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What does a Scrum Master do


I wrote an article a while back discussing the trend of project managers retraining as Scrum Master's (SM) and why perhaps they were picking the wrong role.

When I did my certified SM course there were a mix of developers, exiting SM like myself and PM's but contrary to popular belief, the SM and Project Manager roles are very different and should under no circumstances be confused.... However they very often are especially in organisations implementing agile methodologies for the first time/






So what does the Scrum Master do?

The SM role is mainly one of coach, They should not manage the team and ideally should have no team management responsibilities (Something I'll come to later)

They should support and work closely with the product owner and assist in coaching the PO and team on all things agile.

The Product owner is responsible for the project, They're also responsible for maintaining that all important product backlog and ensuring it meets the needs of the stakeholders. 

As more becomes known about a product the product owner should be adjusting and prioritising the backlog accordingly - with the help of the SM and team.

The SM is there to help coach and provide a consultancy role - The SM does not own and is not responsible for project delivery.

The SM helps the product owner understand how to effectively manage the work of the team using the product backlog and the planning and review meetings/ceremonies.

SM come from many different backgrounds.... But although I do know a few very good SM from a project management background... In my opinion it probably isn't ideal, not without a major shift in their mindset.

Many PM's tend to struggle with the transition because it means stepping away from a position of being in charge to one where their forced to hand control over to the team and merely set the direction and advise. 


The servant leader

The SM is the servant leader in any project - They should have no management responsibilities or control over the team - they are there to guide the team, to resolve impediments and to form links between the scrum team and the Product owner/stakeholders. However whilst the SM may not be able to fire anyone! They do have the authority to intervene on agile process.


The SM is required to be extremely well versed and experienced in agile practices - understanding the why behind the practices of Scrum not just the mechanics of doing. They should ensure that the ceremonies are being adhered to - They should observe the workings of the team and where appropriate guide the team into thinking in a more agile way, correct bad practices and facilitate. Ensuring that retrospectives are done and helping the team understand where process isn't working and encouraging the team to solve it's own problems. Very importantly they are also there to help protect the team from harmful external pressures - prevent over promising whilst also encouraging the team to commit to more where it's sustainable and not decremental to do so.

The scrum team tasked with developing a product has a huge responsibility, Required to understand the requirements, to break them down and 'accurately' estimate, produce, test and finally release. 


The SM needs to help the team in this process by facilitating the planning, review and retrospective sessions, but they aren't there to manage. The team is responsible for managing itself. In most teams there is a lead developer who helps steers the team, reviews proposed solutions, and makes decisions. The SM is there to support the team and provide input and support when required and facilitate this process. 



Scrum Masters are not lead developers.

I've spoken to a few companies who seem to mix the role of Scrum Master with that of lead developer - (it's just one of the reasons I keep my development skills up-to-scratch) 

However this is NOT a SM role! The SM is not there to code or perform code reviews they are there to facilitate, coach, and provide support.


Indeed an ex developer turned SM friend of mine who I won't name always maintains it's very important the SM doesn't code...... Or the team will quickly loose respect for them!  

Where the project requires someone within the team who can manage, lead, and take responsibility that lead role should be allowed to concentrate on that role. The lead should not be distracted by the roles the SM or PO should be fulfilling.

If you've never worked in an agile environment the SM role will perhaps be a very foreign concept. They are the facilitator and coach to the team and wider organisation.

They are not responsible for the project or managing the development team and very importantly they should have no line management responsibilities (Again something I've often been guilty of)... It's important that the scrum team trusts the SM and can be totally honest with them about progress and issues - It's hard for more junior members of the team to speak up honestly when the person their speaking with performs appraisals and pay reviews!

With the authority of the Scrum Master being extremely limited being a SM takes a particular set of skills and experience and it takes the right person to make it work and to gain the trust of both the team and Product owner... And remember unlike a Project Manager a SM (with very few exceptions) can't just turn round to the team and say "Do it because I say so"!