scrum master skills

The roles and responsibilities of a Scrum master

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Posted by: Lucid Content Team

According to the 15th Annual State of Agile Report, 66% of companies use Scrum as their approach to Agile. As this number continues to grow and Agile gains more popularity, there is a high probability that the demand for Scrum Masters will increase.

Whether you are interested in becoming a Scrum master or want to ensure that you're establishing effective practices on your Scrum team, learn about these important Scrum master skills and responsibilities.

scrum master roles and responsibilities
Scrum master roles and responsibilities (Click on image to modify online)

What is a Scrum master?

First, as a reminder, Scrum is a subset of Agile software development. The 2020 Scrum Guide explains that “Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.”

A Scrum master is a facilitator and coach who helps the Scrum team and broader organization understand and apply Scrum theory and practice. The Scrum master helps the Scrum team work more effectively by skillfully removing 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.

4 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. Bryan Stallings, Lucid’s Chief Evangelist and a Certified Scrum Trainer who’s trained and coached thousands of individuals, describes the Scrum Master role as a combination of two types of mastery:

“A Master-of-Ceremonies ensures that events progress as planned, facilitating the movement between phases and intervening should anything unexpected occur. A Quartermaster provides soldiers with everything they need to achieve their mission. A Scrum master brings these two forms of mastery together, ensuring that Scrum events progress effectively, intervening when impediments arise, and providing the team everything they need to be successful.”

The Scrum master role includes, but is not limited to, the following responsibilities (referred to as accountabilities in the 2020 Scrum Guide):

1. Coach team members

The Scrum master makes sure that team members are well-trained and understand the Agile values and principles and the Scrum events and artifacts. The Scrum master also ensures that team members know their respective accountabilities. 

In a way, the Scrum master functions like a metaphorical mirror for the team, making visible their current state so that they may adapt and function at a higher-performing state. With coaching and a bit of time, a Scrum team becomes self-managing and develops a shared sense of ownership and commitment.

The Scrum master helps team members understand the scope and vision of a product, Scrum theory, and how to adhere to Scrum practices and team norms.

The Scrum master works by influence and persuasion; they do not have formal people management accountability as there are no hierarchies in Scrum teams. Additionally, the Scrum master is not held individually responsible for project outcomes; the Scrum team as a whole is responsible for outcomes.

2. Assist the product owner by incorporating techniques to improve processes

The product owner is responsible for creating, maintaining, and communicating the product backlog, a dynamic, ordered list of work that, once delivered, will be of value to customers. The product owner is also responsible for developing and clearly communicating a product goal, or long-term objective that the product backlog aims to fulfill. The Scrum master looks for ways to assist the product owner in these responsibilities.

The Scrum master helps the product owner find techniques to effectively define the product goal and better manage the product backlog. One common approach to accomplish this is a regular backlog refinement session where the product owner and developers collaborate to discuss and clarify the context, description, and expectations of upcoming product backlog items. The Scrum master also works with the product owner to help establish an empirical process for product planning.

product backlog example
Product Backlog Example (Click on image to modify online)

3. Cause the removal of impediments

To stay focused on the tasks that need to be done during each sprint, team members identify the distractions and roadblocks that can impede progress. For any impediments that the team can not quickly resolve on their own, the Scrum master works within the team, with other teams, and across the organization to ensure impediments are removed. 

For example, if team members are being pulled into too many unrelated 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 asked to work on something unrelated, the Scrum master can work with product owners and other stakeholders to clarify the situation.

4. Teach Scrum practices and principles to the broader organization

To ensure that work does not slow down, a key Scrum master role is to lead the organization in implementing Scrum through training, coaching, and advising. This includes teaching and advocating for Scrum philosophy, values, and structure. A primary focus here is helping the organization adopt an empirical approach in the work they do. 

The Scrum master also facilitates interactions between stakeholders and the Scrum team to foster openness, respect, and learning.

Scrum master job description qualifications

Do you have what it takes to pursue this role? Many companies will look for these prerequisites in a typical Scrum master job description:

Get the required experience and education

Typically, most Scrum master job descriptions require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and experience in technology-related roles is preferred. You will also need to demonstrate competence in working with people, teams, and stakeholders on time-sensitive initiatives.

Develop excellent verbal and written communication skills 

One of the most important Scrum master skills you will need is communication. As part of your Scrum master responsibilities, you will be a primary communicator within the team and with other key stakeholders. If you do not have effective 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 task boards and burndown charts, can help you effectively collaborate with team members and report to key stakeholders.

Consider Scrum master certification

There are Scrum master training and 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 the right credential, it may help to give you an edge over other applicants when applying for Scrum master jobs.

How to get a Scrum master certification

There are several certifying organizations from which to choose. Each offers its own twist on the requirements. Some require that you attend a training course and others offer flexible online training. All programs require that you pass a test or assessment to complete the certification.

Scrum master certification courses

Most recruiting experts recommend that you become a Certified ScrumMaster® or a Professional Scrum Master™. These two programs carry more weight with hiring managers and HR professionals.

In addition to the basic Scrum master certifications, both programs offer additional levels that build on the previous ones 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 Coach
  • Scrum Trainer

Getting Scrum master certified can potentially further your career and can mean significant pay increases. The opportunities are wide open.

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 2022 according to PayScale.com, the salary range for a Scrum master falls between $63,000 to $126,000 with the median being $89,666.

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