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Sep 9, 2022

What Is A Scrum Master?

Being a Scrum Master is easy if you do mechanical Scrum, but it’s hard if you want to do it properly. The Scrum Master is an accountability in Scrum and a role in SAFe. And yes, being Scrum Master means you actually master Scrum. This means that you understand and know the Scrum pillars, empiricism, framework, accountabilities, and artifacts by heart. If you’re a Scrum Master in SAFe, as part of a scaled ecosystem, you also have to have a strong knowledge of the framework, cross-team synchronizations, PI Planning, and more.

Don’t be “by the book”, as a book does not change

If you try to be a Scrum Master “by the book”, I’m sorry to tell you that it’s just not going to work. People say that “Scrum is easy to understand and hard to master”. Yes, the Scrum Framework should be easy to understand, as should the Scrum Master accountability. But that is not what I have observed in my many years of practicing Scrum. I’ve seen many Scrum Masters think that they “mastered Scrum”, but what they have actually done is purely mechanical:

  • “We need to have all the event invitations in our agenda!”
  • “I need to be at the daily to update the team board.”
  • “The Daily Scrum time-box is 15 minutes!”
  • “The Product Owner is the one creating user stories!”
  • “Let’s stick to our plan.”

And, despite implementing all these strict regulations, their team is not high-performing, conflicts are rampant, team spirit is virtually nonexistent, and empowerment, trust & transparency are lacking.

A framework is something mechanical, and unfortunately, what some people don’t pay enough attention to when applying Scrum is its values, pillars, and empiricism. In one of my previous articles, I focus on the fact that a Scrum team with no trust and transparency isn’t a team – it’s just a group of individuals. Furthermore, I dive into the idea that some teams pay too much attention to the Scrum events and sometimes forget about what is behind them. All – yes, all – Scrum events exist to give opportunity for inspection.

Don’t forget: in your work as a Scrum Master, you are dealing with people.
Raul Barth

As a Scrum Master, your primary focus should be on people & making them self-managing, thus rendering your position useless (which is actually a good thing!)

More than paying attention to events, artifacts, and the mechanical way of applying Scrum, you (as a Scrum Master) need to pay attention to people. You need to genuinely care about people. You need to push your team towards self-management and cross-functionality. You need (and you should) have a team that does not depend on you. “I’m a really great Scrum Master, but when I am not there, nothing works” or “The team is always asking for my opinions,” are not things you ever want to hear.

Are you becoming useless? It might not sound like a phrase with a positive connotation, but I promise you that in this case, it is. Becoming useless should be your goal as Scrum Master. Of course, having a Scrum Master is always inherently useful, but what I mean is that the team should not be Scrum Master-dependent. They should be self-managed. Self-organized. Team members should be able to make decisions, solve conflicts, and resolve impediments, with or without the Scrum Master. As Scrum Master, you should be there whenever the team needs you, of course. And when you think of your “team”, please don’t forget your Product Owner. Keep in mind that team members are many, but the Product Owner is alone.

According to the Scrum Guide, you as a Scrum Master need to serve the Scrum Team in several ways, including:

  • Offering coaching in self-management and cross-functionality
  • Helping the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value Increments that meet the Definition of Done
  • Facilitating the removal of impediments to the Scrum Team’s progress
  • Ensuring that all Scrum events take place and are positive, productive, and kept within the time box

You serve the Product Owner in several ways, including:

  • Helping find techniques for effective Product Goal definition and Product Backlog management
  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items
  • Helping establish empirical product planning for a complex environment
  • Facilitating stakeholder collaboration as requested or needed

And, finally, you serve the organization in several ways as well, including:

  • Leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption
  • Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact an empirical approach for complex work
  • Removing barriers between stakeholders and Scrum Teams
Being a Scrum Master means being a psychologist. The Scrum Framework is the same everywhere, but the actors applying it aren’t. Be ready.
Raul Barth

Understand your team and every individual

Don’t forget: in your work as a Scrum Master, you are dealing with people. Understand how to approach team members, as each one has their own unique personality. Perhaps you are in a multi-cultural team, which means that you must consider the fact that different cultures may have different ways of receiving feedback or advice. Be neutral, don’t take sides. Don’t try to start a revolution, go for an evolution instead. Earn each team member’s trust and respect. Lead by example by respecting the team and team decisions, trust team members, and create a psychologically safe environment so that people are comfortable enough to propose their ideas, give their opinions, and engage in healthy conflict.

Being a Scrum Master means being a psychologist. The Scrum Framework is the same everywhere, but the actors applying it aren’t. Be ready.

Want to find out for yourself what it takes to be a great Scrum Master? Enroll in one of our courses today.

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Written by Gladwell Academy, but most of our content is created by trainers and partnering experts!