The Scrum approach to agile software development marks a dramatic departure from waterfall management. Scrum and other agile methods were inspired by its shortcomings. Scrum emphasizes collaboration, functioning software, team self management, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities.


The Scrum Master Role

Posted by admin under Scrum Basics, transformation

Scrum has only three roles: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Team. The Scrum Master serves as a facilitator for both the Product Owner and the team. The Scrum Master has no authority within the team (thus couldn’t also be the Product Owner!) and may never commit to work on behalf of the team. Likewise, the Scrum Master also is not a co-ordinator, because (by definition) self-organizing teams should co-ordinate directly with other teams, departments, and other external entities.

The best Scrum Masters are the types of people who feel as much satisfaction from facilitating others’ success as their own. They must also be comfortable surrendering control to the Product Owner and team. Traditional project managers don’t always make great Scrum Masters, especially if they’ve previously managed the same team members. One problem I hear about from recovering project managers is that the teams still look to them for direct instructions rather than stepping up to team self organization. “Self organize, dammit!” But there are exceptions; some amazing Scrum Masters were once project managers. Perhaps it’s best to let the team and Product Owner decide who should be their Scrum Master.

What does a Scrum Master do? The Scrum Master removes any impediments that obstruct a team’s pursuit of its sprint goals. If developers don’t have a good sense of what each other are doing, the Scrum Master helps them set up a physical taskboard and shows the team how to use it. If developers aren’t colocated, the Scrum Master ensures that they have team room. If outsiders interrupt the team, the Scrum Master redirects them to the Product Owner. If the team has not learned how to develop a potentially shippable product increment every Sprint, the Scrum Master teaches them Test Driven Development (TDD), or finds people who can teach them. If the existing code is so bad that it slows down new development, the Scrum Master helps the team learn how to pay off technical debt incrementally.

As the team grows into a self-managing entity, the Scrum Master’s role shifts toward the organizational impediments, issues caused by the outer organization. If the company still has a “business side” and an “IT side”, the Scrum Master works to make each team cross-functional. If the team depends on outsiders, the Scrum Master must help transform the organization to use cross-component feature teams. If “Human Resources” policies (e.g. performance appraisals and job titles) interfere with intrinsic motivation and teamwork, the Scrum Master must educate the business about the harm caused by those policies (incidentally, agile advocates don’t refer to humans as “resources”).

Scrum Masters are full-time transformation agents, but they do not push for change. What do people do when you push them? They push back. Instead, effective Scrum Masters promote transformation through illumination and invitation. Conversations with executives don’t work without a background of relatedness. In established organizations, improvements come in fits and starts. Sometimes it seems like nothing is changing, then the organization has a breakthrough right when we were about to give up. This can be emotionally taxing, so I advise Scrum Masters to connect with a community of Agilists. Product development is mostly about knowledge creation and collaboration, but most large organizations would require fundamental changes before they could be called learning organizations. Skilled Scrum Masters read books about facilitation, persuasion, mindfulness, and what Marshall Rosenberg called “Nonviolent Communication.”

To understand the full scope of the Scrum Master role, see the Scrum Master checklist, which is referenced by several bestselling Agile books. The Scrum Master Checklist examines four questions effective Scrum Masters consider each day: How is my Team doing? How is my Product Owner doing? How are our technical practices? How is the larger organization doing?

In Large Scale Scrum, the Scrum Master role shifts over time from focus on the team to focus on the larger organization.

About The Author

This article was rewritten by Michael James, an Agile coach and Certified Scrum Trainer based in Seattle (but often found in other cities). Follow MJ on Twitter or LinkedIn.


The Scrum Training Series uses the voice of a real life Scrum Master to re-enact the kinds of scenarios Scrum Masters encounter, such as this Sprint Retrospective Meeting scenario.

Scrum Master facilitates the Sprint Retrospective Meeting

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Reader's Comments

  1. Max |

    Nice article and thanks for the advice with the scrum training series. didnt know that before. my researches about scrum master also leaded me to this senseless slideshare, haha

  2. Proquotient |

    Great article! This explains the scrum methodology and the roles of a scrum master quite well. Good point made on how a Scrum Master promotes transformation through illumination and invitation rather then pushing people to do something since that never is good solution.

