What a scrummaster does

In a previous blog, I wrote about the principles and advantages of agile development and I would like to continue on that theme with a post on the role of a scrum master.

A scrummaster’s responsibilities

The scrum master is;

  • First and foremost, a facilitator to the project team, to ensure that all ideas/views from each member of the project team are discussed to help get an informed convergence and to ensure commitments are being achieved.
  • Appropriate access

  • A communications co-ordinator between the project team, management and external stakeholders to ensure that the appropriate channels and updates are being used and listened to and to ensure there are no unnecessary external interruptions.
  • A guard for the scrum process by removing any obstacles to the progress of sprints and the workings of the project team.

When looking at the role of a scrummaster in an agile process, it helps to be aware of the concept of a servant-leader as defined by Robert Greenleaf. A servant-leader has a number of characteristics/skills including; listening, awareness, persuasion, stewardship and a commitment to building a community. When considering the attributes of an effective scrum master, Mike Cohn’s column in scrumalliance.org provides a good insight into the required combination of technical and qualitative skills.

The scrummaster as a servant-leader is different from a traditional project manager;

  • They are not the decision maker
  • They cannot commit to dates, budgets etc

The product owner and the project delivery team are responsible for these areas. The scrum master’s focus is on facilitating the project team and stakeholders to make decisions and progress the project.

A scrummaster’s background

A scrummaster can have a variety of backgrounds, any one of which can help to prepare a person for the role. Scrum masters have come from roles in project management, team lead, quality assurance, and software development lead.

As Lafasto and Larson found in their study on successful teams if a leader has a detailed technical knowledge, it can help the team deal more effectively with any relevant technical topics.

Thus technical knowledge is important for anybody wishing to be a scrummaster. However, looking at the responsibilities of a scrummaster, personal and qualitative skills are also very important.

Time commitment from a scrummaster

A scrummaster can be a full-time role, but doesn’t necessarily have to be. The business context will determine the exact requirements, starting with the maturity of the project team. If the project team is new and not that experienced with an agile process, then the scrum master will have to spend more time, particularly at the start to ensure that the team works together and the project progress effectively.

Besides the maturity of the project team, if there are a number of potential projects, the scrummaster can find themselves facilitating multiple projects. As a project team gets familiar with the agile process, less support and facilitation from the scrummaster is required. Thus a scrum master can be in a position to facilitate multiple projects.

A scrummaster is a responsibility junkie!

Mike Cohn in his article, equates the role of a scrummaster to an orchestra conductor and includes an interesting quote from Keith Lockhart, a conductor in the Boston Pops orchestra “People assume that when you become a conductor you’re into some sort of a Napoleonic thing—that you want to stand on that big box and wield your power. I’m not a power junkie, I’m a responsibility junkie.”

I want to finish this post with a reminder of the servant-leader concept where the scrum master as Cohn sayes “thrives on responsibility—that special type of responsibility that comes without power.

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