Scrum Master

A successful Scrum Master is expected to motivate the team members and streamline development.
Scrum Master


The Scrum Guide describes the Scrum Master as the role responsible for establishing Scrum within a team or organisation, and teaching Scrum theory and practice. In this sense, they function both as a leader, coach, and mentor.

The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. The Scrum Master is charged with enabling the
Scrum framework and improving Scrum practices according to the unique contexts of each team, project, and challenge.

Scrum Masters are what agile defines as ‘servant leaders’.

Scrum mastery

Mastering Scrum usually requires training as a starting point. A great place to start mastering Scrum is the Scrum Essentials training course

Here’s a general breakdown of the kind of things you would learn about the Scrum Master role if you studied Scrum training course:

  • Scrum Masters coach team members in becoming cross-functional self-managing teams
  • Scrum Masters help create high-value iterations that meet the ‘Definition of Done’
  • Scrum Masters remove any obstacles to development, in whatever form they may take
  • Scrum Masters plan all Scrum events and take measures to ensure that they are tailored so they remain positive and productive.

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways:

  • Scrum Masters help find techniques for effective backlog management
  • Scrum Masters help the Scrum Team understand the need for a clear and concise backlog
  • Scrum Masters help establish product planning in a complex environment based on empirical experience
  • Scrum Masters can also help facilitate stakeholder collaboration as needed.

The Scrum Master also serves the organisation in several ways:

  • Scrum Masters act as a mentor coaching the organisation at large in the adoption of Scrum
  • Scrum Masters remove barriers inhibiting open communication between stakeholders and Scrum Teams.

What is a Scrum Master responsible for?

The Scrum Master is not responsible for overseeing project development, that’s still the role of the project manager or agile project manager. Instead, the Scrum Master works with the Product Owner and developers to refine and improve Scrum processes. The Scrum processes help facilitate project development through communication, planning and group discussion.

We’ve already outlined some duties of the Scrum Master above, but here’s what a Scrum Master can expect to do on a day-to-day basis.

Coaching and Mentoring

The Scrum Master’s primary focus is to ensure that all team members are well trained in Agile processes and understand what is expected of them. This helps the development team and managers understand each part’s respective roles, imparts a sense of shared project ownership, and helps teams self-manage without excessive oversight.

Host daily stand-up meetings

Daily Scrum meetings last no longer than 15 minutes. Those involved simply answer the following questions as concisely as possible:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today?
  • What is impeding your progress?

It may seem simple, but this meeting helps individual team members understand where they fit into the big picture and helps break down traditional siloed work structures. Importantly, the Scrum Master can note any obstacles that may keep the team from completing tasks and use their own intuition to devise newer, better ways of working using the information given.

For example, if team members are being pulled into too many unimportant meetings, the Scrum Master can work with organisers to determine who needs to attend the meetings. Or, if a team member is being assigned tasks on multiple teams, the Scrum Master can work with stakeholders to redistribute the workload.

Product backlog management

The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner refine and maintain the product backlog using the information gathered from the daily stand-up meetings.

The product backlog is a live document that changes based on the current status and development needs. The Scrum Master can assist with the product backlog by scheduling meetings and writing user stories.

Agile Scrum Masters

My team uses agile to organise their day-to-day work, do I need a Scrum Master?

A Scrum team must have a Scrum Master. Without one, you are doing something just shy of true Scrum, often called ‘Scrum-but.’

A general misunderstanding of the Scrum Master role often leads existing agile managers to assume it is their role. To better understand why this can be a problem, let’s compare the Scrum Master to non-Scrum agile roles you may already have in your organisation, and why it’s important to keep the role separate.

Scrum master vs. product manager

It is generally encouraged for the product manager to involve themselves as much as possible in the
Scrum Development Team’s activities. A Product Owner should champion customer needs.

Whereas a Product Owner answers the question of ‘why?’, Scrum Masters are tasked with answering the question of ‘how?’

When the involvement blurs into tasking the Product Owner to solve questions of ‘how’ for a team, it tends to result in defects, hand-offs, and unknowns. When impediments to development are discovered or changes arise, a clear division between process management and product direction is required.

A good Scrum Master empowers the team to decide how to best accomplish goals through self-organisation.

Scrum Master vs. agile project manager

The Scrum Master’s non-technical counterpart is the project manager. Both these roles focus on the ‘how’ of development. So, do you need both? Opinions differ, with some camps insisting on the need for agile project managers. Others see the roles as interchangeable. As with all things agile, there are ‘increments of agility’, and each organisation must decide how agile they should be.

Both the project manager and Scrum Master are responsible for helping their teams get work done, but their approaches are vastly different. The project manager sets timeframes and milestones, progress reports, and coordinates team communication. However, they work in a more traditional management role. Project managers sit above the development teams and act as oversight.

The Scrum Master, on the other hand, works as another member of a Scrum team. The best Scrum teams are self-organising and don’t react well to top-down management. However, this is not universally applicable, and different projects can benefit from both. In cases where both an agile project manager and Scrum Master work in collaboration to achieve a goal, clearly delineated roles and open communication are a must.

Must-have skills for any aspiring Scrum Master

A successful Scrum Master is expected to motivate the team members and streamline development. For this, the Scrum Master requires certain soft-skills in addition to whichever hard-skills are required by the industry, project, or organisation:

Intuition and observation

Scrum Masters observe the activities of team members daily. They must use their skills of observation and a little rational thinking to figure out how development can be improved and share this information via workshops, and meetings.

Communication and listening skills

On a closely related note, Scrum Masters must be experts in communication in order to provide clear and concise instructions to stakeholders and developers. Because sharing ideas is an important part of a Scrum Masters’ role, it’s important to listen to other points of view too!


A great Scrum Master know when they are needed and when they are not. Scrum Masters support the growth team members in such a way that, as time goes on, the input of a Scrum Master should be needed less and less. The role of the Scrum Master usually progresses from a daily mentor to a periodical advisor. Knowing how and when to take a step back is an important skill!

Becoming a Scrum Master

The usual way of becoming a Scrum Master is by taking a course either with, or without Scrum Master certification.
The Scrum Essentials training course is another way of learning about the Scrum Master role but without the expense of one of the 2 main Scrum Master certifications.

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