  3. Benjamin Mingledough |

    I would like to know where I can get classes or education on Scrum and being a Scrum Master. I have extensive IT background in IT Operations, Infrastructure, and networking management

  4. David Pither-Patterson |

    Great article.

    Just started a new role as scrum master, in an organization that believes it is doing Scrum, but so far removed from the principles of Scrum that I almost spun on my heel and walked out again. (In fact, a fellow SM did exactly that).

    I have seen:
    – Several scrum artifacts
    – A regimented, questionnaire-driven retrospective as part of an overall company “scrum framework”.
    – Teams that stand around looking blank if their scrum master is not present at the daily standup to give them clear and SME-driven direction.
    – Scrum masters worrying about overall product completion instead of the product owners.
    – Product owners driving a “must have” and “deadline” driven top-down approach to inaequately trainined SMs
    – Team changes on a weekly basis
    – Large sprint changes, and interference by management in the Sprint.
    – I could go on.

    I didn’t quit because (a) my manager says he supports me in doing traditional scrum, (b) a scrum master’s role is to drive organizational change, (c) I have driven organizational change before.

    Nevertheless I have a long and lonely road ahead of me and I hope I don’t chicken out — or be kicked out — before I can get us at least part way down it.

    I would really appreciate some feedback and advice in where to begin!

  5. AMIT |

    Really information, I am not new to it, but the way its been explained is really very good. Much appreciated effort.

  6. Mona |

    The combination of humor, cartoons and quizzes makes the video series excellent for fast learning and understanding real world scrum situations.
    Congrats from RO!

  7. Mani |

    Awesome knowledge base.

  8. Rob K |

    Tides are changing…. Having been doing this for 15+ years in command and control mode (PMP, Prince2 Practitioner, IC Agile Professional) it is a much different paradigm that I am having trouble adapting to but have to none the less. Yes, at times I feel like a glorified admin and turning control over to the Product Owner (Who does not understand Project Mgmt.. or thinks they do) kind of makes me want to see what else is out there. Infrastructure projects do not seem to be a s susceptible to this… yet. I miss the “thought Leadership” component of Project Mgmt.

  9. Paul C |

    Really useful intro to ScrumMaster; turns out I was actually a ScrumMaster in a PRINCE2 organisation 🙂 I was rolling out Windows 7, and the way I managed was exactly the process described in Agile XP – so the method is quite intuitive!

    Peter, you don’t need authority – just the ability to influence and convince the business manager who does.

    Sean, aren’t those gatekeeper tasks the responsibility of the Product Owner?

  10. Scrum Minor |

    I am new to this scrum technique but have enjoyed reading your thorough and enlightening post. Please keep writing and I’ll keep coming back.

  11. Sean |

    This was an interesting read but I would say one fundamental element is missing; that of what I would call gatekeeper.

    As a Scrum Master you need to also protect your team from requests, items being inserted into sprint backlog as well as other items that could take the time of your team members.

    As the gatekeeper you need to ensure that only valid items reach your team and you address those that are not relevant or interfer with the sprint

  12. Peter |

    I perceive the following to statements as mutually exclusive – ensuring in-effectiveness

    “He or she (SC) has no management authority …”

    “First and foremost, the ScrumMaster remove[s] any impediments that obstruct[s] a team’s pursuit of its sprint goals. In other words, the ScrumMaster does everything he or she can to facilitate productivity.”

    How effectively can you remove impediments without authority?
    I agree, SC has no authority over team (except “follow scrum principles”). But SC certainly needs the authority/authorization/legitimation to change current conditions in a wide context, which most likely will encur (investment)costs.

    (Experience as PrgM/PM/P2R, CSM, PO, Team Member, user/customer…)

  13. Eljay |

    @Saeed – A Scrum Master is a facilitator. If you consider manager, product owner, and vice president to be an administrative role – then yes it is an admin role. A good Scrum Master can manage three scrum teams; a great Scrum Master can manage one scrum team.

  14. Soumendu Chakraborti |

    Interested in knowing the role of a scrum master in the service industry?

    Does he have any role to play there?

    Is the role only related to developmenet/ production industries, i.e. in a factory or IT?

    Pardon me for being naive.

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