify areas for improvement. Coaching can help team members to learn new skills and improve their understanding of Scrum and Agile methodologies.
Lead by example
As a Scrum Master, it is essential to lead by example. This means practicing Agile principles and demonstrating the Scrum values in your daily interactions with the team. If the team sees the Scrum Master communicating effectively, looking for improvements and eliminating waste from their own ways of working, it'll inspire the team to embrace Scrum themselves.
Facilitating Scrum Events
One of the main reasons why Scrum Masters are needed is to be a facilitator for the Scrum events.
These events are essential for the success of the project, as they provide an opportunity for the team to collaborate, discuss progress, and make adjustments to the plan.
The Scrum Master is to facilitate all of these meetings to promote open discussions, continuous learning, and to make sure everyone on the team gets a say. Without the Scrum Master here, the team wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other, and wouldn’t be learning at the rate that they need to be.
How Does A Scrum Master Facilitate Scrum Events?
Facilitating Scrum Events is a skill that relies on valuable experience and a deep understanding of the Scrum methodology.
Each event has different objectives, so the Scrum Master should approach each of them with a different strategy:
Facilitating The Sprint Planning
The Sprint Plannings' purpose is to define what will be delivered in the upcoming Sprint and how it will be delivered. The Scrum Master's role in Sprint Planning is to:
- Facilitate the meeting
- Ensure that the Product Owner and Development Team understand the goals of the Sprint
- Help the team create a plan for achieving those goals
Facilitating The Daily Scrum
The Daily Scrums' purpose is for the Development Team to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt their plan for the next 24 hours. The Scrum Master's role in the Daily Scrum is to:
- Keep the meeting flowing quickly
- Ensuring that it stays focused on the goal
- Help the team identify any impediments that may be blocking their progress
Facilitating The Sprint Review
The Sprint Reviews' purpose is to inspect the Increment and adapt the Product Backlog if needed. The Scrum Master's role in the Sprint Review is to:
- Ensure that the Product Owner and Development Team understand the Increment
- Help the team identify any areas for improvement
Facilitating The Sprint Retrospective
The Sprint Retrospectives' purpose is for the Scrum Team to inspect itself and create a plan for improving its processes and practices. The Scrum Master's role in the Sprint Retrospective is to:
- Control the flow of conversation
- Make sure everyone has something to say
- Ensure that the team is focused on the goal of improving
- Help the team identify any impediments that may be blocking their progress
Dealing With Blockers
Blockers can come in many forms, such as technical issues, lack of resources, communication gaps, or external dependencies.
Scrum Masters are responsible for ensuring that these blockers are identified and resolved promptly, so that the team can continue to work productively towards achieving their goals.
How Does A Scrum Master Deal With Blockers?
If faced with a blocker, the Scrum Master should ask these questions:
- Is there a true impediment here that needs outside support to fix, or can the team find a solution by themselves?
- Is the impediment worth removing?
- Is there an underlying problem that caused the impediment to occur?
These questions will help the Scrum Master gauge how involved to be in the reaction to the impediment but also if the impediment is the surface level problem to a deeper issue within the team.
Improving Communication And Collaboration
The Scrum Master is responsible for fostering a strong sense of communication and collaboration within the team. At every point in the Scrum process, the Scrum team will need to communicate and collaborate with each other to get the best out of Scrum, so this responsibility is critical to the success of the team.
How Does A Scrum Master Improve Communication And Collaboration?
Improving communication and collaboration is very team dependent. Teams will react differently to different stimuli depending on their experience, team size, team background, and the WFH protocols of the team.
The best strategy is to spend time doing a variety of activities designed to improve communication and collaboration and A/B test which ones work best for your team.
Team-building is a great way to improve communication and collaboration with a team. Team-building is the art of helping a team develop their interpersonal, teamwork and communication skills. Dedicated team-building exercises should be time-boxed events in the sprint, specifically early-on if the team is new and doesn’t have experience of working with one another.
Icebreakers are also a great tool in a Scrum Masters toolbox to make the team more comfortable with each other.
Icebreakers are a great pre-meeting warm up for any team because they encourage everyone in the room to have something to say (which is what you want for an effective sprint event).
Icebreakers also let team members understand each other better. Even though an answer to an icebreaker may be humorous or callous, it can reveal key characteristic and personality traits that help the rest of the team understand that person’s thought-processes which ultimately leads to a better team-connection.
