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Akveo LLC

Scrum Master Guide: roles, responsibilities, and challenges

ArtemGaranovich
Project Manager / PMO / PM Team Lead
Originally published at akveo.com Updated on ・4 min read

Who is a Scrum Master?

Scrum was created almost 30 years ago but remains one of the most popular ways of working for development teams worldwide. Many people learn Scrum theory, develop new techniques, create and use different tools, and share their knowledge with the community. In other words, the global Scrum expertise is only growing. Scrum attracts more and more adepts from different spheres, and these aspiring professionals are interested in gaining and improving their skills. So let's take a closer look at a Scrum Master's portrait from all angles and learn how to start a career in this field.

The Scrum Guide says…

The Scrum Guide says that “Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.” As a Scrum Master myself, I would put a lot of stress on “framework.” In other words, Scrum is not a methodology as many people think. Instead, it is some kind of a “skeleton” that supports its basic principles. Scrum says what to do but doesn’t say how. The way of working and value delivery represent, so to speak, a sort of “flesh” covering this skeleton. It is being created, continuously improved, and adapted by the Scrum Team, with a Scrum Master playing a vital role in this process. That’s why Scrum may be different in different teams: what works well for one team may not be effective for another.

The Scrum Guide says that a Scrum Master serves:

  • The Scrum Team;
  • The Product Owner;
  • The organization.

In his/her turn, a Scrum Master:

  • Sets up and manages Scrum on the Team and at the organizational level;
  • Teaches and helps to understand Scrum principles and values;
  • Supports in the definition of the product goal and backlog prioritization;
  • Sets up productive stakeholders collaboration and facilitates events;
  • Maximizes the Scrum Team effectiveness;
  • Removes impediments.

Scrum Masters are true leaders (prior to the release of the Scrum Guide version in November 2020, they were defined as servant-leaders). Considering all the points mentioned above, one gets the impression that Scrum Masters help and inspire everyone, make the team’s life happier, and drive exciting events that involve all the participants. With such an image in mind, people are eager to choose the career of a Scrum Master. However, more often than not, non-specialists have no idea what exactly they need to do.

Scrum Masters in the real world

To avoid confusion when we are talking about Scrum Masters, we should understand one thing. The Scrum Master is more about a role than about a person. Depending on a project and the level of Scrum culture within an organization, different people can perform this role. Let’s review some real-world examples:

  1. Development team member. Sometimes, one of the team members takes the role of a Scrum Master with all related activities. It is a feasible solution if Scrum isn’t adapted at the organizational level, but only within a team. Of course, this person should have appropriate knowledge and skills.
  2. Project manager. It is the most frequent case when we are talking about Scrum at the project level. Nowadays, project managers usually have Scrum knowledge and skills. However, Scrum, in its pure form, faces several business restrictions in the real world. Project managers link Scrum values with business goals because they are responsible for team efficiency, value delivery, productive collaboration on the one hand, and budget, schedule, and scope on another.
  3. Product owner. Sometimes one person plays both Scrum Master and Product Owner roles. It usually happens when resources are limited. But this is a corner case, and you should avoid it at all costs. The thing is that Scrum Masters and Product Owners have different goals that may contradict each other.
  4. Scrum Master. Organizations with Scrum culture (or that Scrum culture) have such positions as the Scrum Masters. But from the business perspective, it is not efficient to attribute a Scrum Master for each team. That’s why Scrum Masters lead several teams (usually 2 or 3).
  5. Scrum Master Plus. For the reasons mentioned above, Scrum Masters can be used for other activities within the organization. The difference with the first point is that these activities are not related to Scrum Teams. For example, a Scrum Master can be responsible for some processes within the organization, i.e., quality manager or account manager.
  6. Agile coach. Organizations with rich Scrum culture have coaches who implement and improve Scrum at the organizational level. Plus, they train both Scrum Masters and Scrum Teams. Of course, such a person can be a Scrum Master for one or several teams.

How to become a Scrum Master?

No matter what your position is, the journey of a Scrum Master starts the same. The first step is to study the Scrum Guide. Scrum authorized courses and certification will be an advantage.

But a Scrum Master is not just a skill or knowledge: I’d say this is the way of being. You should turn your knowledge into practice, improve your skills, try new techniques in various projects and sprints.

There are different levels definitions of a Scrum Master’s maturity, but the main idea that Scrum Masters need to evolve in multi-directions simultaneously:

  1. Scrum theory and practices. From Scrum Guide interpretation to coaching and transferring the values of Scrum to the whole organization.
  2. Management. From Scrum events scheduling to creating a flexible and effective collaboration of all participants.
  3. Leadership. From managing meetings to inspiring team members.
  4. Psychology. From listing the impediments to creating a positive and productive atmosphere.

To Sum Up

An experienced Scrum Master is a great addition to every Scrum Team. If you’re thinking of starting a career in this field, make the first move by reading the Scrum Guide. Improve your hard- and soft-skills, learn new techniques, but never forget about real-world restrictions and limitations when applying Scrum. Write your personal Scrum success stories. I wish you luck in starting your journey and Scrum on!‍

P.S. Here at Akveo, we adapted Scrum to meet our everyday challenges and deal with recurring product development issues. Download the process adaptation doc in PDF format for free. You can use the described flow in your project once you've downloaded the doc.

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