What is a scrum master?

There’s a new role in the world of software development (and increasingly, beyond). Its title is ‘scrum master.’

The name might conjure images of a project leader. A ‘master’ of the team. Or perhaps someone performing under the scrum methodology ‘masterfully’. Or is it something else entirely?

As it’s a new role, there’s no degree or universal handbook on how to be a scrum master. But a good start is ensuring you understand what a scrum master is — and the responsibilities they hold.

So, without further ado, we explain: what is a scrum master?

The foundation: what is scrum?

Before getting into exactly what a scrum master is, it’s helpful to understand what scrum is.

Scrum is a structure for work that allows teams to learn through experience. It encourages teamwork, self-organisation and continuous improvement.

Scrum is predominantly used by software development teams but can be transferred to other industries as well.

There are three main parties in a scrum environment:

  1. The product owner: the decision-maker
  2. The development team: the group that executes the decisions and creates the product
  3. The scrum master: the glue

The scrum master

A scrum master is someone that is extremely knowledgeable about the scrum framework. They’re separate from both the scrum development team and the product owner. And as such, they act as a mediator between the two.

Crucially, a scrum master is the person responsible for ensuring the team follows the scrum process throughout the project.

Scrum masters facilitate the scrum methodology. They are a barrier between the team and distractions (both internal and external). They’re ‘flow facilitators’, keeping the product development on track, and the team working smoothly. They’re teachers, coaching team members on scrum principles.

In short, the scrum master is the person that keeps the team working smoothly and within the scrum framework.

What is a scrum master not?

A scrum master is not a leader, not a product manager, and not a boss. They aren’t a ‘master’ with authority over the development team.

In fact, the scrum methodology does not support the traditional product manager role at all. Instead, the methodology favours keeping developers on a more equal footing — to facilitate ideas and teamwork without the pressure of command-and-control tendencies.

So, the scrum master isn’t in charge of decisions. They’re not a manager. They’re an equal — another working part in the development machine.

Tasks of a scrum master

So, what is a scrum master in terms of duties? What do they do all day? Here are some of the main responsibilities.

  • Coach team members

Scrum masters are teachers. They share their knowledge of scrum with the organisation and the development team. This includes the understanding of the theory, practice, rules and values of scrum. For example, an important part of scrum is self-organisation — and this is a skill that the scrum master tries to hone in their team.

  • Maintenance of the product backlog

Scrum masters ensure the needed work is well understood, to keep development on track and flowing smoothly.

  • Coordinates and facilitates productive scrum events

Scrum events include sprints and sprint planning, daily scrum meetings, and sprint reviews. These are all activities that the scrum master coordinates. They’re also in charge of ensuring a positive and productive atmosphere during these events.

  • Deals with impediments and distractions

If anything comes along that might slow the team down or impede development progress, the scrum master is the one responsible for dealing with it. They’re there to fend off such obstacles so the team can work efficiently and effectively.

Master of the scrum

What is a scrum master? They’re a teacher, a servant, a mediator. Scrum masters act as the administrative glue that holds a scrum team together. They keep everything running smoothly. They keep the product on track.

Scrum masters aren’t an authority presiding over their team. Rather, they’re the authority on all things scrum — and they provide support for everyone else on the scrum development floor.

Useful links

What makes a good scrum master? 10 essential qualities to look for

Product management: how a new field was born

Why is on the job programming training so rare?

Batman and agile development