Encouraging Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement is essential for Scrum teams because it ensures that the team is always striving to do better. The Scrum has to develop this mindset within the team to foster an environment that supports growth and learning.
Continuous improvement is critical in Scrum because it allows teams to adapt to changing environments, requirements and circumstances. By constantly seeking to improve, Scrum teams can remain flexible and responsive to the changing needs of the world around them.
Continuous improvement also helps to build a culture of excellence within the team. When everyone is committed to doing their best work and continually striving to improve, it creates a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose. This, in turn, can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction and increased employee retention.
How Does A Scrum Master Encourage Continuous Improvement?
Here are some strategies that a Scrum Master could use to encourage continuous improvement:
Foster a Growth Mindset
One of the most critical aspects of encouraging continuous improvement is to foster a growth mindset within the team. This means encouraging team members to view challenges and failures as opportunities to learn and grow. As a Scrum Master, you can model this mindset by openly discussing mistakes and encouraging team members to do the same.
Encourage Experimentation and Innovation
To promote continuous improvement, it's essential to encourage experimentation and innovation within the team. This means providing opportunities for team members to try new approaches and take risks. It also means creating a safe space for team members to share their ideas without fear of criticism.
Provide Regular Feedback
Team's learn from their feedback. It's up to the Scrum Master to ensure that feedback is given regularly and constructively. This means providing feedback not only on what team members are doing wrong but also on what they are doing right. It's also important to frame feedback in a way that encourages improvement rather than discouragement.
Celebrating wins is crucial for building a culture of excellence and encouraging continuous improvement. As a Scrum Master, it's your job to recognize and celebrate the achievements of the team. This can be as simple as acknowledging a job well done in a daily stand-up or recognizing significant milestones at the end of a sprint.
Encourage Collaborative Learning
It's essential to encourage collaboration and learning within the team. This means creating opportunities for team members to share their knowledge and expertise with one another. It also means fostering a culture of open communication and a willingness to learn from one another.
How To Be A Great Scrum Master
A great Scrum Master is someone who supports the team the best they can, and in doing so adds value to the team.
Here are some things that you can do to become a great Scrum Master:
Read Scrum Master resources: Scrum master resources have great teachings and examples that will help you make high-quality decisions as a Scrum Master. There are countless books, podcasts, guides etc. that all provide different perspectives and alternative ways of thinking to yours.
Only ask open-ended questions: Asking open-ended questions is one Scrum Master technique that will help the team find the answers themselves, instead of you giving it to them. Instead of saying “We need this done,” say “How could we get this done?” It will spark conversation and make a conducive environment for new ideas to flow.
Take part in a Scrum Master sync: A Scrum Master sync is a space for Scrum Masters to come together and learn off of one another. You can understand the approach that other experienced Scrum Masters take when dealing with problems, and use some of their learnings back with your own team.
Is The Scrum Master A Role Or A Job?
The Scrum Master is a role. There is no requirement for it to be a full-time position however, a team inexperienced with Scrum might find it beneficial to have a full-time Scrum Master because they'll need a lot of support with Scrum. Conversely, a team that's experienced with Scrum that doesn't need to ask as many questions, or need as much help with Scrum events won't find a full-time Scrum Master that helpful, so it can be more easily absorbed by someone already on the development team.
If The Scrum Master Is A Role, Who Should It Be?
The Scrum Master role can be taken on by anyone on the development team who is well versed enough with Scrum. Whoever takes the role, some essential characteristics they must have are:
- An ability to communicate clearly, sharing their experience, encouraging information sharing from others, and being a good listener
- Being able to lead, mentor and coach (and knowing the difference between these qualities)
- Being flexible where they need to, but also knowing where to draw the line
- Being both a self-led individual and a team player, being able to operate among a team and with different stakeholders
- Being resourceful and optimistic even when things don’t go as planned
Can A Dev Be The Scrum Master?
A developer may become a Scrum Master by chance or by choice. Becoming a Scrum Master by choice increases the chances of success because the developer has made a conscious decision to take on different responsibilities. However, regardless of how a developer becomes a Scrum Master, there are traps to avoid.
It's recommended that a Developer only takes on the role of Scrum Master if they have significant experience with both software development and Scrum.
