What is a Scrum master?
A Scrum master is a facilitator who ensures that the Scrum team follows the processes that they agreed to follow.
The Scrum master skillfully removes obstacles and distractions that may impede the team from meeting goals. This individual is the liaison between the Scrum team and people or teams outside the Scrum team.
According to the 12th Annual State of Agile Report, 56% of companies use Scrum as their Agile methodologies. As this number continues to grow and Agile gains more popularity, there is a high probability that the demand for Scrum masters will increase.
As a reminder, Scrum methodology is a subset of Agile software development in which a development team sets goals to deliver new software features and functionality in well-defined, iterative cycles. Each iteration delivers small, but significant, parts of an overall project every two to four weeks.
Whether you are interested in becoming a Scrum master or want to make sure that you're establishing best practices on your Scrum team, learn about these important Scrum master skills and responsibilities associated with the job.
What is a Scrum master?
First, as a reminder, Scrum methodology is a subset of Agile software development in which a development team sets goals to deliver new software features and functionality in well-defined, iterative cycles. Each iteration delivers small, but significant, parts of an overall project every two to four weeks.
A Scrum master is a facilitator who ensures that the Scrum team follows the processes that they agreed to follow. Also, the Scrum master skillfully removes obstacles and distractions that may impede the team from meeting goals and is the liaison between the Scrum team and people or teams outside the Scrum team.
5 key Scrum master responsibilities
Despite having the word “master” in the title, the Scrum master is not in charge of the project or the development team. Instead, a Scrum master works with the product owner and the Scrum team to refine and improve processes where it makes sense.
A Scrum master role can include, but is not limited to, the following responsibilities.
1. Coach team members
The Scrum master makes sure that team members are well trained and understand Agile processes. The Scrum master also ensures that team members know their respective roles, that they have a sense of project ownership, that processes are followed, and that teams are self-managed.
2. Host daily stand-up meetings
Daily Scrum, or stand-up, meetings last no longer than 15 minutes and give each team member the opportunity to answer these questions:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What will you do today?
- What is impeding your progress?
Team members may be asked to estimate how much time they will need to complete specific tasks. The Scrum master hosts this meeting, tracks team progress, and notes any obstacles that may keep the team from completing tasks.
The Scrum master makes sure that all team members, including those who work remotely, are able to attend and participate in the daily meeting. They also make sure that the meeting stays focused and ends on time.
3. Assist the product owner with the product backlog
The product owner is responsible for creating and maintaining the product backlog. The product backlog is a list of work that the team needs to do. The Scrum master helps the product owner refine and maintain the product backlog using the information gathered from the daily stand-up meetings.
The product backlog is a live document that changes based on current status and development needs. The Scrum master can assist with the product backlog by scheduling meetings and writing user stories.
4. Remove roadblocks
To help the team stay focused on the tasks that need to be done during each iteration, the Scrum master looks for distractions and roadblocks that can impede progress.
For example, if team members are being pulled into too many unimportant meetings, the Scrum master can work with meeting organizers to determine who really needs to attend the meetings. Or, if a team member is being pulled in too many directions and being assigned tasks on multiple teams, the Scrum master can work with product owners and other stakeholders to redistribute the workload.
5. Teach Scrum practices and principles
To ensure that work does not slow down, a key Scrum master role is to act as a mentor and teacher to smoothly onboard new employees and new team members.
As a teacher, the Scrum manager helps new team members to understand the scope and vision of a product and ensures that team members understand Scrum theory and that they adhere to Scrum practices and rules. The Scrum master teaches the team how to be self-organized and how to stay focused.
The Scrum master’s qualifications do not include people management. Also, the Scrum master is not held individually responsible for project outcomes; instead, the Scrum team as a whole is responsible for outcomes.
Scrum master job description qualifications
Do you have what it takes to pursue this career? Many companies will look for these prerequisites in a typical Scrum master job description:
Get the required experience and education
Typically, most Scrum master skills job descriptions require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field to become a Scrum master. You will also need some experience as an Agile software developer.
Develop excellent verbal and written communication skills
One of the most important Scrum master skills you will need communication. As part of your Scrum master responsibilities, you will be the main communicator among project owners and other key stakeholders. If you do not have good verbal and written communication skills, or if you are uncomfortable interacting one-on-one or in groups, this may not be the job for you.
Keep in mind that visuals, such as Scrum boards and burndown charts, can help you effectively collaborate with team members and report to key stakeholders.
Consider Agile Scrum master certification
There are Scrum master certification courses available, and although some companies will consider certification as one of their Scrum master prerequisites, it's not always necessary. However, if you have a certificate, it may help to give you an edge over other applicants when applying for Scrum master jobs.
Successful Scrum master characteristics also include the ability to communicate effectively and organize, motivate, manage and improve processes. Whether you ultimately end up as a Scrum master, all of these skills can help you progress in just about any industry.
What is a typical Scrum master salary?
As with any skilled position, your salary as a Scrum master is going to depend on the industry, your location, and your experience. In 2019 according to PayScale.com, the salary range for a Scrum master is $61,000 to $123,000 with the median being $90,560.
Getting a Scrum master certification can increase your chances of getting a higher-paying job because it verifies that you have the proper skills.
How to get a Scrum master certification
Scrum is a flexible and adaptable Agile methodology that promotes bottom-up management instead of top-down management. Therefore, Scrum teams do not have a specific leader. Teams manage themselves by working together to set goals and helping each other to achieve those goals.
Because Scrum is flexible, there are several different programs available to choose from to earn certification. Each program offers its own twist on the requirements needed and the course subject matter. Some require that you attend a two-day training course and others offer flexible online training. All programs require that you pass a test to receive a certificate.
Scrum master certification courses
In addition to the basic Scrum master certifications, many programs offer additional levels such as PSM II and PSM III. These Scrum master certifications build on the previous levels to give you a deeper understanding of Scrum practices and applications. There is also a full range of other Scrum certification programs that you may be interested in, including:
- Scrum Product Owner
- Scrum Developer
- Scrum Professional
- Scrum Trainer
- Scrum Coach
Getting Scrum master certified in any of these disciplines can potentially further your career and can mean significant pay increases. The opportunities are wide open.
This Scrum master role is responsible for keeping the project moving smoothly within the guidelines of Scrum methodology. By implementing these tips and working on the necessary requirements, you’ll be on your way to becoming the master of your Scrum.
The Scrum Master is just one role within this methodology—learn how to build a complete Scrum team structure.