What is a Scrum Master?
The role and responsibilities of a Scrum Master are outlined specifically within the Scrum Guide and when you read the details, and compare with general reality on the ground, you’ll see there are a few misconceptions about what a Scrum Master should do and what they are currently asked to cover.
Essential Scrum is another very useful resource that outlines the role in detail, read Chapter 10, which outlines the principle responsibilities and traits you will need for the role. You will be:
- the Agile Coach for the product owner, development team & company
- a Servant-Leader for the development team
- the Process Authority on Agile principles, practices and values
- the Interference Shield for the development team
- Impediment Remover
- Change Agent – changing hearts and minds on Agile principles
- a Scrum champion, with expert knowledge of Scrum
- a good communicator, with great Questioning style
- a patient, conflict resolver
- a Facilitator, when needed. (Note: Scrum Masters do not have to run the Daily Standups but will normally helps organise Scrum Events.)
The Scrum Master does not have responsibility for the product backlog (owned by the Product Owner) or the sprint backlog (owned by the Development Team) or need to write the user stories and acceptance criteria.
The Scrum Guide
I’ll refer directly to the Guide text and then provide some interpretation of how I’ve seen the role differ in some organisations.
One definite no-no is a Scrum Master / Product Owner role. Any company advertising this as a role are clearly not performing Agile correctly and are trying to replace a Project Manager with a hybrid role on the cheap. While the Product Owner is communicating with customers and stakeholders, generating ideas and researching opportunities, the Scrum Master would be supporting and coaching the team. These are two very different roles, involve different mindsets and represent a huge amount of work for one individual to undertake.
What is the Scrum Master Role?
Scrum Master Service to the Product Owner (cite: The Scrum Guide)
The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:
- Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
- Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
- Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
- Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
- Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
- Understanding and practicing agility; and,
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.
I’ve highlighted a few of the key phrases within this text to indicate the Scrum Master should focus their attention as a servant-leader, coaching the product owner and wider business, as well as the development team, on the benefits, values, principles and practices of Scrum. The Scrum Master can support the Product Owner as they refine the Product Backlog but the Scrum Master does not own the Product Backlog; it is the Product Owner’s responsibility to prioritise tickets, and ensure the backlog is groomed and ready for sprint planning.
Scrum Master Service to the Development Team (cite: The Scrum Guide)
The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:
- Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
- Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
- Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
- Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.
Again, the Scrum Master should focus their attention as a servant-leader, coaching the team, product owner and wider business on the benefits of Scrum. Using the Scrum Events and in particular the Sprint Retrospective as a means to refine and improve the agile process unique to each company. This supports a Lean approach as you look to remove redundant process steps and improve velocity. As a servant-leader the Scrum Master does not need to facilitate these events but simply steer the team towards self-sufficiency.
Scrum Master Service to the Organization (cite: The Scrum Guide)
The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:
- Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
- Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
- Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
- Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
- Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.
The biggest challenge in most organisations is the adoption of Scrum and Agile practices throughout the business. The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting, championing and evangelising Scrum in every department. For Agile to succeed it is necessary to review existing value chains and processes to ensure Agile permeates into every corner of the business. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.
Scrum Master Training
I completed a Udemy Scrum Master course several years ago and for £10 it was well worth the investment. The price has gone up but if you wait for the course offers which come around every week you might only have to splash out £11.99! I’ve certainly found the Udemy course more comprehensive than a series of everygreen YouTube videos which haven’t really kept up with more recent changes in approaches to Scrum and Agile.
Scrum.org is also a fantastic free resource of information on scrum master exam preparation and understanding scrum.
Linked Learning also provides some useful training on JIRA so you can understand how it works: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/topics/jira but buying a $10 license from Atlassian or a trial account and experimenting by setting up your own test projects can certainly help your learning.
Scrum Master Certification
You can take the Scrum Master exam without the need to attend a two day training course which could set up back £1000. Scrum.org provide the accreditation exam and at only £180 it’s much cheaper to go direct and learn on your own. Try the Udemy courses (£11.99, if you wait for the offers) to get you prepared for the scrum master exam.
Scrum Master Interview Questions
An interesting question from this list: “Are there instances where waterfall is preferable over Scrum?” or it could read: “When is Kanban preferable to Scrum?”. It certainly helps if you understand the differences in these methodologies and the benefits each may provide.
After I first read the “Big Interview” article I followed it’s advice, changed my CV, updated my interview preparation and successfully landed several contract jobs using their formula. Their process helps you to evaluate yourself and your achievements. When you go into an interview and are asked “what are you good at?” you find your mind going blank. You need to look deeper and realise everything you’ve achieved throughout your career and you get a real sense of pride and belief in your ability to take on any challenge. As Pamela Skillings says “don’t mess up your chance of success by poorly preparing for interviews”.
Scrum Master Salary
The UK average is approximately £51,275 pa dropping to a low of £36,313 for entry level roles and a peak of £72,129 for more experienced scrum masters. This information was based on a sample of only 222 roles.
In the US the average is much higher at $97,319 pa and the range is spread from a minimum of $77,995 up to $132,426 with a sample size of 1,888. Canada is comparable to the UK with a median of $93,750 (Canadian Dollars) pa.