A Developer-Scrum Master must be aware of:
Making promises on behalf of the team: As other stakeholders push for commitment, the Scrum Master may think it’s OK to make promises. This attitude will increase prestige with business people and create mistrust with developers and Product Owners.
Morphing into a team lead: Depending on the Scrum Master’s expertise, this person can slide either into the role of a team lead or a project manager. It can be easy for an inexperienced Scrum Master to forget that a Scrum Master works to help the team work with Scrum as best it can, not to command it.
Taking-over team development: The knowledge and experience of an experienced developer can prove to be invaluable for a Scrum Master during the product development phase. However, it is important to tread the fine line between being helpful and overbearing. As a Scrum Master, the primary responsibility is to aid team members in discovering solutions to their problems rather than directing or mandating specific courses of action.
Can A Product Owner Be The Scrum Master?
Because a Product Owner shares similar responsibilities with a Scrum Master, it’s reasonable to assume that the two positions can be absorbed by one person. However, the expert opinion is that the Product Owner should remain focused on the needs of the business and customers while the Scrum Master stays with the Scrum to coach them on the agile process.
If the individual in question is experienced enough, and diligent enough to separate the two roles, then it can be done but this is not the norm.
If you do choose the go with a Product Owner-Scrum Master, be careful, there are two main traps you need to be careful of:
If the Scrum Master and Product Owner are one in the same, a conflict of interest may arise as they try to hold on to both roles. The conflict can come from the different motivations of the two roles, for example the Product Owner might want to push for features that are beneficial for the stakeholders despite not being what the team has decided is best.
Failure to listen to the team in this case can disrupt the Scrum process and impede the team from creating value.
Lack of Skills
Furthermore, the Scrum Master requires a different set of skills to the Product Owner. The Scrum Master needs a deep knowledge of Agile processes and how they can be best applied to help the team achieve its goals. Whereas the Product Owner needs to have a holistic understanding of the business and what features will be most beneficial to the end-customer.
Does The Scrum Master Write Code?
Not necessarily, but they can. The Scrum Master is a role given to the person who will assist the team in working with the Scrum principles to produce value. Understanding the principles of Scrum like the back of your hand does not require a knowledge of coding. Behaviors that would work as a developer actually won’t work as a Scrum Master so it’s usually a good idea for a Scrum Master not to be involved in the code of a project.
What Does A Day In The Life Of A Scrum Master Look Like?
The Scrum Master’s time is divided between meetings, tasks, and coaching. They’ll spend different amounts of time addressing each responsibility depending on what stage of the agile software development life cycle the team is at.
For example, if the team is new to Scrum, and just beginning a project then the Scrum Master will spend the majority of time coaching and educating the team about Scrum.
However, an average day in the life of the Scrum Master will look like this:
9 AM: Review the Scrum board
9:45 AM: Prepare for the Daily Scrum
10 AM: Start of Daily Scrum
11 AM: Alignment Meeting
12 PM: Lunch Break
1 PM: Meet with the Product Owner
1:30 PM: Prepare for a Backlog Refinement Meeting
2 PM: Hold a Backlog Refinement Meeting
3 PM: Conduct a Team Building Workshop
4 PM: Catch up on Emails
5 PM: Update the Scrum Boar
Though it’s important to acknowledge that the day to day of a Scrum Master will vary, and unplanned events often occur in the work of a Scrum team, so the Scrum Master must be able to adapt to new problems quickly.
Preparing To Become A Scrum Master
How To Become A Scrum Master
Officially becoming a Scrum Master is not overly difficult. There’s an array of different courses you can take that will give you the certification of Scrum Master based on an exam of Scrum principles and key terms.
However, these tests are not what make you a Scrum Master.
Your experience leading teams in the field, facing real-world problems and challenges is what will really make you a Scrum Master. This is why getting experience is vital, not only attaining a certification; you will learn best by doing!
How Long Does It Take To Become A Scrum Master
Formal Scrum Master certifications usually take anywhere up to 2 days to complete, including the course then the subsequent exam. However, the experience needed to become a true Scrum Master can take years to collect. You’ll need to be in a wide range of situations to master all of the techniques and tools that a Scrum Master needs.
In reality, a Scrum Master always looks to improve their own processes and ways of working so in effect they are never truly ‘finished’ becoming a Scrum Master.
What Is The Average Scrum Master Salary?
