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What do Scrum Masters do?

Since I started reading about and using Scrum. The one term/role that plays a significant and central role is the ScrumMaster.

Based on my reading and limited experience the Scrum Master(SM) has three core responsibilities

  • Act as a barrier against external influence or distractions
  • Facilitate open and frequent communication within the team
  • Proactively identify and eliminate any and all impediments affecting/blocking the scrum team

Its all fine and dandy to put down bullet points but what does it all mean? Lets look at these responsibilities one at a time.

Act as a barrier against external influence or distractions

The Scrum team is most effective when it is allowed to concentrate on the work at hand and nothing else. The SM is the big bad bear that stands between the world and the Scrum Team. In essence he is a one man protection force for his Scrum team. He needs to actively intercept and eliminate any distractions for the Scrum team.

This can include things like

  • preventing customers from approaching the scrum team directly with quick feature requests to squeeze into a sprint
  • working with people to eliminate a constant annoying loud noise in the team area
  • frequent re-prioritization of the sprint tasks by anyone other than the Scrum team.

Facilitate open and frequent communication within the team

However thorny the exterior shell of the SM, for the Scrum team he is the mediator, motivator, coach, friend, shoulder to cry on and all round good guy. He is responsible for keeping the team motivated, energetic and moving forward in the right direction in the right way.

Some cases where an SM is particularly effective is

  • when there is a disagreement between two members of a scrum team. He needs to work with both people to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement
  • ensure that the daily stand-ups don't devolve into deep dive technical discussions
  • every member of the team is fully aware of what tasks he needs to work on at any given time
  • there is open communication between team members to identify and resolve interdependence

Proactively identify and eliminate any and all obstacles affecting/blocking the scrum team

The SM is also responsible for being the guy who clears obstacles so the scrum team doesn't have to do so themselves. He needs to talk to all the team members and identify if they are stuck, waiting on something / someone or if the whole team is stuck because they need something from another team or external source. Once the obstacle is identified the SM needs to work with all parties within the team and outside of it to eliminate that obstacle at the earliest possible time.

Some of the things I could think of are

  • We need this tool to complete a particular task but we don't have any free licenses for it
  • I am unable to work with my computer because it is too slow
  • The other team hasn't exposed this interface yet. I cant code till I get that interface
  • I am having a particularly hard time trying to identify what the most optimal solution is for this problem and no one on our team has any ideas
  • The impediment could be the SM too :-)

My thoughts put down above in no way constitutes an exhaustive list of responsibilities or something prescriptive that everyone must and should follow. They are what I consider the most important or critical responsibilities a SM must take on to help the team succeed.

Also, I have used he everywhere in the above document, to describe the SM, as a matter of convenience. Its not meant to say that women cant be SMs. Personally, I think they can make excellent Scrum Masters.



Agile Software Development with Scrum by Ken Schwaber, Mike Beedle


Coming up next: What else do Scrum Masters do?

What else do Scrum Masters do?

Scrum explained over Dinner