Few Roles are as Misunderstood as the Scrum Master in Agile Software Development
In March 2018, the Agile methodology of software development is included in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) shows the importance of this methodology in project management. According to the 14th Annual State of Agile Report, Scrum and its related variants continue to be the most widely used Agile methodologies by software organizations. The acceptance of Scrum emphasizes the importance of a scrum master who has many responsibilities including — manages the scrum process, removes obstacles, handles disruptions, guides and coach teams, liaison between the stakeholders and the development teams, and so on. However, we often see that companies assign this role as additional work to any senior member in a team, or a project manager, or even to a product owner. That is, in many organizations scrum master is not considered a full-fledged role. This is guided by an impression that although scrum master is vital for the success of a scrum team, yet the role is not fully recognized and understood.
I once worked for a project where the project managers simply changed their title to scrum masters when they moved from traditional methodology to Agile methodology. This may occur without having provided needed training to take up the new and distinct role. I presumed that the change from manager to scrum master is something to be done with the term ‘master’ is the scrum master title. The ‘master’ term in the title is almost certain to inherit some management duties. That’s why they may assume that any role with the master in the title would be appropriate for managers. But that cannot be done without unlearning and learning certain skills.
To be successful as a scrum master, the person who takes the role needs to unlearn certain skills they acquired in developing their career and learn a new skillset. Instead of driving the team, learn to coach the team. Instead of conducting meetings, start facilitating meetings. Instead of talking, start listening. Instead of communicating with authority, be like a team’s servant leader who is being knowledgeable and makes sure the Scrum framework is followed. It is important to understand what is NOT a scrum master and why the project manager or product owner is typically not a scrum master.
The project manager is not a scrum master
The primary difference between a project manager and a scrum master is that: the project manager is responsible for meeting the project objectives — ensuring that the scope, time, quality, and budget are met. Whereas the scrum master is responsible for empowering the scrum team by facilitating, coaching, and mentoring the scrum team. The project manager follows the control approach to deliver results meeting the project requirements, whereas the scrum master follows the servant-leader approach to help the team solve the problems. When we have a closer look at the nature of work between the project manager and scrum master, there are not closely aligned. Both roles are having differences in their fundamentals and yet both are important.
The product owner is not a scrum master
The product owner is one of the most important roles in the Agile team. The Product Owner is the true driver of the team, who is the prime responsible for maximizing the product value. They work closely with the customers to understand the customer needs and demands. They determine and prioritize the work for the development team. The scrum master helps the product owner for maximizing the product value. The scrum master collaborates with the product owner to shape the product backlog and ensures the product development aligns with the product vision. The Product Owner and the Scrum Master work together closely, the former is a driver of the agile development team and later is a facilitator of the agile development team. If you ask a question: Can a product owner act as a scrum master? The answer is ‘No’. This is because product owner is a full-time job; switching roles will impact the product backlog and difficult to fulfill customer needs and goals. Also, the focus will shift from building innovative products to monitoring teams and completing tasks within deadlines. As there will be many diversified tasks on the product owner’s plate, both value of the product and the development team will suffer.
Understanding the scrum master’s role better
To understand the scrum master role better, it is important to understand how the scrum master serves everyone in a scrum team. The primary responsibility of the scrum master is to manage and promote the Scrum framework as defined in the Scrum guide. Thereby showing the team how to correctly follow the Scrum framework:
Scrum master’s responsibilities towards the development team including — ensure the team correctly follow the Agile framework, helps the development team to work the best possible way, removed impediments quickly as possible, ensures the product owner and the development team work together to build a quality product and maximizes the product value, and organizes and facilitates scrum ceremonies.
Scrum master’s responsibilities towards Product Owner including — ensures product backlog is well maintained, ensures product goals and scope are understood by the development team, ensures product development is aligned with its vision, and organizes and facilitates Scrum ceremonies.
Scrum master’s responsibilities towards organization including — helps organizations in their Agile transformation, coaches’ teams in self-organization and cross-functional, and helps organizations to build Agile mindset.
Despite many understandings, the scrum master is crucial for extracting maximum benefits from the Scrum. However, many have assigned this role as additional work to project manager or product owner; and do not consider scrum master as a full-fledged role — this is a myth! The scrum master isn’t the team’s manager; instead scrum master is a team’s facilitator, coach, mentor, and very knowledgeable of Agile. If a scrum master tries to manage a development team, it’s nothing but pulling away from the development team from truly self-organized.