What the Scrum Master doesn’t do…
We know the Scrum Master is a crucial player on new Scrum teams, but what exactly does he or she do all day?
For starters, we know the Scrum Master doesn’t plan the release, because that’s done by the product owner and the team. We know he doesn’t manage the developers because the Scrum team is self-organizing; and we know he’s not even the guy who’s accountable if the end result sucks (that’s the product owner too).
So what’s left?
If a product owner is like the head that makes decisions, and a Scrum team is like the body that executes your plan, then the Scrum Master could be considered the ooey-gooey insides that hold everything together.
More simply put, the Scrum Master takes on the administrative, coaching and leadership roles that make Scrum development possible. That means he’ll usually spend his days:
- Facilitating (not participating in) the daily standup
- Helping the team maintain their burndown chart
- Setting up retrospectives, sprint reviews or sprint planning sessions
- Shielding the team from interruptions during the sprint
- Removing obstacles that affect the team
- Walking the product owner through more technical user stories
- Encouraging collaboration between the Scrum team and product owner
Notice the common theme… Almost everything that ties into Scrum will be directly facilitated by the Scrum Master or create a situation where the Scrum Master can provide guidance. The point here is to show that the Scrum team should not overly concern themselves with Scrum and stay focused on the job of software development. Similarly, the product owner can continue honing in on business needs with the confidence that the Scrum Master will pull her in at key points like sprint reviews. The Scrum Master champions these duties to ensure that Scrum process doesn’t impede team progress.
Do we need a dedicated Scrum Master?
Although these tasks are often enough to keep someone busy all day, not every Scrum Master is “just” the Scrum Master. Some teams may choose to elect a developer or tester to become Scrum Master for the team, because they don’t feel the position merits full-time personnel. Based on the duties a Scrum Master performs, your team may be able to get away without a dedicated individual if:
- Your product owner knows everything about the customer and is always there for the development team without guidance from the Scrum Master.
- Your dev team has such a healthy communication culture that daily standups are redundant and add to the overall process overhead.
- The burndown chart and other artifacts are maintained automatically and don’t create any overhead for the development team.
- The team operates free of distractions and can easily clear all obstructions on their own.
It’s reasonable for such a mature team to select a Scrum Master from within, but these high levels of cohesion aren’t likely from organizations that are just starting out. Whether or not your team has exceptional expertise, the Scrum Master role is crucial because it acts as a buffer between the team and any process overhead Scrum can create.
Now that we’ve figured out what a Scrum Master does all day, here are some key points:
- Take on the administrative, coaching and leadership roles that make Scrum development possible.
- Ensure the Scrum process doesn’t impede team progress.
- Act as a buffer between the team and process overhead, so each team member can focus on shipping the software on time.