What is a Scrum Master?

It’s a common question.

Which is not really surprising. If you know anything about Scrum teams*, it’s that they’re self-sufficient and self-managing. So the term Scrum Master seems a bit of a misnomer, no?

But, if they’re not managing a Scrum, what exactly is the point of the role? How does it contribute to the project, and what’s the relationship between the Scrum Master and other team members?

In this article, we’ll give you a complete answer to all these questions, and more. We can’t shed any light on who came up with the misleading name, though. Google is your friend there.

*If you don’t know anything about Scrum teams, we’ve got you covered too.

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What is a Scrum Master?

A Scrum Master is the go-to person for any issues with the project.

As we’ve said, the term Scrum Master can cause some issues because the purpose of the Scrum Master isn’t really mastering anything. They’re a facilitator, helping people to get work done by removing issues in their way.

Ok, but then who’s in charge of the Scrum?

It’s tempting to want to understand who runs the show if it’s not the Scrum Master, but, to really understand how Scrum teams are managed, we have to first explore some of the principles of Scrum.

Scrum is a project management framework that follows the Agile methodology. Scrum teams are made up of team members who come together to deliver a project while sticking to Scrum practices and principles.

There are 2 key Scrum principles that affect the management of the team: self-organization and collaboration.

The 6 Scrum principles including self-organization and collaboration

(Image Source)

A Scrum development team is usually fairly small, made up of only 4–8 people. The team needs enough skill and capacity to deliver the work, yet remain small enough to be self-organized and agile.

It’s critical to understand that Scrum teams aren’t hierarchical. All Scrum roles are valued for their contribution equally, and it’s the combination of the team’s knowledge, skills, and experience that ensures the work gets done.

Outside of the development team, there’s the Product Owner — who represents the business and customers, and manages the backlog of work — and the Scrum Master.

The Scrum Master’s role is often described as a “servant leader”. Their role isn’t to set rules or manage output, but to “serve” the team by removing distractions and roadblocks, and protecting them from the mundane distractions of the daily routine. No Scrum mastery going on here.

image showing the 3 key Scrum roles - product owner, Scrum master, and development team

(Image Source)

So, to answer the question, no one is really in charge of the Scrum. In fact, some organizations don’t even use the Scrum Master role — more on that later.

What else do I need to know about the Scrum Master role?

Let’s take a look at 3 more common questions around Scrum Masters:

What are their key responsibilities?

Ok, poor naming conventions aside, what does the Scrum Master actually do?

The key responsibilities of a good Scrum Master are:

  • To champion the Scrum process within the team
  • To facilitate the daily stand-up meetings
  • To solve problems on behalf of the team, improving efficiency

They also bring value to the organization through coaching stakeholders to understand and adopt the Scrum framework effectively.

At this point, it’s important to point out that, with experience and proper accountability, Scrum teams can fully self-manage.

In organizations with a high level of Scrum maturity, individuals can take full ownership of their work and the framework processes, to achieve even greater agility.

In fact, here at monday.com, we don’t use the Scrum Master role. Instead, each team member is encouraged to take full accountability for delivering their tasks.

Everyone works together to ensure work stays on track, problems are solved quickly and efficiently, and stakeholders are kept updated on progress.

“At monday.com, we’re more into the idea that everyone is self-managed. We can do it on our own, and we all care about the tasks we’re assigned.” — Itay Cohen, monday.com developer

What’s the difference between a Scrum Master and a project manager?

The key difference between the 2 roles is that a project manager has direct responsibility for the project output. They prioritize the deliverables, plan the schedule, and match resources to work.

The Scrum Master doesn’t interfere with the output, instead trusting the development team to get the work done.

an image comparing the responsibilities of project managers vs. Scrum masters

(Image Source)

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How can I manage a Scrum using monday.com?

Whether you use the Scrum Master role or not, the development team needs to collaborate effectively to produce work and stick to its agile principles.

Work is delivered in short periods of time, known as “sprints”. These can be up to a month-long, but most are 2 weeks.

Each of these sprints starts with the sprint planning process, where the team agrees on a sprint goal and which of the product backlog items will be worked on. The product backlog is a list of all the features required by the business and is updated after every sprint.

screenshot of the sprint planning template in monday.com

Using a Work OS, like monday.com, makes it crystal clear who’s working on what and the current status of each task.

This supports Scrum principles by allowing team members to self-organize to get work done and collaborate to solve problems if things get stuck.

Once the development process is underway, the team keeps up-to-date with each other through daily stand-up meetings. These short meetings enable the team to check on progress and identify any obstacles preventing work from being done.

If there’s a dedicated Scrum Master role, resolving issues is a key part of the job. If the team is fully self-managing, the daily stand-up acts as an opportunity to identify what needs to change to resolve the issue, and who’ll take action.

While daily stand-ups are best done face-to-face, they can be conducted virtually by remote teams.

monday.com allows in-platform communication and integrates with all your favorite tools, making this as easy as pie.

screenshot of team members using monday.com in-platform collaboration tools to solve issues during a sprint

At the end of each sprint, there’s a sprint review meeting. At this meeting, the development team presents the work completed to business stakeholders.

Stakeholders will offer their feedback, which is captured and added to the product backlog. This process also helps prioritize what items will be worked on next. These tasks are added to the sprint backlog for the next sprint.

The monday.com Work OS has 8 different data visualizations, which are ideal for providing stakeholders with information on both the current status of work and how the outcome of this sprint links to overall project progress.

The final part of each sprint is the sprint retrospective. The sprint retrospective isn’t about the work that was completed, but about how the team worked together to get work done.

It’s an opportunity for the team to review what went well during the sprint and what could be improved upon. Feedback is shared by each team member, and the group decides what to action for the next sprint.

monday.com’s sprint retrospective template is the perfect place to capture the outcome of the discussion. Thoughts can be grouped together, prioritized, and monitored to see how improvements are made from sprint to sprint.

screenshot of the sprint retrospective template from monday.com

The job of Scrum Master is vital to a positive Scrum outcome

In this article, we’ve explained the term Scrum Master and why it can be misleading.

Despite its controversial name, the responsibilities of the Scrum Master are some of the most important in the Scrum team. They’re vital in helping work get done efficiently by minimizing distractions to the project team.

But, don’t feel you have to have a specific Scrum Master role. Mature Scrum teams with a high level of personal accountability can deliver the responsibilities between them to maximize agility and efficiency even further.

Why not see how monday.com can support your next Scrum with our Scrum planning template.

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