A Scrum Master’s salary will vary from case to case. The salary is a result of a combination of factors which is most affected by:
- The Scrum Masters experience: A more experienced Scrum Master will warrant a higher salary
- The qualifications held by the Scrum Master: The more qualifications held (CSM, PSM, ASM etc.) the higher their salary will typically be
- The geographic location of the position: The cost of living and housing in particular cities will affect the salary
- The positions industry: Industries that have a high demand for Scrum Masters like Technology and Consulting will pay higher salaries for their Scrum Masters.
Scrum Masters salaries are on the rise, having increased around 20% over the last 5 years due to the high recent adoption of Agile frameworks. This general high demand for Scrum Master’s means that despite all the affecting factors mentioned above, the average Scrum Master’s salary is still high, currently sitting at $80,995.
What Is A Scrum Master Certification
A Scrum Master certification is the result of taking a Scrum Master course and passing through the necessary grades. The certification is a sign that you understand the basic principles and the underlying concepts of Scrum. This acts as a positive signal when applying for Scrum Master positions, and can often help you achieve a higher salary.
How To Attain A Scrum Master Certification
There are various different certifications that a Scrum Master can get. Each certification will be specific to a variation of the Scrum framework. For example, a SAFe Scrum Master certification is a qualification to deal with SAFe Scrum, the scaled version of Scrum that might be more applicable to larger organizations that have more teams and larger team sizes.
Scrum Master exams are time-sensitive, and will require you to attain a minimum score of ~85% within the given time to formally pass the exam. Taking the exam can also come at a cost, ranging from $50-2,000 depending on the certifier.
There are many Scrum certifications to choose from, including courses on: Scrum.org, Scaled Agile, Project Management Institute, Scrum Inc, Scrum Alliance and Coursera.
Is There A Difference Between A Scrum Master And Business Analyst?
A Scrum Master’s role is to coach the team to work with the Scrum framework as best as possible. This means to teach the Scrum team how to become autonomous, self-managing and self-governing.
A Business Analyst’s role is to focus on supporting and validating the business as a whole. This means to scope the business-area, identify solutions, propose solutions and validate solutions.
The difference between the two roles is that jurisdiction of a Business Analyst ends with the Scrum Team - they do not tell the Scrum Team how to work or what to work on. Similarly, a Scrum Master will not dictate the direction the company should go in, or find solutions to problems. The Scrum Master stays with the Scrum Team teaching them how to adapt and work by themselves on tasks given to them by the Product Owner.
Preparing For A Scrum Master Interview
Much like any job, you can’t expect to walk into a Scrum Master Interview and immediately be given the job. However, there are some things you can do to help your chances at making a Scrum Master interview go smoothly.
Here are some key things you can do to prepare for a Scrum Master Interview:
Brush up on your Agile knowledge: You need to be able to talk about anything Agile, and how it applies to the team in question. You don’t want to be caught not knowing the difference between Agile and Waterfall!
Study Scrum concepts: There are many variations of the Scrum framework, so you need to be well equipped to talk about all of them, in detail.
Review common Scrum Master interview questions: There will be role specific, Scrum Master interview questions that will be asked, so it’s recommended that you take notes of these, and have answers prepared because it’s likely that one of them will come up.
Practice your communication skills: Both an interview, and the Scrum Master role are all about communication. Positive communication will help you crush the Scrum Master interview, and help you in your role too. Practice skills like active listening, positive body language, and callback.
Dress professionally: It’s important to present yourself as you wish to be perceived. This means that you want to show your seriousness for the role, as well as your character through what you wear. You want to leave an impression on the interviewer that you are right for the job, so dress accordingly.
Know who you’re talking to: It’s important to research the company that’s interviewing you. It will help you have context to the questions and the point of view of the interviewer. It also allows you to ask company specific questions back to the interviewer. Asking a relevant question showcases your interest, enthusiasm for learning, and your research skills, all of which are great qualities for a Scrum Master to have, and will help your chances with landing the role.
The Scrum Master role is challenging to get right. A great Scrum Master doesn't fall into a trap of becoming a manager, or a boss but remains as a servant-leader who facilitates and coaches a Scrum team to ensure they follow Scrum principles, practices, and values. They help the team remove any impediments that may be preventing them from achieving their goals. A Scrum Master is not a manager but rather a coach whose role is to lead the team in effectively using the Scrum framework.